The UFC heavyweight mess – Here’s how we get out of it

The UFC heavyweight mess and here's how we get out of itUFC’s heavyweight division has become a disaster. What should be changed?

The UFC heavyweight mess and here's how we get out of it

Who is the best fighter at heavyweight? Depends on who you ask.

If we’re going by the books? Jon Jones is the best in the world. He’s the division’s top champ, which by definition puts him above everyone else. But when logic sets in, things get more confusing. Jones hasn’t fought in more than a year. Tom Aspinall, the interim champ at heavyweight, earned his title last year and is already on track to defend in just a couple of months. Does that make him the best?

The issue with this “best” question is a simple way to describe the issues at heavyweight currently. Due to delays in fights and a promoter who hasn’t stepped in to end a reign, heavyweight has found itself in a usual position with two champions who have gotten comfortable sharing the throne.

A slow-moving division isn’t new for heavyweights in the UFC. With the undisputed title being put on the line on average less than once a year since 2019, it’s been a weight class dragging its feet title fight-wise for a while. But the current two-title dilemma that it finds itself in lasts much longer than many delays we have seen recently. It’s an issue with no clear end in sight, and with unavoidably bad optics.

How the UFC Heavyweight mess Got Here

When Jones captured the UFC heavyweight championship in early 2023, an optimist might have thought that the class would finally receive a consistent champion. After UFC iced out Francis Ngannou for a year, making his run with the belt uneventful, the division could have used a more workhorse fighter on top.

Sure, Jones had no shortage of controversies while reigning over the light heavyweight division, but he was a face that defined an era and cleaned out a roster. Maybe he could have done that for heavyweight. And for a moment, it looked like he could be an active fighter: Eight months after winning his title with a first-round finish of Ciryl Gane, Jones was expected to face former champ Stipe Miocic at Madison Square Garden.

Jon Jones weighs up Alex Pereira and Tom Aspinall fights after UFC return decisions decisions
Mandatory Credit: Zuffa LLC

The fight would have been a passing of the torch. Miocic is 41 and hasn’t fought in more than three years, but is remembered for the three title defences that made him a more successful heavyweight champ than any other in UFC history. A victory for Jones would further cement that it was officially his era, and shut down any complaints that Miocic was deserving of a title opportunity after Francis Ngannou ended his second title run with a scary knockout in 2021.

But a torn pec put a massive road bump in Jones’ title reign and took him out of the fight. The injury not only prevented the champ from fighting in New York, but also meant that he would be benched for a significant period of time, cutting into a serious chunk of 2024 as well.

With Jones on the bench, UFC tried to keep the division moving. No, they didn’t strip the champion who was set to go more than a year without defending his belt, they introduced an interim title. England’s Aspinall earned the gold with a swift finish against Sergei Pavlovich.

An interim is, by definition, a placeholder. As the Cambridge Dictionary defines it: “temporary and intended to be used or accepted until something permanent exists.” However, this title soon became more regular than, well, the regular title.

It was announced this week that Aspinall will defend his belt at UFC 304 against Curtis Blaydes. A fine matchup, but one that keeps the division in a puzzling position. The person who is supposed to be the true champion sits on the sidelines, while the man with a supposed temporary belt goes out and faces legitimate contenders.

At least once the fight between Blaydes and Aspinall is done with, we can finally unify the titles and have a singular true best fighter in the class, right? Well, if you ask Dana White, no. He’s still hoping to make the bout between Jones and Miocic, and Jones is hinting that his next appearance will be around November. This means we could see an interim title exist for more than a year before even getting to discussions about unification. That is not ideal.

What Can Be Done?

Tom Aspinall accuses Jon Jones of playing games I don't know what's going on
Mandatory Credit: Chris Unger – Zuffa LLC

This is an ugly mess. With all of the obligations and complications, UFC’s heavyweight division has become a disorganized room that needs a full makeover. From an inactive champ to owing a fight to someone who isn’t even involved in the current title picture, to a pair of belts that need to be unified sometime before things start to look absurd, the promotion has a complicated puzzle to solve.

There’s a world where UFC can fix all of these problems by simply handling them when the right opportunity comes. But the truth is, that would likely take a long time. It’s hard to imagine a reality where a year from now we will have an undisputed heavyweight champion that has faced Miocic and unified the titles through a fight. And even with that generous estimation, that’s still a year and a half of an interim champion, which feels bizarre.

Realistically, it doesn’t make sense for Jones to be the champion at the moment. If someone asks who is the best active heavyweight in the world, it feels dishonest to say it is Jones. Why? He’s simply not active. It’s no knock on his fighting abilities or accomplishments to say that he isn’t fighting at the moment, which should realistically take him out of the equation so the class can keep moving.

