Thanks to his huge one-punch knockout of Curtis Blaydes in the main event of UFC Fight Night 185 on Saturday, Derrick Lewis now finds himself right in the middle of the title picture in the heavyweight division.
But his next step is far from certain. Stipe Miocic is set to face Francis Ngannou in a heavyweight title rematch at UFC 260 on March 27. Fellow contenders Jairzinho Rozenstruik and Ciryl Gane meet Saturday in the UFC Fight Night 186 main event. There also is the imminent arrival in the division of a new contender by the name of Jon Jones.
It all means the heavyweight title picture is looking pretty crowded. So who should rightfully get the next shot at the title after the Miocic-Ngannou rematch?
That’s the question we posed to MMA Junkie staff members Farah Hannoun, Simon Head and Nolan King, who offer their takes on how they’d book the next heavyweight title fight post-UFC 260.
Farah Hannoun: Unpopular opinion, but Ciryl Gane if he beats Jairzinho Rozenstruik
Ciryl Gane is the future of the heavyweight division.
While Gane (7-0 MMA, 4-0 UFC) is definitely still young in his MMA career, the sky is the limit for the young Frenchman, who’s looked near flawless since joining the UFC roster in August 2019.
Gane picked up a marquee win against former champion Junior Dos Santos in his most recent outing, which set him up against fellow finisher Jairzinho Rozenstruik in Saturday’s UFC Fight Night 186 main event.
If Gane continues to look impressive by taking out Rozenstruik in his first UFC headliner, I wouldn’t mind injecting some fresh blood in the heavyweight title picture. Although it seems like former UFC light heavyweight king Jon Jones will get an immediate shot at the winner of Stipe Miocic vs. Francis Ngannou, Gane should be considered in the title picture too with an impressive performance against Rozenstruik.
Either way, a win would set Gane up for big things, and if not a title shot, then a No. 1 contender fight vs. someone like Derrick Lewis would certainly be deserved. His raw talent, athleticism and ever-growing ground game make the bright prospect a tough challenge for any heavyweight and Gane is definitely a star the UFC should invest in building.
Simon Head: ‘Jonny Bones’ pulls rank on the rest
However the heavyweight title picture plays out, the one guarantee is someone’s going to be left disappointed. But if you’re the UFC, your singular focus here is to ensure that party doesn’t include the fans.
The No. 1 and No. 2 heavyweights are doing battle for the belt at UFC 260, and Derrick Lewis just starched the consensus No. 3 heavyweight in the UFC with one punch at UFC Fight Night 185. In most normal circumstances, a resounding win like that would mean “The Black Beast” should be up next. But there’s an elephant in the room, and his name is Jon Jones.
It’s true that Jones hasn’t competed in the UFC heavyweight division, but he is also a two-time former light heavyweight champion and the sport’s best pound-for-pound fighter (sorry, Khabib). Jones moving up to heavyweight makes zero sense to the UFC if he isn’t going to fight for the belt straight away.
Regardless of the result of the Miocic-Ngannou fight at UFC 260, Jones simply must be next. The UFC needs to get him back into competitive circulation again, and the UFC’s best athlete moving up a weight class to fight either the promotion’s best heavyweight champion of all time (Miocic) or the scariest mixed martial artist on the planet (Ngannou) would do dynamite numbers at the box office.
We’ve seen big fights fall by the wayside as a result of promoters trying to engineer specific narratives, but this one is too simple to get wrong. Book Lewis against the winner of Rozenstruik vs. Gane and put Jones in for the title next.
With Khabib retired and Conor McGregor coming off a loss, the UFC could do with another superstar, and Jones is ready, willing, and able to step up and usher in a new chapter for himself, and the UFC heavyweight division. Book it.
Nolan King: Derrick Lewis, though I’m skeptical it will happen
Yeah, I know Jon Jones is going to get the next shot after Francis Ngannou. But the question above says “rightfully.” And before you jump me for disrespecting MMA’s all-time greatest pound-for-pound fighter, let me say I consider Jones just that. He’s the GOAT. I’m not a hater by any means.
With all of that said, I personally think a divisionally merit-based decision would also make business sense. When looking at the heavyweight division, no one competing there has done more to earn the next shot at the winner of UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic and next-in-line challenger Francis Ngannou than “The Black Beast,” Derrick Lewis.
On Saturday, Lewis (25-7 MMA, 16-5) knocked out clear-cut should-be title challenger Curtis Blaydes inside two rounds. The victory extended his winning streak to four. Lewis once again solidified himself as a must-see-TV attraction.
Not only is Lewis entertaining inside the cage with his brutal knockout abilities and unorthodox grappling escapes, he’s right up there with Quinton “Rampage” Jackson as the funniest fighter in UFC history. Every time the man opens his mouth, something viral comes out. He’s phenomenal.
All of this strengthens the case for Lewis to be next. But you also can’t forget he also has a win over a man who could end up being the next UFC heavyweight champion, Francis Ngannou. If Miocic defeats Ngannou, Lewis would be a fresh matchup.
So why not give Jon Jones a test at heavyweight before he sniffs gold? A warm-up seems like a good move. This would let him get his footing under him. Make “Jon Jones’ heavyweight debut” an attraction regardless of the opponent. Let Lewis fight the winner of Miocic-Ngannou in the meantime.
Then, Jones can fight whichever of those three fighters walks away with the title in a highly-anticipated showdown, that had months of build-up.
Maybe the UFC wants the sure-thing: Jones fighting for heavyweight gold. But I’m a risk-taker. Without risk, you miss out on rewards. Gamble, UFC. Gamble!