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Ollie Gadd
Ollie Gadd

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The Renaissance of the Heavyweight Division

The Heavyweight Division is one I've struggled to find myself interested in until recently. It seems to be characterised by a much lower skill barrier and a "swangin' and bangin'" style of fighting, which whilst fun on a surface level becomes tiresome when the entire division effectively boils down to the winner being the guy who lands a hard shot first.

However, the top of the division in 2022 is looking much different. A new era of heavyweight has emerged, with technical strikers and a genuinely interesting set of matchups in front of us. With current Champion Francis Ngannou out of competition for what appears to be the rest of the year, the division has a lot of options to play with in search of an Interim Title.


The Talent

Currently ranked #6, Britain's Tom Aspinall is on a tear. Aspinall looks more and more complete every time he steps into the Octagon, mixing the martial arts on an incredibly technical level. Moving like a man two weight classes down, Tom has proved he has all the makings of a serious talent in the division. With no decisions in his career, Tom has shown he has excellent striking whilst also being a real threat on the ground. The Volkov fight at UFC London allowed him to prove his ability to actually take the fight to the ground (the only thing that remained unproven other than 5 round cardio, which remains to be seen). Tom's reactive takedowns, fight IQ and movement shined in this recent outing and if he so chooses, the contender could soon find himself en-route to a title shot.

Tai Tuivasa is the UFC's new Aussie star. A hard hitting slugger with a great chin, Tai has consistently found the shot in his recent fights and has the personality to seemingly double his fandom with every win, a trait which has landed him the #3 spot after knocking out Derrick Lewis in spectacular fashion. I think its pretty likely that the UFC tries to push Tai right to the top and as a heavyweight he has the right skills to make it there. It'll be interesting to see how he does against a true wrestler, but if he fights someone like the Champion Ngannou or former champion Stipe Miocic it's hard to write him off.

Ciryl Gane, whilst having already fought for the title, is still a new injection into the Heavyweight Division and absolutely was the trailblazer for this new generation of heavyweights to follow. Like Aspinall, Gane is also a technical striker with a great submission game, which shouldn't be discounted due to his recent loss. Gane has showed inexperience in his grappling for sure, struggling to escape the bottom position against the wrestling of a new, more well rounded Francis Ngannou. However, I'd be surprised if this remains a consistent hole in his game to such an extent. Gane continues to patch holes in his style and against Ngannou it seemed that he was suffocated by the pressure of the juggernaut Francis' top game. Gane will be back and I'd imagine he'll make a point of showing off stronger grappling, proving his improvements.


The Matchups

Tom Aspinall has a few directions he can go. If he wants to keep climbing the ladder, the Gane fight would be a great showcase of how technical heavyweights can actually get. It feels like an obvious fight to make but its one I'd actually rather happen some time in the future. It'd be a shame to build up either of these hot prospects at the expense of another, and Heavyweight needs fighters like these to be excited about more than any other men's division. The same could be said about a potential Tai Tuivasa matchup.

I'd therefore like to match Aspinall up against a fighter like Jairzinho Rozenstruik, presuming he does well at UFC 273. Tom has stated many a time that he has no interest in becoming a hype-job and doesn't want to be rushed into title contention, instead preferring to work his way up. He accepted the steep step-up in competition against Volkov because of the opportunity to headline on his home turf, but let's put him back on his own track now. Give him a good counter-striker, let him do his work, and by then the division should have moved along some more and presented some higher level matchups for him.

Tai Tuivasa, however, seems to have no qualms about his fast rise up the rankings. The man is a legitimate talent and an infectious personality to boot and I'd like to see him put up against Stipe Miocic for the Interim Title next. It'd provide a good litmus test for both fighters. If Tai wins, it shows he's got what it takes to beat the top of the ladder and is worthy of the shot against fellow power-puncher Ngannou if and when he's ready to defend again. If Stipe wins it shows that he's still, after all this time, one of the top dogs at Heavyweight and grants him the rematch with Ngannou that he frankly deserved immediately.

Ciryl Gane's recent performance against Ngannou raised some questions about his grappling ability. Was he simply caught off guard, not expecting Ngannou to wrestle unless it was on Ciryl's own terms? Can Ciryl wrestle defensively well against the elite competition when he's actually training for it? I'd like to see these questions answered over Curtis Blaydes, who despite being hot off a KO of Chris Daukaus is more typically a wrestler. Blaydes takedowns are pretty telegraphed and his top pressure is questionable, his opponents often working their way back to the feet before Blaydes slams them down again. This, I think, would be the perfect environment to test Gane in. Can he stop the takedowns and if not, can he work his way back up? It provides a serious opportunity to enter the #1 contender spot for Blaydes and for Gane it provides the opportunity to prove that his grappling isn't something that can be so easily exploited in the future.

