How does Francis Nganou’s situation affect the UFC HW division?

Francis is on pace to become the most popular Heavyweight in the UFC’s young history. The Cameroonian born fighter has a record of 17-3 and is on a 6 fight win streak that includes capturing his first major championship as well as defending it for the first time. Francis is currently in a contract dispute with the UFC and most recently made an in-ring appearance after Tyson Fury’s KO victory this past Saturday, leaving the UFC’s HW division in a state of limbo. 

In Francis’s first-ever title defence, we saw the world’s scariest man show a new layer of his game that many forgot he had: GRAPPLING! That’s right, the man who has nearly decapitated fighters such as Alistair Overeem, Jairzinho Rozenstruik, Curtis Blaydes and HW GOAT Stipe Miocic has had an ace up his sleeve that not many realize exist. After all, the man does have 4 wins by submission and 1 of them was in the UFC. Either way, Francis proved why he is top dog of the MMA realm, he stifled a rising contender in Gane who many viewed as too slick or too quick for the lumbering champ. While he was victorious, he did not come out unscathed, Francis suffered a major knee injury that was rumored to have shelved him for the remainder of the year. Yet not even a month went by and Francis was already being linked to a cross over fight vs Tyson Fury or even rumored to be leaving the UFC over his contract.

While this wouldn’t be the first time we see a log jam happen in a highly contested division, Francis is currently one of the UFC’s biggest stars and draws, he still has plenty of options as well as records to break. As of today, the top 5 rankings are as followed #1 Ciryl Gane (10-1), #2 Stipe Miocic (20-4), #3 Tai Tuivasa (14-3), #4 Curtis Blaydes (16-3), #5 Derrick Lewis (26-9). This list alone has several pivotal matchups that will shape the future of the division, so while Francis is the king and has the attention of the world on him, it does not mean that the division will ceases to exist without him.

Several matchups can be made here for the champ when and if he comes back to the UFC, 2 men on the list have beat him (Lewis and Stipe) but Lewis is coming off a KO loss to #3 while Stipe hasn’t fought in over a year and has been linked to Jon Jones rather than a deserved trilogy vs Francis. Blaydes lost to Francis in 2018 and has been on a resurgence since being KO’d by Lewis in February of 2021. That leaves Tai as the only man to not have faced the champ, while many don’t believe he is ready just yet, it would still make for fireworks of epic proportions. Finally, the dark horse here has to be Tom Aspinall who is a rising star and recently took out veteran Volkov. 

It will be interesting to see how Francis’s absence affects the landscape of the HW division as it is not clear yet whether health or contract will cause the champ to be away for a while, but if he does stay away for longer than a year should the UFC either force him to vacate his title or perhaps create an interim one? Not to mention the arrival of Jon Jones to the HW division and how it shakes everything up. Many believe he is going to get an immediate title shot or a crack at Stipe before being given Francis, either way there are plenty of moves left in the hardest hitting division in all of sports.  

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