Jon Jones vs. Stipe Miocic at UFC 295 in New York was set to solidify who truly is the GOAT. But the fight has now fallen through following Jones horrifically tearing his pectoral tendon. This injury, leaving the champion out for at least 8 months, came as a tragedy for some. But at the same time, it was a blessing in disguise for some vocal critics.
Saying this announced main event was divisive amongst the MMA fanbase would be an understatement. On one end—the arguable GOAT and former light heavyweight champion—Jon Jones had a reign of terror that lasted close to a decade. It also comes with a resume only few could dream of matching. On the other end—the great heavyweight fighter to exist—Stipe Miocic holds the record holder for most defenses.
Based on those descriptions, this should be every fan’s dream match. Unfortunately, it didn’t quite attract the excitement it would have years ago. Jon Jones’ victory over Cyril Gane at UFC 285 to claim the vacated UFC heavyweight title opened up a window of opportunity to see the legend collide with the stars of tomorrow. Instead, the UFC went the route of pitting Jones against Miocic, a man who hasn’t fought in close to three years. Additionally, he has done little since that period to convincingly stamp his spot in the title picture considering how far the division has moved since he last competed.
The questions from here are… Where do we go next? What’s in store for the fans? Who carries the torch of the heavyweight division? And has any good come out of this situation?
A Double-Edged Sword
From the moment this fight was rumored and announced, it was inevitable what the outcome would be for a good chunk of us. Taking two legends, neither in their physical prime anymore, and placing them into a legacy-defining contest in the world’s most famous arena, opens up the perfect opportunity for them to wrap up their storybook careers. Possibly in tandem.
A double retirement was highly possible at UFC 295, even rumored to be anticipated by the UFC brass and mutual training partners in the weeks leading up to the event. While a moment such as this one could have historical significance and definitely be one of those highlight reel clips for the UFC, it in turn places the heavyweight division in an awkward position. Although a plethora of younger talent has fought their way up the rankings to make the contender’s side of things quite interesting, it has felt like things have struggled to move on. Past the likes of Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier & Francis Ngannou in a fashion that made things always feel tied down. As if there was something holding things back from truly moving forward to a new era…
Stemming all the way back to the Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic trilogy, Francis Ngannou‘s turbulent relationship with Dana White and Stipe Miocic hopping over talent, many deem far more worthy of a title opportunity at this stage. These have all made everything surrounding the UFC’s heavyweights feel as if they can’t stand on their own just yet. None of this would have helped if Jones were to retire without truly testing himself against the up-and-coming talent. Even worse, should Stipe have recaptured the belt to only drop it anyway.
Neither of those outcomes really feels satisfying, considering how long it took to get to seeing a heavyweight Jon Jones in the first place. Only to have it all end on the back of a potential double retirement, stemming from a match that doesn’t quite feel like the icing on the cake we’d expect from the end of a career like the one either Jones or Miocic has had.
History Repeats Itself
When we look at the state of the UFC’s heavyweight division, we can instantly draw parallels to the middleweight division under the reigns of both Michael Bisping and George St-Pierre between 2016 & 2017. A period where the champion, Michael Bisping, placed a ceiling over perennial contenders ranging from Yoel Romero, Robert Whittaker, and Jacare Souza. Instead, he opted to defend his gold against the likes of No.13 ranked Dan Henderson, or a returning Georges St-Pierre. An argument could be made for St-Pierre, considering his dominance and being a mega-draw on any card he’s on. The likes of Dan Henderson though, left fans scratching their heads. Far past his prime and years removed from his iconic knockout of Michael Bisping, he received a championship match when more than five superior, more challenging options were on the table.
None of this is to compare Stipe Miocic and Dan Henderson, who are in different positions career-wise. It does ask the question of what this match between Jones & Miocic symbolizes considering fans are at a point where they’ve moved past this mega-fight. With a murderer’s row of contenders below him, Jon’s alternative title defense choices would likely solidify him as the “Greatest of All Time”. It would be a testament to his longevity, skillset, and ability to hang in there with the very best of the best at any point in history regardless of them being legends or killers climbing the rankings.
Similarly to Bisping, who was accused of ducking talent at the top, Jones seems to have made a choice that sounds good when marketed by the UFC. Yet, it means little to his legacy. Worst of all, this could be a choice that leaves another division the UFC places in a position of rebuilding should any retirement take place. The last thing any division needs, especially one as stacked as heavyweight, is to be another line-up left in the shadow of Jon Jones.
The Silver Lining
Putting aside everything said thus far, there is one singular, positive outcome out of all of the drama that unfolded over the past week or so… The replacement fight between Russia’s Sergei Pavlovic and Britain’s Tom Aspinall. This time for the interim championship.
Not only is this a more exciting, unpredictable fight to headline such a card in Madison Square Garden, but feels like an earned opportunity. Pavlovich is riding a six-fight unbeaten streak that hasn’t seen a single fight past the first round. Aspinall on the other hand, holds a controversial loss to Curtis Blaydes but has otherwise steamrolled almost all of his opponents outside of that. It’s a fight that’d be lucky to see more than two rounds, awards two absolute killers in their physical prime, and gives the winner a chance to hypothetically face Jones or Miocic down the line.
The original main event may be friendlier towards casual audiences. But this just feels like a more compelling matchup all around. One that is earned despite how it came to be. At a time when divisions are desperate to establish new stars, move past the old guard, and establish themselves. It feels like Aspinall vs. Pavlovich came around as a reminder of just how impressive the new breed of heavyweights is looking.
What’s important to take away from this entire ordeal, is that the scenario now laid out in front of us has the potential to be the most exciting period the heavyweights have experienced since Ngannou’s days. A period of young talent flushing out the old guard on a path to contend with arguably the best martial artist ever. This road won’t be without its bumps and is now guaranteed to take longer to get where we all want to be. However, it’s sure to deliver an explosion at UFC 295.
What are your thoughts on the new matchup and Jon Jones having to pull out? Let us know below.