From Stand and Bangers to Wrestle and Pounders, the UFC Heavyweight Division seems to be consistently consistent. It’s not the deepest division in the UFC, but it certainly isn’t the skinniest.
Champion – Stipe Miocic: The current champion of the Heavyweight division is Cleveland’s favorite son Stipe Miocic. Marcus Marinelli and his team of coaches at StrongStyle have been able to give a lot of attention to their star pupil, who has an extensive background in Wrestling and is a Cleveland Golden Gloves Champion. Miocic now has the most consecutive title defenses in Heavyweight division history and is up for discussion when it comes to the best heavyweight ever. Stipe won the belt in front of 45,000 screaming Brazilian fans in Curitiba as he knocked out a hasty Fabricio Werdum in the First Round. He followed up that performance by KO’ing Alistair Overeem in front of 20,000 Clevelanders and receiving redemption for an earlier loss to Junior Dos Santos by knocking him out. In his last bout, Stipe felt disrespected by the UFC brass. He felt as if the UFC wanted Francis Ngannou to win as he seems like a very marketable product and Dana White couldn’t help but talk him up any time that he talked about the fight. Stipe smothered the very highly touted Ngannou to a unanimous decision victory to become the first heavyweight to successfully defend his title three times. As he received the belt, he took it out of Dana White’s hands and gave it to Marinelli to put it on him, because “Marcus respects me”. He is now scheduled to fight UFC Light-Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier at UFC 226, leaving the Heavyweight division to a bit of a stand-still.
Francis Ngannou: I personally have not seen a heavier weight fighter live up to the hype until Francis came around. His knockout over Alistair Overeem won KO of the year, legit that KO could have ended Alistair’s career. In his title fight at UFC 220, he was a favorite to take the belt away and Stipe Miocic was able to expose his weaknesses. Apparently, Francis didn’t train wrestling, BJJ or really anything on the ground. Other heavyweights such as Andrei Arlovski and Overeem played into his hand and Francis was able to take advantage due to his power advantage. For Francis to get another shot at UFC Gold, he will need to work on both BJJ and Wrestling by not relying on explosiveness to get up after getting taken down. He will also need to work on his conditioning, as he looked gassed from the 3rd round on in that title fight. He has a Fight scheduled at UFC 226 against the always game Derrick Lewis, in what should be a fun tilt that shouldn’t go the distance. Regardless of the outcome, Francis is still relatively new to the sport and as a 31-year-old he still has room to grow as an MMA Fighter.
Alistair Overeem: The Days of Ubereem are no longer as USADA, unfortunately, has taken away that Dutch marvel. Overeem has come upon some career fluctuation as of the last year in a half. He couldn’t take advantage of his title shot against Stipe at UFC 203, though he was able to defeat Mark Hunt and Werdum. Alistair is now facing the most adversity he has in his career as he is coming off of a loss via attempted decapitation. For Alistair to finally contend for Heavyweight gold, he will need to get another streak going that, if impressive enough can propel him to another shot. He has the opportunity to start this streak against Curtis Blaydes at UFC 225.
Alexander Volkov: The Bellator import has experienced quite the run since starting his UFC journey. I would have never expected to see this much success from Volkov, I mean, it wasn’t too long ago when Volkov lost a unanimous decision to Cheick Kongo. Volkov’s training regiment must’ve become much more serious and structured since his departure from Bellator. He began by taking a rough split decision victory over Tim Johnson, he was then able to defeat Roy Nelson by taking him the distance. In his last two fights, he was able to get Main Event stoppage victories over Stefan Struve and Fabricio Werdum. If Stipe Miocic wins over Daniel Cormier at UFC 226, I could very well see Volkov receiving the next title shot. I would love to see Stipe defend his belt against a Karate-Style fighter like Volkov, it would be very interesting.