Would stripping Jones of his title due to injury kill his momentum? Absolutely not. When he would return and inevitably get another title fight, the crowd that had come out to support him in the past would show up once again.

He was stripped for wrongdoing in three different instances during his light heavyweight title years and remained a star nonetheless. Why would freeing up a title for injury—instead of an issue where he can take the blame—hurt him? Jones is absolutely deserving of a title shot and should receive an opportunity once he is ready to fully return, whether it be in November or on a later date. But there’s no reason for him to sit with the belt when he can’t contribute anything to the division.

It feels tough to decide what’s right for Miocic. While on paper it’s hard incredibly to justify him getting a title fight since he hasn’t fought in years, is 41 and coming off a nasty knockout defeat, it also feels like he has been a victim of circumstance. He should have received a shot at the title way sooner, instead of just quietly waiting for all of this time.

After the UFC kept him waiting for too long, it feels easy to consider him a contender who isn’t worthy. Miocic was likely guaranteed a shot after the end of his title reign and has been waiting for ages for it. Because of that, it would be somewhat cruel if UFC changed course now.

If UFC really owes Miocic a title shot, they should get it over with quickly. UFC probably wants to make a fight between Jones and Miocic specifically because its two guys from a specific era and it can be marketed as a super-fight. But hat fight is becoming not only less realistic but less attractive as each day passes by. In a perfect world, Miocic would return in a non-title fight first to show the type of shape he’s in, which it seems like many are questioning. If that can be done, great, do it.

What Will Actually Happen, If Anything?

Stipe Miocic warns Jon Jones true power at UFC 295 anything can happen
Mandatory Credit: Josh Hedges – Zuffa LLC

With those changes, you have a weight class full of active fighters who are keeping the title picture moving. Of course, these are combative changes that won’t please everyone. It’s easy for a columnist to say: “Okay and take this from that guy, and tell the other guy he shouldn’t get the title fight.” It’s another thing to actually make those moves and then deal with the potential blowback from them.

UFC has two options in front of them. They could let their heavyweight class figure itself out over the next year and some change, keeping the division’s title picture awkward and confusing to outsiders for the entire time. Or they could put in some calls and make some changes that could immediately put the division back into shape, although not without some scrutiny from corners of their fanbase and fighters. They could let their division continue to make little sense for a long time, or take control and show that holding the top title in a weight class means something. There’s certainly less shame in one of these options.

Jon Jones laughs off ‘number one contender’ co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304

Jon Jones laughs off 'number one contender' co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304On July 27 Tom Aspinall will join the very short list of fighters who have defended a UFC interim…

Jon Jones laughs off 'number one contender' co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304

On July 27 Tom Aspinall will join the very short list of fighters who have defended a UFC interim world championship — and Jon Jones couldn’t be more amused by it.

As announced by Dana White, Aspinall will put his interim heavyweight crown on the line when he co-headlines UFC 304 against No. 4 ranked contender Curtis Blaydes in Manchester, England.

Tom Aspinall defends interim title at UFC 304

The UK-based star will be just the third fighter to defend an interim belt in UFC history, the first being Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. The last man to do it was Renan Barao who defended his temporary title on two separate occasions in 2013 before being promoted to undisputed bantamweight champion.

Learning of the news, reigning undisputed heavyweight king Jon Jones couldn’t help, but poke some fun at the announcement on social media, calling it nothing more than an “official number one contender” fight.

Jon Jones

“Curtis versus Tom for the official number one contender spot!” Jones wrote on X in response to the news of Aspinall vs. Blaydes.

Jon Jones confirms date for his controversial clash with Stipe miocic

The announcement from White and the subsequent commentary from ‘Bones’ certainly struck a chord with fight fans, many of them taking to X (formerly Twitter) to once again slam Jones’ decision to “duck” Aspinall in favor of a fight with consensus heavyweight GOAT Stipe Miocic later this year.

Jon Jones

“Trolls telling me I’m slowing down the division by getting injured,” Jones added. “Meanwhile, the next two heavyweights aren’t even a main event? Interesting. I’m on the right path, I got until November to remind the world. Again.”

No official date has been announced for Jones vs. Miocic, but both fighters have recently acknowledged that the bout would go down this November when the UFC makes its annual pit stop at the world’s most famous arena — Madison Square Garden.

Jon Jones

“I’m definitely not retired,” Jones posted. “Sitting on my porch sore all over enjoying some time in the Metaverse. November 9 can’t come soon enough. I’m earning it every day. Just like I always have.”

Jon Jones laughs off ‘number one contender’ co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304

Jon Jones laughs off 'number one contender' co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304On July 27 Tom Aspinall will join the very short list of fighters who have defended a UFC interim…

Jon Jones laughs off 'number one contender' co-main between Tom Aspinall and Curtis Blaydes at UFC 304

On July 27 Tom Aspinall will join the very short list of fighters who have defended a UFC interim world championship — and Jon Jones couldn’t be more amused by it.

