It may not be the pound-for-pound best division in the promotion, but the UFC’s heavyweights are really starting to bring the heat.
The majority of fans know the heavyweights to be big-time punchers with knockout power and, in reality, that’s largely been the case for many years now. There have been a few champions and contenders that utilised wrestling and a bit of jiu-jitsu but putting all of those pieces together has always been a weak spot for those residing within the top 15.
Alas, we’re starting to suspect that the landscape is changing with a fresh crop of stars bleeding into the old generation.
Old stereotypes die hard
Heavyweights can always improve as they get older in the same way goalkeepers do, predominantly because they don’t have to exert as much energy in comparison to their peers. Still, without some young blood getting ready to take over, we aren’t really left with anything resembling progression.
Take Francis Ngannou as a prime example of what it means to develop as a heavyweight. He was knocking people out left, right and centre in the lead-up to his first title fight against Stipe Miocic, but after being manhandled for five rounds, he had to go right back to the drawing board.
In addition to working on composure and precision, “The Predator” added wrestling defence to his bag of tricks. We saw that in full flow during the rematch earlier this year with Stipe, aka the greatest UFC heavyweight of all time, not really having an answer once Ngannou stuffed the first takedown attempt.
Francis still possesses outrageous power and falls in line nicely with the likes of Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Derrick Lewis as the “attractions” at heavyweight, but that doesn’t even really begin to scratch the surface of what’s out there.
There needs to be an element of creativity and agility at this level now because if not it’s so easy to either get left behind or be left staring up at the lights because of one small mistake. That’s not something fans are used to seeing with the big boys and while some would prefer to see messy first-round knockouts, it’s nice to get an idea of what these men can achieve when cardio and solid decision making are added into the equation.
The future is now
Tom Aspinall, Alexander Volkov, Ciryl Gane, Curtis Blaydes and Chris Daukaus.
Right there you’ve got five men who all have very, very different tiers of experience between them with “newcomers” and “veterans” being attributed to their positions in the top 15. They can submit, defend, throw with emphasis and even wrestle if called upon, with their sheer size and weight leading to some outrageously fun sequences.
The likes of Daniel Cormier, Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez all felt like stand out members of their time. In 2021, though, the room for growth and further development is so vast that it’s hard not to see this as the next great golden generation in mixed martial arts.
The next chapter of that journey, in the UFC at least, takes place this Saturday night when Ciryl Gane meets Derrick Lewis for the UFC interim heavyweight title at UFC 265.
Featured image credit: Getty