Curtis Blaydes: The Elevation Fight team prospect is now only 27, which is very young for a heavyweight. He is 9-1 as a professional, with his only loss coming to Francis Ngannou in his UFC debut. His wrestling skills stack up with the best in the division, which allows him to fall back on it when he needs to, as he did during his fight against Mark Hunt. His coaches speak very highly of him and I firmly believe that he will defeat Alistair Overeem at UFC 225.
Fabricio Werdum: Fabricio Werdum was once cut from the UFC after losing to Junior Dos Santos. After that fight, he went on a tear in Strikeforce, which culminated in what may be the crowning moment of his career, he defeated Fedor Emelianenko within two minutes to give the last emperor his first real defeat. In his return to the UFC, he won five straight, which led to his crowning of UFC gold by submitting Cain Velasquez via Guillotine Choke. Werdum has also been very active since losing the belt against Stipe Miocic, fighting five times since late 2016. The best Jiu-Jitsu practitioner in the Heavyweight division may have had his last chance to reclaim UFC gold after losing to Alexander Volkov. I feel like the 40-year-old Werdum is ready to call it quits after one more fight and I say that they give Werdum a heroes retirement by having him main event a card in his hometown of Porto Alegre, Brazil.
Cain Velasquez: The Former Champion hasn’t fought since UFC 200 due to multiple injuries. In fact, he has only fought twice in the last four years, one of which saw him lose his belt. When fighters tend to take so much time off between fights, their skills can regress during their next bout. Dominick Cruz will call me crazy, but there have been so many examples of ring rust taking victims. Cain Velasquez is such a big name, so his next fight will likely either be a Main-Event or a Title Match. Should he fight for the belt so quickly, no, definitely not. I say that he should take on someone like Mark Hunt and then, if victorious, he can re-challenge for the belt.
Junior Dos Santos: Dos Santos was just proven innocent of any wrongdoing after popping for a potential USADA violation. He was unable to fight in his scheduled bout against Francis Ngannou as a result. I believe that he will be scheduled to take on a rising contender such as Marcin Tybura or Shamil Abdurakhimov.
Stefan Struve: Stefan Struve is a 7-foot tall monster who has not lived up to expectations. Any time that he is able to finally make the next step up in competition he tends to fall. It’s incredible that he’s only 30 as I feel like he has been in the UFC forever.
Mark Hunt: The Australian legend will continue to Main Event shows in the ANZ as he is historically their biggest draw. Of course, now they have a Champion in Robert Whittaker.
Derrick Lewis: The most hilarious fighter in the UFC now has a fight scheduled with Francis Ngannou. If he fights the way that he has against Mark Hunt, he will lose. If he fights smart by abusing his ground game/clinch advantage he will win.
Marcin Tybura: Marcin has gone 0-2 since his move to Jackson-Wink. If it ain’t broke don’t fix it…I guess that doesn’t apply to Marcin. He will most likely receive another fight within the year, possibly at UFC Hamburg and I feel as if Shamil Abdurakhimov would be a great opponent for him.
Andrei Arlovski: Andrei was a win away from receiving a title shot, however, he fell in 5 straight fights and is now just looking to stay relevant. He has won his last two against Junior Albini and Stefan Struve so he will likely try to build off of his momentum during his upcoming battle with Tai Tuivasa.
Josh Barnett: Josh Barnett just lost 18 months of possible competition time because a USADA positive turned out to be faulty. Now that he is exonerated, I can see him taking on a fighter such as Mark Hunt to get back on the track towards a UFC championship.
Tai Tuivasa: His favorite grappling technique is the get-up. This man is pretty much a powerful one-trick-pony. Striking Only. His wins over Cyril asker and Rashad Coulter are impressive, but he will be making a massive step up in competition when he goes to face Andrei Arlovski.
Justin Willis: The American Kickboxing Academy prospect “Big Pretty” Willis is now 3-0 in the UFC, but he had a very lackluster performance in his last bout against Chase Sherman. I believe he can take a big step up in competition if he continues to train hard and smart like he has been.