UFC – State of Heavyweight Division

The UFC heavyweight division is in a bit of an odd place at the moment. I’d venture to say that it has been in a better state, and I’m sure if you’re somebody with an eye on the action in the 206+ pound divsion, you’d be inclined to agree. 

Jon Jones has been in or around the top two or three fighters in the sport for a decade, and even though he takes long breaks in between fights, he’s still the man to beat. 

Tom Aspinall is breathing down Jones’ neck, and the possibility of the first-ever professional MMA crossover event against Ngannou is also there, so let’s take a look at the current landscape of the heavyweight division.

Francis Ngannou vs Jon Jones

If you had asked any UFC fan in the fall of 2022 what the biggest fight in the UFC was, the answer would have been Francis Ngannou vs. Jon Jones. Predicting Jones’ next move is a challenge, and it’s the stagnation and uncertainty that surrounds him that fuels the current uncertainty in the division. 

Jones is a renowned name in MMA and he has maneuvered himself into a position where he can call the shots. Ngannou, to his credit, has performed a similar feat, but he’s had to leave the UFC to do it, which is the reason a fight between the two is improbable.

UFC fighters’ pay – the elephant in the room 

Sportsbooks will often tease the markets for big fights or events that haven’t been signed. As UFC betting markets grow and utilize increasing numbers of selected payment options to facilitate these bets, we imagine that if Jones and Ngannou were ever to battle it out, it would bring in a huge number of wagers and a massive pay per view audience.

It might seem disrespectful to interim champion Tom Aspinall not to include him in this conversation, but Ngannou vs Jones is currently the big-money fight in the division. Nobody can blame Francis for wanting to move out of the UFC and make big money, as he did in boxing when he took on Tyson Fury before being obliterated by Anthony Joshua in a rather sobering moment that highlighted the fundamental differences between the two sports. 

Fighters’ pay in the UFC is a big talking point. Sean Strickland has again brought this up on social media to highlight the disparity between UFC and professional boxing events.

Tom Aspinall’s aspirations

We’re not going to overlook Tom Aspinall in all of this. He is a true contender and he is ready to face off against Jones. Aspinall has made no secret that he believes Jones is ducking him, and despite Jon looking sharp last time out in his one-round destruction of Ciryl Gane, and the two exchanging words on social media, it doesn’t feel like that fight is any closer. 

Aspinall has earned his shot at Jones, but given that the New Yorker has consistently spent long stretches away from the top of the sport, has multiple issues outside of the octagon, appears to be out of shape and also is turning 37 this month, Aspinall probably isn’t holding his breath that the fight happens. 

The Englishman continues to press for the fight, though, and he actively wants to prove himself and become champion. If you take a look at the top 10 rankings at the moment, he’s the only name in there who could give Jones any difficulty, so it’s a no-brainer.

Ultimately, this stalemate and Ngannou’s total absence have meant that the heavyweight division is stagnant. If you compare it with some of the other weight classes in the UFC, where some of the the biggest name in the sport are going head to head, it’s a bit of a barren wasteland. 

There’s Aspinall, Jones and Ngannou (who might not even fight in the UFC again after making seven-figure sums against Joshua and Fury in his crossover bouts). Nobody would blame Francis for not returning to the UFC, and his public spat with Dana White, essentially means that Ngannou vs. Jones is a fight relegated to the “what ifs” of UFC history.

The introduction of huge Saudi Arabian money in boxing could result in a Jones vs Ngannou bout, as the appetite and appeal are certainly there. Still, the clock is ticking, and if we were to put our cards on the table, we’d say the Jones-Ngannou fight will never happen.

Hopefully Aspinall vs. Jones doesn’t end up in the same bracket – there’s a greater chance of those two locking horns at some point, ideally within the next 12 months, before Jones enters the twilight of his career. Aspinall is fresh and hungry, and while the UFC heavyweight division has been in a better place at various stages over the past 2 decades, we know how quickly these things can turn around with the emergence of one or two big fights or names.

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