Even if Gane Dominates, the UFC Heavyweight Picture is Murky at Best
Ciryl Gane had a chance last March to cement himself as the king of the UFC Heavyweight division. But things went south for the former interim champion, who was quickly taken down and submitted by Jon Jones, who was making his heavyweight debut. Losing in just 2 minutes and 4 seconds of fight time presented major question marks for Gane.
Both of Gane’s career losses came to opponents with wrestle-heavy gameplans. The Frenchman has another test this Saturday in his home country when he takes on No. 7 contender Sergey Spivak. What Gane hopes is a quick finish of Spivak will allow him to get the winner of Jones and No. 3 Stipe Miocic after they battle in November. But another title shot may not be so clear. The UFC has other options near the top.
Gane Has Been Prone to Slow Fights
There have been several fights when Gane fought safer styles during his ascent up the rankings. Gane had a largely boring affair with Jairzinho Rozenstruik and also went to a decision with Alexander Volkov. While Gane has finished 8 of his 11 UFC heavyweight victories, he is more of a tactical fighter than a highlight-reel chaser.
This has led to Gane’s success in his career. He is 11-2 in MMA and is still only 33-years-old. The biggest hole in Gane’s game is his wrestling. During his first attempt to win the unified title, Gane was involved in a five-round wrestlefest with Francis Ngannou. Ngannou was able to score the decision victory before ultimately leaving the UFC behind during a contract dispute.
Gane’s largest issue with pursuing the title again is there are a few solid prospects behind him in the rankings who have had more exciting fights. Gane’s willingness to be so active and take on difficult challenges will always keep him in the picture.
Another Sergei Looms Large
With respect to Jones, who is a two-division champion and arguably the best fighter in the UFC’s 30-year history, what the UFC heavyweight division has lacked for a long time is a ferocious finisher. No. 1 contender Sergei Pavlovich has the tools to remedy that issue.
Pavlovich has risen to the top of the rankings by finishing his last six opponents in the first round. The Russian star hasn’t been crushing tomato cans either. Pavlovich finished former title challenger Derrick Lewis in 55 seconds and Tai Tuivasa in 54 seconds and knocked out another highly-ranked contender, Curtis Blaydes, in 3:08.
During Pavlovich’s career, he has only had three fights reach the scorecards and won 15 of his fights via knockout. While it is unclear if he has the charisma to draw in casual fans, Pavlovich does have the power in his hands to provide excitement against any opponents. What makes Pavlovich an exciting prospect is that he isn’t inclined to wrestle and can alleviate some of the clinch fighting that can slow down the division.
Aspinall is Lurking as Well
The Korean Zombie’s retirement wasn’t the only emotional UFC moment this summer. Following a freak injury in July 2022, British UFC heavyweight Tom Aspinall returned after a year’s absence to knock out Marcin Tybura in 1:13 during a fight night in London this July. Aspinall is the No. 4 contender in the heavyweight division.
Much like Pavlovich, Aspinall is another action fighter who doesn’t like to see the action go back to the scorecards. Aspinall, who is 13-3 in his career, has seen all 16 of his fights end inside the distance. He has collected 10 knockout victories and has also won three times by submission.
Aspinall looked good against Tybura and will likely be eager to return quickly. He didn’t take much damage in the Tybura fight and should be fresh for another event when the UFC can find him the proper dance partner.
Heavyweights Hurt by Potential Retirements
One thing that is clouding the heavyweight picture is what Jones will do, win or lose, following his fight with former champion Miocic. Jones is 36 and has compiled a 27-1 record during his MMA career. The talented American has long been forced to battle his demons outside the octagon and has had to serve several suspensions because of his behavior and drug issues.
If the 41-year-old Miocic were to upset Jones, there is a possibility he would retire as well. Mioci has the record for the most successful title defenses in UFC history with four. Miocic and Jones stepping away from the octagon together potentially could throw the division into chaos.
The heavyweight roster has appeared at times to be one of the shallowest in company history. While the UFC has had a number of successful, exciting champions, there has been a high turnover rate over the last few years. It is difficult to stay on top at heavyweight due to the nature of the sport.
Jailton Almeida is Interesting Top 10 Prospect
Outside of the top five, a Brazilian fighter has emerged as a potential threat to the gold down the road. Unlike the rest of the top 10, who have taken turns beating each other up, Almeida is an unknown at the highest level of competition. He is 19-2 and ranked No. 9, but the early reviews on his first few UFC fights have been good.
In Almedia’s last appearance, he submitted No. 12 Rozenstruik with 3:43 left in the first round with a rear-naked choke. Almeida has won all five of his fights on the UFC’s main roster by finish in the first or second round. Almeida also won his fight on Dana White’s Contender Series by second-round submission.
Almedia is slated to face off against another top 10 fighter, Curtis Blaydes, in November. If Almeida can keep his finish streak going against a strong veteran fighter, the UFC may look to try and push him toward the top of the division due to the nature of how he fights.