Welcome back to the B/R MMA Mailbag. Here's where we answer your questions about all the various MMA issues of the day.
This week we're focused on the UFC's heavyweight division, which is steeped in drama thanks to champ Francis Ngannou's extended absence and Tai Tuivasa's one-shot knockout last weekend of all-time UFC knockout king Derrick Lewis.
It's kind of a weird division right now, with top stars on ice and new stars, Tuivasa notwithstanding, slow to materialize.
We asked for your questions Monday. What did you want to know about this glamorous if depleted division?
Questions may be edited for length or clarity.
What about Stipe Miocic? Is Jon Jones really gonna fight? If so, when? —@Bear2327
Stipe needs a fight! —@Brundon
Miocic has been the odd man out lately at the top of this division, but if our readers are any indication, he's far from forgotten.
Miocic only competed once per year from 2019 to 2021, going 2-1 by notching two wins over Daniel Cormier before losing the title to Ngannou. The matchmaking gods simply haven't looked his way, perhaps in part because of his relative lack of marketability.
No question he's been quiet lately, but a single tweet recently landed him back in the spotlight. That tweet came from a person named Jon Jones.
You might balk at Jones' vague language in the tweet, but it gets a little less murky when you remember that Miocic holds the record for most consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses with three. So, by at least one metric, Miocic is indeed the best heavyweight ever.
If one insider is to be believed, Miocic has been making the most of his layoff. ESPN and social media personality Chael Sonnen recently reported that Miocic, in an effort to compete with Ngannou and other fighters on the larger end of the spectrum, has put on 20 pounds of muscle and now clocks in at 249 pounds, much closer to the division's upper limit of 265. (For comparison's sake, Ngannou weighed in at 257 for his January bout with Ciryl Gane.)
There's plenty of momentum for a Jones-Miocic matchup. Cormier, a former champ and current broadcaster, has given the match his stamp of approval. It is in no way far-fetched to expect the winner to be named interim heavyweight champ, especially given the UFC's conflict with Ngannou over paying him a fair wage for his efforts.
But as with all things Jones, just getting him back in the ring is half the battle. Until the cage door closes, his future will be uncertain. But if it doesn't work out, Miocic and the UFC might have to move on. At age 39, Miocic has to be motivated to get back into action as soon as possible. If a Jones matchup doesn't pan out, a bout with the red-hot Tuivasa could make for a juicy consolation prize.
It has to be Ngannou or Stipe next for Tai, right? —@ProgressiveFlo
Is Ngannou coming back, and if he does who does he fight? —@EvilTexan88
If I answer your question, do I get discounted insurance for my RV? I certainly hope so.
Ngannou is on the shelf until the end of the year following knee surgery. His future in the UFC is mostly cloudy given his contract status and his stated desire to try boxing—a desire that's very much requited.
If Miocic vs. Jones doesn't move forward as an interim title match, Tuivasa might get a shot at Miocic.
My personal vote, however, is for Tuivasa vs. Gane. Gane has the more deliberate game, while Tuivasa has, well, the less deliberate game. Anyone who can crush Lewis with a single elbow strike deserves to be tested against the best.
Is there any new blood aside from Tom Aspinall being injected into the heavyweight division? —@Bear2327
Despite his recent loss to Lewis, I'm not ready to punt on Chris Daukaus just yet. If you can bully or wrestle him, you've got a chance. If not, you're getting starched. Ask Aleksei Oleinik, Shamil Abdurakhimov, or any of the other 11 guys he's knocked out in 16 pro fights. Is he a future champ? Probably not. But he can continue to make noise and has a puncher's chance against anyone.
If you're looking for a deeper cut, try Alikhan Vakhaev. Coming out of the fighting hotbed of Russia's North Caucasus region, Vakhaev is 11-2 on regional circuits, punctuated by an active seven-fight win streak. His last loss came to Volkan Oezdemir, who fights in the UFC's light heavyweight division. The 6'6" Chechnyan knows how to use his size and range to pick opponents apart.
Let us now close up the B/R MMA mailbag. See you next week for new topics.