Back in January 2018, Stipe Miocic was looking to make history and set the record for most heavyweight title defenses in UFC history, but he was facing the most feared heavyweight in recent memory, Francis Ngannou.
Ngannou was lighting up opponents with highlight-reel knockouts coming in bunches and he found himself in a title fight that was labeled as two of the most dangerous men on the planet fighting for the UFC heavyweight title. The fight would be a one-sided affair that saw Miocic make history with the most heavyweight title defenses in UFC history, picking up a unanimous decision victory over Ngannou.
Since then, Miocic has lost and regained his belt during a trilogy series with the now-retired Daniel Cormier, and while Ngannou suffered a second loss after Miocic, he's laid every opponent to waste since then. As we approach the UFC 260 main card, the reigning champion does not plan on losing to Ngannou, who he says won't be champion until his reign is over.
The success of both men has led them to the long-awaited and much-anticipated rematch, but the question going into UFC 260 is not only who will come out victorious, but where will the division go afterward?
Next class of UFC heavyweights
In a sign of the changing times in the UFC's heavyweight division, there have been veterans who have parted ways with the company (Fabricio Werdum signing with PFL), and the releases of former champion Junior dos Santos and former title contender, Alistair Overeem.
What they're saying: Although Ngannou has been a mainstay at the top of the division's contender list, there have been young fighters looking to establish themselves at the top.
- Curtis Blaydes, Ciryl Gane, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. Not all the contenders are young, but there are other new faces at the top of the division as well: Derrick Lewis and Alexander Volkov.
These new names may not jump off the paper to the casual fan. Nevertheless, there's no doubting their place at the top of the division's rankings, waiting for their opportunities, respectfully.
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The winner of UFC 260 gets Jon Jones
For years, Jon Jones reigned over the UFC's light heavyweight division having compiled a total of 11 title defenses between two separate title reigns and established himself as one of the greatest fighters of all-time — not just the greatest light heavyweight of all-time.
- In his last title bout at 205 pounds, Jones retained his title against Dominick Reyes and feeling he needed a new challenge in his career, announced his intentions to move up to heavyweight.
Waiting in the wings: Conventional wisdom would make it known that after UFC 260, Jones will face the winner of Miocic vs Ngannou, leapfrogging all contenders because of his resume and star power. There has not been much of an argument about Jones' eventual immediate title shot, as it has become commonplace for the UFC to have champions moving up (or down) a weight class to get an immediate title shot upon arrival.
A quick glance at Jones' social media pages shows a fighter focused on taking this new challenge seriously but the question becomes, what makes the most sense for his first fight?
Greatest of all-time: If Ngannou does to Miocic what he has done to his last four opponents and knocks the champion out, a fight between Jones and Ngannou would bring all fans, hardcore and casual, to see if the knockout artist can knock out one of the greatest of all-time. However, if Miocic once again defeats Ngannou, the UFC will be able to promote the greatest heavyweight champion of all-time, taking on the greatest light heavyweight champion of all-time, who is looking to add a second belt.
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Derrick Lewis deserves his shot
There is no doubting that once Jon Jones enters the picture at heavyweight, there may be multiple fights between him and Ngannou, possibly him and Miocic, but what happens when that chapter is over?
Who's next: Derrick Lewis has cemented himself as a worthy contender, but he's also expressed willingness to fight Ciryl Gane to stay busy, risking his chance to be next in line after Jones. After Jones, the top contenders in the heavyweight division will have to fight it amongst themselves to see who will follow Jones, Ngannou, and Miocic when their time comes.
- From Blaydes, Gane, and Rozenstruik to Volkov and Lewis, there is a whole new pool of talent waiting in the wings in the heavyweight division, but they'll have to wait for the triangle of Miocic-Ngannou-Jones to play out first.
The bottom line: The best news of all, the division might not get held up for the three years like it just was, while Miocic and Cormier went through their trilogy.