UFC Heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic faces Francis Ngannou on Saturday at UFC 260 in Las Vegas for a fight to determine the “baddest man on the planet”. With Stipe winning their first fight this is a real chance for redemption for the Cameroonian challenger but there is a lot more than just the title (and all the bragging rights that being a UFC champion brings) on the line. If you’re a fan of the sport, then the heavyweight division has this certain kind of mystique and watching these giant men try to knock each other out is, if nothing else, extremely entertaining and over the years we have been treated to legends of this weight class from the inaugural champion Mark Coleman to the former Pride champions: Mirko Cro Cop and Antonio Nogueira. The evolution of the division into the more recent “new breed” is personified by current champ Stipe Miocic; who showcases that old school, hard-hitting power but also the technical acumen to keep up with some of the best grapplers in the world. It has always been a testing ground for the giants of the sport and still captures the imagination and the spirit of the “Super” fights which fans crave in this day and age.
The division seems to fallen on slightly harder times recently though, the retirement of Daniel Cormier has left a technical gap in the division that very few can fill and although the UFC 260 main event on Saturday will be a draw for fans and PPV numbers; in terms of viable contenders, the list is growing rather thin. If Stipe manages to retain the title on Saturday, this becomes more of a minefield for the top of the division; he would have beaten the number one contender twice and the thought of a Ngannou rematch will not hold much weight with the fans or top UFC brass.
There just appears to be something missing.
Derrick Lewis is realistically the only other match up left in the stuttering division after his more than impressive KO victory over Curtis Blaydes at a fight night back in February but apart from the ‘Black Beast’ there isn’t anyone else putting their hands up to go head to head with the top two yet. Lewis himself seemed rather unimpressed at the thought of squaring up against either Miocic or Ngannou at the post-fight interviews following his win. His time will come but whether he takes a shot at the current champion and #1 contender is another question entirely.
There is a very clear catalyst that could breathe the heat and the fire back into any future match-ups at the top once more, the potential spark that could set fire to the hype machine surrounding the heavyweight division for the next few years:
The Light Heavyweight G.O.A.T – Jonny “Bones” Jones.
The potential match-ups with JBJ will re-open the top of the division. He will almost certainly need a tune-up fight at this weight so if does Stipe wins, he has a ready-made monster match up to open his Heavyweight account against what would be a wounded Francis Ngannou. However, if Ngannou manages to achieve his goal of winning the belt from Miocic then the idea of Jon Jones facing the newly crowned champ on his first defence of the Heavyweight strap is one hell of a draw and will pave the way for the excitement that would surround a subsequent Stipe v Jones war. The division has needed this spark for some time and although Jones’ reputation has suffered over the past few years – not helped by his relative inactivity following the razor-thin Decision over Dom Reyes, he still sells fights and his name is virtually synonymous with victories in the Octagon.
He has been very vocal on social media about his jump up the heavyweight and his constant bickering about his credentials as the greatest of all time, he will want to prove a point. Especially with most of his barbs being aimed at Khabib and his fans following his retirement, this now has the potential to create a perfect storm of pressure and intrigue that will definitely cement Jones as the best of the best. It’s also important to note that in the aftermath of Israel Adesanya’s loss at Light Heavyweight, he will no longer feel the need to drop back down to defend his honour. Hopefully, this clears his mind because the idea of a Jon Jones not weighed down by petty distraction and with a laser focus brings its own kind of fear for any contender willing to step in the octagon opposite him at 265.
If the move up for Jones is worked and managed well by the matchmakers and promoters then the Heavyweight division can recapture that mystique that makes it so popular and will be back to its rightful place as one of the hottest division the UFC has to offer, as well as putting a welcome shine back on the jewel in the organisation’s crown.