At the time of UFC’s inception, MMA was still an unsanctioned sport in USA and other major countries of the world. Thus, there was absolutely no concept of weight-classes whatsoever. The fight promotion used to organize tournaments with open weight classes, instead of using a traditional championship model. The winner of such tournaments received a permanent sobriquet.
After years of controversy and multiple reforms later, the UFC inaugurated its first weight-classes. Back in the day, there were only two weight classes: Lightweight (200 lbs and below) and everyone’s favorite division, the Heavyweight (200 lbs and above).
A few more years passed and fans got to witness the birth of modern MMA and also the birth of modern UFC. In the UFC’s modern era, also known as The Zuffa era, there were multitudinous and profuse amount of changes. However, one thing which never changed was fans’ love for the Heavyweight division. Today’s, Heavyweight division encompasses fighters from 205-265 pounds.
The UFC’s 265 pounds belt has always been a hot potato. The Heavyweight title changes hands as quick as a flash. Since the title’s inception in the current weight limit, sixteen different fighters have won it. Some legends of the sport as well as some freak athletes such as Randy Couture, Mark Coleman, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum, Brock Lesnar, etc have had the honor to be called “The Baddest Man on the planet”. However, not even a single man has ever been able to defend this prestigious title for a record third consecutive time.
Multiple injuries to champions and other top contenders had made the division a bit obsolete. In previous years, the lack of upcoming, talented fighters and the failure of prospects like Travis Browne in consistently delivering good performances and to step-up their game had made the weight-class a bit stale as well. However, times have certainly changed now. The Heavyweight division has been rejuvenated by a champion whose fitness is top-notch and also by the influx of highly talented, young fighters such as Derrick Lewis, Francis Ngannou and Alexander Volkov.
Let’s take a look at the state of the UFC’s heavyweight division.
Stipe Miocic silenced the deafening crowd of 45000+ people in Curitiba, Brazil, when he turned the lights off on Werdum with a spectacular first round KO. He then successfully defended his title at UFC 203 against combat sports veteran Alistair “The Reem” Overeem. Both “Vai Cavalo” and “The Reem” are different fighters with highly contrasting fighting styles. While Werdum is an exceedingly dangerous submission artist, Overeem has minacious stand-up skills. Both the fights were quite different to each other. However, two things that were common in both these fights were that in both fights Miocic was considered to be an underdog and he still won both fights via spectacular first round knock-outs. Thus, both these fights highlighted and showcased the champion’s grit, toughness and skill.
The reigning 265 pounds kingpin will return in May, at UFC 211 to lock horns against Junior Dos Santos. The Cleveland native has fought JDS before in 2014. He lost their first fight via unanimous decision. The fight was a highly close, back-and-forth affair. However, the result was clouded and overshadowed by controversy as many fans and pundits believed that, Miocic was the true victor of the fight.
Miocic has been proving his critics wrong time and time again. He has overcome stern challenges and tough opponents before and will certainly do it again. With his great skill set which consists of phenomenal striking and even better wrestling, the Ohio native can certainly rule the Heavyweights for a long time. Even though the division has many dangerous fighters with vicious knockout and submission capabilities, taking the belt away from Miocic will surely be a herculean task.
Junior dos Santos
The American Top Team member has faced and conquered almost every top contender in the division. Not so long ago, no one would have batted an eyelid if JDS claimed that he could defeat every top 10 Heavyweight in the division apart from Cain Velasquez with relative ease. However, fast-forward to 2017 and that is not the case anymore. In the past three years, the Brazilian has had two embarrassing losses against his great rival Velasquez and Overeem. He has also merely scraped over the line against Miocic and Ben Rothwell.
Though, JDS is still one of the best Heavyweights on the planet. At UFC 211, he will have the opportunity to register a more dominant victory over the current champion and of dethroning him.
On the verge of title contention
Just like dos Santos, Werdum too was considered to be invincible not so long ago. Since coming back to the octagon, he had won six consecutive fights including some notable victories over Cain Velasquez, Mark Hunt and Travis Browne. A vast majority of fans, expected him to steamroll over Miocic at UFC 198. However, reality struck and Wedum was put to sleep by the current champion.
The BJJ specialist bounced back strongly after his title loss and defeated ‘Hapa’ Brown. He was then expected to face Velasquez in an epic rematch at UFC 207. Though, the American pulled out of the fight due to injury. There is some hearsay that he might face Ben Rothwell at UFC 211. If he manages to overcome Rothwell, then “Vai Cavalo” might be the next in line for a title shot.
For many years, Velasquez was considered to be the UFC’s answer to Fedor Emelianenko. Many fans and pundits believed that he would one day unseat “The Last Emperor” as the greatest heavyweight in MMA history. Alas, due to many lingering injuries he failed to overtake the Russian. Though, Velasquez surely has been the best heavyweight on the planet. A strong argument can be made that he might not be the champion but still is the best heavyweight in the division. However, his persistent injury setbacks have taken a toll on his title ambitions.
If the American Kickboxing Academy member can overcome his injury woes, then he can surely reclaim the title and can once again become a dominant force in the division.
Still a long way to go
“Big Ben” was galloping forward towards a title shot. He had four consecutive victories against top heavyweights like Alistair Overeem and Josh Barnett. However, he lost his momentum when he was defeated by JDS. According to some hearsay, he might face former champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 211. If he manages in triumphing over a top contender like “Vai Cavalo”, then the American might soon find himself in the title picture.
After losing to Rothwell, the Dutchman went on a four fight winning streak to eventually earn himself a title shot against Miocic. At UFC 203, he was the betting favorite to topple the champion. Though, he was on the receiving end of a spectacular first round knock-out.
“The Reem” is currently scheduled to face Mark Hunt in a rematch at UFC 209. However, he will have to win at least 3-4 more fights to receive another opportunity to challenge for the title.
It’s safe to say that Ngannou has been the dark horse of the division. Until his recent destruction of Andre Arvloski, many fans were unaware about his prodigious potential. However, he has certainly put himself on the map after finishing “The Pitbull” in spectacular fashion.
“The Predator” has great boxing skills and satisfactory submission skills. He has already risen up to sixth in the UFC heavyweight rankings. He is undefeated in his last ten fights and is surely the fighter to keep an eye out for.
Lewis’ career is on an all time high. He is currently on a six fight winning streak with notable victories over Roy Nelson and Travis Browne. In his recent battle against Browne, he absolutely obliterated ‘Hapa’ with heavy punches and finished him with an impressive second round knock-out. He has an MMA base of boxing. Though, in his recent fights he has shown much refinement and enhancement in other forms of martial arts as well. His wrestling and kickboxing skills have considerably improved over the past couple of fights.
“The Black Beast” has great power in his striking and also has an iron chin. Some more attributes that surely make him a future superstar are his charisma and his skills on the microphone. The promo which he delivered after knocking-out ‘Hapa’, was certainly the best promo in the heavyweight division since Brock Lesnar’s infamous “horse shoe” promo after his UFC 100 bout. All these attributes make him a special fighter. He surely looks to be on his way to the top of the 265 pounds ladder.