The Heavyweight Division is ultimately one that has struggled to keep hardcore fans' interest recently. The introduction of these 3 prospects, as well as the evolution of Blaydes' standup and the looming introduction of a Heavyweight Jon Jones into the mix provides some serious hope for a better division in the very near future, and I'm here for it all the way

Twitter: https://twitter.com/OGaddMMA

Cover Photo: https://www.bbc.com/sport/live/mixed-martial-arts/60173363

Top comments (12)

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anirbularee_571 profile image
Anir Bularee

Tai Tuivasa, however, seems to have no qualms about his fast rise up the rankings.

Tom Apsinall called out Tai Tuivasa recently. Not sure Tom yet has the clout to bring a personality like that to the UK, he may need to continue in the US if he is looking to get some of those big wins.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Gadd Author

I'd be happy to see Tom fight Gane or Tuivasa really, I think those are both fights appropriate to his skill level but I just want to see those contenders being built up without another one stopping the train so soon.

I think you probably have to have Tai or Aspinall (probably Tai) fight Stipe for the Interim Title so I imagine that's going to take him out of the picture until that business is sorted out, hence why I'd like to see Tom fight down just for one fight

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lee profile image
Lee

So you think Gane?

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Gadd Author

Well, it looks like we now have Jon Jones fighting Stipe for the Interrim title

With those circumstances it feels like you have to match one of these 3 up against each other, and I think that the most fan-friendly matchup is Tom Aspinall vs Tai Tuivasa. Let those boys bang, they've both got such passionate fanbases and I think that fight would get a lot of hype behind it tbh.

Gane I think should get my original matchup which is Blaydes. Let him have his wrestling tested, let Blaydes have his standup tested, and see just how much both of these guys deserve to be in title contention.

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lee profile image
Lee

Well, it looks like we now have Jon Jones fighting Stipe for the Interrim title

I didn’t see this! Struth, confirmed? Stipe…. That’s a tough comeback bout for Jones, how long has he been out for now?

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lee profile image
Lee

Tom Aspinall vs Tai Tuivasa definitely a fan favourite, really intriguing to see what happens there, not easy to call but I think we have seen most of Tai’s game, and not so much of Aspinall’s

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Gadd Author

Not confirmed but Dana says they're pretty sold on Jones fighting in July and that Stipe "makes sense"

Yeah its a tough comeback for both of those guys to be honest. I don't know who I'd lean towards, I'll have to properly watch through all of their fights and see where the styles match but it'll be an exciting one for sure

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lee profile image
Lee

Yeah good shout, potentially a tougher match up for Stipe but you never know with Jones. I have seen every Jones fight, he’s like a cockroach.

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lee profile image
Lee

What a fantastic read, thanks for choosing to share this piece here, I am sure alot of MMA fans see the HW division in the same way and were equally excited to see Aspinall shake things up a bit, someone that doesn't walk like a wardrobe around the Octagon. I heard him say he is looking to fight again in the UK as the UFC seem committed to bringing a second event to somewhere in the UK this year. Fingers crossed.

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ogaddmma profile image
Ollie Gadd Author

I'm hearing rumours of a July event? It'd be great to get Leon vs Usman to main event with Leon or Allen in the Co-Main. I'm pretty sold on Aspinall, I guess we have to see his chin tested by one of the heavier hitters in the division but otherwise I legitimately don't see any areas of weakness for the guy, at least not yet.

It has such potential to become a great division especially if we continue to receive new heavyweight talent with good movement and technical striking. Excited for the future for sure!

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lee profile image
Lee

Yeah I think I heard the same, another UFC event in the UK around either mid or end of summer, not sure if in England though.

Totally agree with Leon and Usman, would love to see Leon get the eyes he deserves over here but also I want to see Usman in the UK. One of the best UFC athletes to ever exist IMO.

Can't wait to see what Tom Aspinall does, I loves the way his personality is now coming through on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour, really funny.

I think your spot on with this post, absolutely nailed it.

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lee profile image
Lee

pinned 😎