As announced by Dana White, Aspinall will put his interim heavyweight crown on the line when he co-headlines UFC 304 against No. 4 ranked contender Curtis Blaydes in Manchester, England.

Tom Aspinall defends interim title at UFC 304

The UK-based star will be just the third fighter to defend an interim belt in UFC history, the first being Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 92. The last man to do it was Renan Barao who defended his temporary title on two separate occasions in 2013 before being promoted to undisputed bantamweight champion.

Learning of the news, reigning undisputed heavyweight king Jon Jones couldn’t help, but poke some fun at the announcement on social media, calling it nothing more than an “official number one contender” fight.

Jon Jones

“Curtis versus Tom for the official number one contender spot!” Jones wrote on X in response to the news of Aspinall vs. Blaydes.

Jon Jones confirms date for his controversial clash with Stipe miocic

The announcement from White and the subsequent commentary from ‘Bones’ certainly struck a chord with fight fans, many of them taking to X (formerly Twitter) to once again slam Jones’ decision to “duck” Aspinall in favor of a fight with consensus heavyweight GOAT Stipe Miocic later this year.

Jon Jones

“Trolls telling me I’m slowing down the division by getting injured,” Jones added. “Meanwhile, the next two heavyweights aren’t even a main event? Interesting. I’m on the right path, I got until November to remind the world. Again.”

No official date has been announced for Jones vs. Miocic, but both fighters have recently acknowledged that the bout would go down this November when the UFC makes its annual pit stop at the world’s most famous arena — Madison Square Garden.

Jon Jones

“I’m definitely not retired,” Jones posted. “Sitting on my porch sore all over enjoying some time in the Metaverse. November 9 can’t come soon enough. I’m earning it every day. Just like I always have.”

Jon Jones leaks UFC 309 title fight with Stipe Miocic in November return: ‘Here I come, baby’

Jon Jones leaks UFC 309 title fight with Stipe Miocic in November here I come babyJon Jones has leaked his return to the Octagon overnight on his official social media, revealing he will take…

Jon Jones leaks UFC 309 title fight with Stipe Miocic in November here I come baby

Jon Jones has leaked his return to the Octagon overnight on his official social media, revealing he will take on former champion, Stipe Miocic in a rescheduled pairing atop UFC 309 on November 9. from Madison Square Garden – a year on from their failed title showdown.

Jones, the current heavyweight champion and former two-division gold holder, has been sidelined since March of last year, where he landed the vacant crown at the former weight class.

Jon Jones confirms verbal agreement in place to make UFC return I'll let Dana White announce the date
Mandatory Credit: Jeff Bottari – Zuffa LLC

Submitting former interim champion, Ciryl Gane with a dominant opening round guillotine choke, Rochester native, Jones was slated to headline UFC 285 in New York City against the returning former two-time heavyweight best, Miocic.

Jon Jones leaks UFC 309 return against Stipe Miocic

Ruled from the pairing as he suffered a pectoral tendon tear, Jones has been out of action since his win over Gane, however, provided a massive update on his return to competition on his official social media overnight – in a now-deleted X status.

Stipe Miocic picked to knockout Jon Jones in title fight He might not have a chin
Mandatory Credit: David Becker – AP

“November 9th. Madison Square Garden here I come, baby. #NewStill,” Jon Jones posted. 

For Miocic, the veteran Ohio native confirmed earlier this month that he would continue his hiatus from the Octagon until he faced off with incumbent champion, Jones, having remained sidelined himself for the past three years.

Last featuring at UFC 260, Miocic saw his second title reign in the division come to a crashing halt courtesy of a second round knockout loss to former organizational star, Francis Ngannou in the pair’s title fight rematch. 

One former UFC star predicting the demise of Jones against Miocic comes in the form of a former title challenger to the Rochester native: Rampage Jackson – who has speculated Miocic could knock out the heavyweight kingpin in Madison Square Garden.

stipe miocic
Mandatory Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez – Cageside Press

“I think you will be the first one to beat him (Jon Jones),” Quinton Jackson said. “I just feel like he might not have a chin, based off the way he fights. He makes it so hard for people to get close enough to punch him. His whole style was putting his fingers in your eyes and kicking your knee back – keeping you away from him.”

“He keeps you at his length where he wants you,” Jackson explained. “You’re a taller guy and you’ve got longer arms than most people he fights. I don’t think he can do all that to you.”

Who wins at UFC 309 in November: Jon Jones or Stipe Miocic?

