The heavyweight division in the UFC is currently in the best place it’s been in for several years.
With Francis Ngannou the undisputed champion and Ciryl Gane the interim champion, that immediately tells you about the depth of the division. But when you list the likes of Stipe Miocic, Jon Jones, Curtis Blaydes, Alexander Volkov and Jairzinho Rozenstruik too it’s even clearer.
That’s why the UFC Vegas 45 main event between Derrick Lewis and Chris Daukaus is about more than just their positions in the rankings.
Lewis is currently ranked at number three in the UFC rankings, following his defeat to Gane in their interim title fight at UFC 265 earlier this year.
It ended a run of four straight victories for the ‘Black Beast’, who had earned wins over Blagoy Ivanov and Ilir Latifi via decision before knocking out Aleksei Oleinik at UFC Vegas 6 before thumping Curtis Blaydes into unconsciousness at UFC Vegas 19.
Despite the defeat to Gane, Lewis is still one of the most feared big men in UFC history. He has the most knockouts of anyone in the organisation’s history and has reached the top of the mountain twice, just falling at the final hurdle on both occasions.
So when he stands across the octagon from rising prospect Daukaus this weekend, it will be yet another crossroads moment for the division.
Daukaus is 4-0 in the UFC and has made a big impression by knocking out all of Parker Porter at UFC 252, Rodrigo Nascimento at UFC Fight Island 5, Aleksei Oleinik at UFC Vegas 19 and then Shamil Abdurakhimov at UFC 266 most recently.
He is a jiu-jitsu black belt with excellent grappling skills and fearsome power in his hands, and looks set to make a run towards title contention in 2022.
A win over Lewis would elevate him into number three in the rankings and likely set him up for a title eliminator early in the new year, while Lewis would be coming off back-to-back defeats for the first time since losses to Daniel Cormier and Junior Dos Santos in November 2018 and March 2019.
Should he win though, he cements himself as one of the very elite in the world and makes it very difficult to deny him another run if he can earn another victory next year early on.
In a fluid heavyweight division for 2022, this fight determines whether it’s the new school or the old school that will be leading the charge towards a title shot and that could shape the entire future of the company.