The UFC’s heavyweight division is currently long in two areas: Big names, and the tooth.
The UFC heavyweight champion, Stipe Miocic, is 34 years old. According to the UFC’s official rankings, the top five heavyweight contenders, in order, are Fabricio Werdum, Cain Velasquez, Alistair Overeem, Junior dos Santos and Francis Ngannou. Beyond that, there are names like Mark Hunt, Derrick Lewis (if he opts not to retire after all), Andrei Arlovski and Travis Browne.
The ages, also in order, of the top five heavyweight contenders are 39, 34, 37, 33 and 30. If being 33 and 34 years of age officially makes you old, then my life is basically over at the ripe old age of 32. Hunt is 43, Lewis is 32, Arlovski is 38 and Browne is 34. The moral of this story so far? The UFC’s heavyweight division needs some new blood.
Even if many heavyweights don’t partake in weight cutting to the extreme that fighters in the other divisions do, their bodies take punishment in other ways. It’s simple physics. Heavyweights are the biggest fighters in the UFC. Their punches and kicks are going to cause more damage and inflict more pain, and that mileage adds up a hell of a lot faster. You don’t need to look any further than Velasquez.
Velasquez has already fought some of the biggest and baddest heavyweights in MMA, including Brock Lesnar, the aforementioned dos Santos and Browne, and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva. It’s also no secret that Velasquez’s gym, American Kickboxing Academy, prides itself on having its fighters go as hard at each other during training as they would during an actual fight. Velasquez’s hard sparring with teammate and UFC light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier is a likely contributor to the fact Velasquez has only fought twice in two years.
So, who are some new faces that can step up and fill the void in the UFC’s biggest (literally) division, as some of its most well-known names are too old, too injured or both? Here are a few names who can grab the brass ring, so to speak.
Ngannou has already looked like he’s going to be the next great heavyweight fighter. He’s undefeated in his UFC career, and all five of his wins have come via finish. He also has the requisite feather in his cap with his last win, a first-round knockout of former UFC champ Arlovski. None of Ngannou’s 10 overall wins have gone the distance, and he’s started to call out other fighters like Lewis, while the UFC is perhaps looking to match Ngannou with dos Santos. A fight against either competitor would give Ngannou the opportunity to become a household name.
Pop quiz: What former Bellator MMA heavyweight champion currently competes in the UFC? The answer is obviously Volkov. He held the Bellator heavyweight title for most of 2013 and last competed for the organization in 2015. Volkov has also competed extensively for M-1 in Russia, so he has plenty of experience on the big stage. He’s won both of his UFC fights, including a victory over UFC-turned-Bellator heavyweight Roy Nelson. Volkov has a date in September with the next fighter on this list, who should already be a familiar name to UFC fans.
Even though Struve is only 29 years old, he already has 36 fights under his belt. In addition to his fight against Volkov in September, Struve has already faced some of the biggest names in the heavyweight division, including Overeem, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Hunt, dos Santos and Bigfoot. Struve even has a victory over the current heavyweight champion, Miocic. A heart ailment previously sidelined Struve, but he seems to be 100 percent and has won his last two fights. A win over another former champion in Volkov could help the “Skyscraper” climb the heavyweight ranks once again.
Our neighbors across the pond in Europe seem fond of producing heavyweight fighters. The first three on this list hail from around the way, as does Tybura, who comes from Poland. Since dropping his UFC debut last year, Tybura has won three straight, including two by knockout, and defeated Arlovski at the UFC’s recent card in Singapore. Tybura has won 13 of his 16 overall victories via finish, and he’s looking to add another big name to his list.