Daniel Cormier rips ‘Magician in manipulation’ Jon Jones after UFC star mocks his championship run

Daniel Cormier rips magician in manipulation Jon Jones after UFC star mocks his title runOnce more rekindling his rivalry with two-fight rival, Jon Jones, former two-weight champion, Daniel Cormier has labelled the Rochester…

Daniel Cormier rips magician in manipulation Jon Jones after UFC star mocks his title run

Once more rekindling his rivalry with two-fight rival, Jon Jones, former two-weight champion, Daniel Cormier has labelled the Rochester native a “magician in manipulation” – after his light heavyweight title reign was called into question. 

Cormier, a former undisputed light heavyweight and heavyweight titleholder, shared a two-fight rivalry with arch-nemesis, Jones over the course of their Octagon tenures, fighting to a decision loss, before a high-kick KO loss was overturned to an official ‘No Contest’ in their 2017 rematch.

Jon Jones weighs up Alex Pereira and Tom Aspinall fights after UFC return decisions decisions
Mandatory Credit: Zuffa LLC

Hitting out at the Lafayette veteran’s title “run” during his time away from the sport amid multiple high-profile issues with anti-doping discretions, Jones called into question the legitimacy of Cormier’s championship reigns.

Daniel Cormier Jon Jones UFC 285 Commentary
Mandatory Credit: Kevork Djansezian – Zuffa LLC

“UFC is a brilliant company, did what they had to do to save the event,” Jon Jones posted on his official X account in reply to a user. “But I do agree with you, it definitely confused a bunch of UK fans, got them entitled thinking their boy really is the champion. It reminds me of when ‘DC’ was the “champion” during my absence.”

Reacting to Jones’ comments on his title reign at 205lbs, Cormier labelled the former pound-for-pound number one a “magician in manipulation”. 

JonesCormierStandoff

Daniel Cormier hits back at long-time foe, Jon Jones

“It’s not the same, although it may seem the same,” Daniel Cormier said on his YouTube channel. “He (Jon Jones) was incapable of competing when I was the champion. He wasn’t allowed to compete, not due to injury, due to illegal substances found in his body, that’s just the truth… that’s my response. Jones – it wasn’t the same thing, bud. So, no matter how quickly you are – and the magician you are at manipulating and saying this and the other, that’s not the case.”

“It was different, you couldn’t compete whenever I was fighting,” Daniel Cormier explained. “I was the champion, for a really long time actually, which is kind of crazy.”

What are your thoughts on Jon Jones’ rivalry with Daniel Cormier?

Alex Pereira tipped to enter ‘GOAT’ debate with third title fight win: ‘That dude better be in the conversation’

Alex Pereira tipped to enter GOAT debate with third title fight victory over Jon Jones UFCFormer two-division champion, Alex Pereira has been backed to land himself in the debate as the greatest fighter of…

Alex Pereira tipped to enter GOAT debate with third title fight victory over Jon Jones UFC

Former two-division champion, Alex Pereira has been backed to land himself in the debate as the greatest fighter of all-time if he can snatch an unmatched third Octagon championship under the banner of the UFC, by Hall of Fame star, Daniel Cormier.

Pereira, a former undisputed middleweight champion and the current light heavyweight titleholder, most recently headlined UFC 300 last month, turning in a blistering opening round KO win over former champion, Jamahal Hill in the Illinois native’s return to action.

Alex Pereira plans 238lbs heavyweight move amid links to fight with Jon Jones I don't want to get too heavy
Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas – USA TODAY Sports

And linked with both a title fight move to the heavyweight limit, amid somewhat of a call out from incumbent gold holder, Jon Jones, Pereira insists he already has his next defense at 205lbs lined up.

Alex Pereira unsure if his legacy is better than Israel Adesanya's I won two title he tried to
Mandatory Credit: Zuffa LLC

Also featuring on UFC 300 back in April, former light heavyweight champion, Jiri Prochazka will likely stand across from Pereira in a title re-run – according to the Sao Paulo native himself, with the Czech Republic native fresh from a rallying knockout of his own against Aleksandar Rakic. 

Alex Pereira touted as ‘GOAT’ with third title victory

However, amid links to a title charge at the heavyweight limit – Alex Pereira must undoubtedly be viewed as a contender to land status as the greatest fighter to ever compete in mixed martial arts, should he topple Jones and win a third crown in the promotion.

Police say Jon Jones claimed drug testing agent fabricated a story amid use of expletive language

“If Alex (Pereira) can be a guy that wins a third belt, that dude better be in the conversation as greatest of all time,” Daniel Cormier told MMA Junkie. “And hell, he’s only done it – he’s only got like 11 (sic) fights in his entire career.”

However, amid links to a super fight showdown with Jones, Pereira has been warned he would likely only last two and a half minutes with the former pound-for-pound number one if they ever share the Octagon, according to promotional veteran, Ben Askren.

Who wins in a future title showdown: Jon Jones or Alex Pereira?