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 (26-8, 1 NC) Derrick Lewis may not be heavyweight king, but he did claim the all-time knockout record at UFC Fight Night 199, where he stopped Chris Daukaus via first-round KO at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Dec. 18. “The Black Beast” now has 13 KO/TKO victories to his credit, once again proving he is one of the most dangerous fighters in the sport. Lewis rebounds from a loss to Ciryl Gane in an interim title bout at UFC 265 and has won five of his last six Octagon appearances.
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 (34-9) Volkov utilized stout takedown defense and accurate punching combinations to take a unanimous verdict over Marcin Tybura in a slow-paced heavyweight affair at UFC 267 in Abu Dhabi. Volkov has won three of his last four promotional outings and though he has struggled against the likes of Ciryl Gane and Curtis Blaydes, the former Bellator champion remains a good litmus test for big men looking to climb the divisional ladder in the UFC.
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 was slated to return to the kickboxing realm after signing with Glory for a title bout against Rico Verhoeven on Oct. 23, but “The Reem” was forced to withdraw from that contest due to injury.
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 (22-7) Tybura’s improbable resurgence came to an end at UFC 267, as he dropped a unanimous decision to Alexander Volkov at Etihad Arena in Abu Dhabi on Oct. 30. The former M-1 Global champion struggled to land takedowns against a considerably larger opponent, and his five-bout winning streak was snapped in defeat. Tybura’s recent track record should keep him in line for another significant matchup at heavyweight.
Other Contenders: Valentin Moldavsky, Tom Aspinall, Chris Daukaus, Fedor Emelianenko, Timothy Johnson.
Continue Reading » Light Heavyweight
« Previous Fight Facts: Rizin 33 Next Rizin ‘Trigger 2nd’ Cage Event Set for Feb. 23; Koike Erbst vs. Sasaki to Headline »