For the first time in several years the UFC’s heavyweight division is actually pretty exciting.
After years of Stipe Miocic dominating the top of the division and fighting once or twice a year, followed by three years or Miocic vs Daniel Cormier, we finally have some sort of contender queue.
Francis Ngannou is the man reigning over the division currently, following his stunning knockout win over Miocic in March at UFC 260. But there is a backlog of fighters ready to step up if called upon.
Jon Jones is at the head of the table, ready to make his division debut if a financial package can be agreed among all parties. That seems unlikely right now, which puts Derrick Lewis as the most likely man to fight ‘The Predator’ in his first title defence.
Beyond those, you have Ciryl Gane and Alexander Volkov who are on impressive win streaks and are set to meet each other next month in a huge top five clash. Then you have Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who had been on a tear until Ngannou turned his lights out at UFC 249.
Having won four-in-a-row from his debut onwards by knockout, including former champion Andrei Arlovski and Alistair Overeem, Rozenstruik was KO’d inside 20 seconds by the now-champion. He bounced back from that with a knockout win over another former champion in Junior Dos Santos, before being outclassed by Gane in his last bout.
Now though he steps into another main event where he knows a win gets him back into the conversation for a fight with the guys currently in the title picture.
He’s currently in that limbo period of his career where he’s beating the guys under the elite fighters, but losing to the elites. Overeem and Dos Santos are the biggest wins of his career and neither are part of the UFC roster anymore, which tells you where they were in their careers.
He fights Augusto Sakai next, who has beaten the likes of Arlovski, Marcin Tybura and Blagoy Ivanov since joining the UFC. But he was absolutely battered by Overeem last time out and looked well out of his depth.
If Rozenstruik gets beaten, he’s well and truly out of the conversation for now. Sakai doesn’t have the appeal of Rozenstruik to make a push for the title himself but can elevate his reputation, whereas the Surinamese kickboxer can really stamp himself on the division to prove he belongs with the top guys and the top guys only.
He’s by no means at the front of the queue with a win, regardless of how spectacular or impressive his performance is. But it will show the UFC that they can’t keep matching him against guys that are also trying to build up to the title, because he deserves to be higher up in the food chain than to act as a gatekeeper so early in his career.
A win likely matches him up with the loser of the title fight or Volkov should he lose to Gane and he’s got a way to go to actually have a legitimate claim to the belt, but it keeps him in the conversation and that’s the best thing for him right now.