Image: John Brannigan/Sherdog.com illustration
1. Francis Ngannou (16-3) Ngannou brought the same ferocious knockout power into his rematch with Stipe Miocic at UFC 260, but improved takedown defense allowed him to use it much more effectively. The end result was a second-round knockout victory that made “The Predator” the 17th heavyweight champion in UFC history. The Cameroonian-born Frenchman has laid waste to some of the division’s best during his run to the top. Up next, a title unification bout against Ciry Gane looms at UFC 270 on Jan. 22.
2. Stipe Miocic (20-4) When his wrestling failed against Francis Ngannou in the UFC 260 headliner, so did Miocic’s bid to make another successful heavyweight championship defense. Miocic saw his reign end in a second-round KO defeat at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on March 27, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Ohio-based firefighter has already established himself as the organization’s most consistent heavyweight king with records for most victories in title bouts and consecutive title defenses. Though requesting a trilogy wouldn’t be out of line for the 38-year-old, Miocic’s Octagon forays have become less frequent in recent years, making it unclear when he might be willing to return for another matchup with Ngannou – or anyone.
3. Ciryl Gane (10-0) Gane was nearly flawless at UFC 265, as he outlanded Derrick Lewis by a whopping 98-to-16 count in significant strikes on the way to a third-round technical knockout victory at the Toyota Center in Houston on Aug. 7. In victory, Gane extended his UFC winning streak to seven — the second longest in heavyweight history — and claimed the interim heavyweight crown. More importantly, the Frenchman known as “Bon Gamin” sets up a showdown with former training partner Francis Ngannou for the undisputed title.
4. Derrick Lewis (25-8, 1 NC) Lewis simply had no answer for Ciryl Gane in the UFC 265 headliner, as he fell to the well-rounded Frenchman via third-round technical knockout despite having a supportive hometown Houston throng behind him. Lewis sees a four-bout winning streak snapped, and he falls to 0-2 in heavyweight title bouts. Despite his shortcomings, “The Black Beast” remains one of the promotion’s most popular and entertaining fighters, and he will get another headlining assignment when he meets Chris Daukaus at UFC Fight Night on Dec. 18.
5. Curtis Blaydes (15-3, 1 NC) Blaydes used his wrestling to neutralize Jairzinho Rozenstruik for three rounds in an effective yet forgettable performance at UFC 266 on Sept. 25. Blaydes’ ability to land takedowns will allow him to remain a viable contender at heavyweight, but KO/TKO losses to Francis Ngannou (twice) and Derrick Lewis highlight his greatest weakness — a chin that can be tested. Nonetheless, the Illinois native has won five of his last six in UFC competition.
6. Alexander Volkov (33-9) After back-to-back technical knockout triumphs against Walt Harris and Alistair Overeem, Volkov had a chance to stake a serious claim to title contention against Ciryl Gane in the UFC Fight Night 190 main event. Alas, the former Bellator and M-1 Global champion had no answers for the technical striking of his opponent, as he lost a convincing five-round verdict at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on June 26. “Drago” is 7-3 since joining the UFC in 2016, with his only losses coming to top contenders in Gane, Curtis Blaydes and Derrick Lewis. Volkov will return to face Marcin Tybura at UFC 267.
7. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (12-3) Rozenstruik was unable to pull the trigger consistently enough against Curtis Blaydes at UFC 266, as he was taken down in each round en route to a unanimous decision defeat at the T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas on Sept. 25. When “Bigi Boy” does found an opening to showcase his considerable power, the results are impressive but when he doesn’t, the action can sometimes slow to a crawl in his fights. Rozenstruik has lost three of his last five promotional outings.
8. Alistair Overeem (47-19, 1 NC) Overeem has managed to extend his career thanks to a more measured approach that usually protects his declining chin. However, his tactics simply didn’t work at UFC Fight Night 184, where he was bloodied and battered by Alexander Volkov in a second-round TKO defeat on Feb. 6. Coming in, the Dutchman had won four of his previous five Octagon appearances and still entertained hopes of another UFC title run. Now, those dreams appear to be extinguished for good — especially considering that Overeem was released from his UFC contract in March. Overeem will return to the kickboxing realm after signing with Glory Kickboxing for a title bout against Rico Verhoeven on Oct. 23.
9. Junior dos Santos (21-9) It’s been tough sledding of late for dos Santos, who has dropped four consecutive UFC bouts by knockout or technical knockout. The most recent defeat was also the most difficult to swallow for the former heavyweight king, as he believes Ciryl Gane utilized illegal elbows in his first-round stoppage win at UFC 256 this past December. Regardless, the 37-year-old Brazilian must hope his chin holds up as he attempts to regain the form that saw him win four of five Octagon appearances from 2016 to 2019. “Cigano” will have do to so outside the UFC, as he was released from the Las Vegas-based promotion in March.
10. Marcin Tybura (22-6) Tybura made short work of Walt Harris at UFC Fight Night 189, winning via technical knockout at the 4:06 mark of Round 1 of their bout at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on June 5. After losing four of five Octagon appearances from November 2017 to September 2019, the 35-year-old Pole has garnered five consecutive triumphs in UFC competition. Up next, Tybura will lock horns with Alexander Volkov at UFC 267.
Other Contenders: Valentin Moldavsky, Timothy Johnson, Tom Aspinall, Chris Daukaus, Cheick Kongo.
Continue Reading » Light Heavyweight
« Previous Mackenzie Dern Releases Statement on ‘Biggest Learning Experience’ After Main Event Loss Next Fight Facts: UFC Fight Night 194 »