Following a masterclass performance from Jailton Almeida at the weekend, the rising contender asked for a top-5 matchup against Ciryl Gane for his next fight. We're going to take a look at the scope of the Heavyweight division and discuss the next fights to make.
Following his victory over Lewis, Almeida was quick to call out the #1 contender, Ciryl Gane. But, if we're being realistic, it's doubtful that fight will happen next, with Almeida only just breaking into the top 10 of the division. Instead, the original bout between Almeida and Curtis Blaydes should be rebooked for a five-round main event in early 2024. Blaydes is coming off a TKO defeat to Sergei Pavlovich, but before that, he was 8-1 in his last nine. The fight is an excellent opportunity for Blaydes, ranked #5, to prove he can still hang with the rising contenders and allows Almeida to jump into the top 5 of the division with a victory. The winner would likely set themselves up for a big fight in mid-2024 with potential title implications, which is why it's imperative we get this matchup across five rounds.
Derrick Lewis just had a bad night in the office. Despite taking the fight on short notice and impressing many fans with his submission and ground defense, he was still utterly dominated across five rounds. "The Black Beast" is 2-5 in his last seven and is slowly being forced out of the rankings due to steeper competition, but he's still always down to take a fight, even if it's a poor matchup for him. Another fighter in a rough spot is Jairzinho Rozenstruik, who hasn't pieced a winning streak together since 2019. The former kickboxing champion has no current wins over anyone inside the top 15 and, with another loss, could fall from the rankings. With Lewis holding the #10 ranking and Rozenstruik claiming #12, this is a perfect matchup to make next that could open a PPV card. With the two fighters being prolific knockout artists in the division and both being ranked for multiple years, it's shocking we haven't seen this fight already.
Now, this matchup is a classic instance of a striker vs. a grappler. Alexander Volkov is coming off a big win at UFC 293, where he submitted Tai Tuivasa with an Ezekiel choke. The Heavyweight veteran is riding his longest win streak since 2018, with finishes over Tuivasa, Alexander Romanov, and Jairzinho Rozenstruik. On the other side stands Serghei Spivac, who made a name for himself in 2022 when he TKOed Greg Hardy and Augusto Sakai. "Polar Bear" started 2023 off strong, too, with a submission over Derrick Lewis, but fell victim to the technical striking of Ciryl Gane in his last bout, halting his momentum in the division. This is an ideal fight for both men, as they're right next to each other in the rankings, and both need a big win to boost themselves into a top-5 matchup next. We could likely see this headline a Fight Night card in early 2024, especially since Volkov is a very active fighter.
With Sergei Pavlovich and Tom Aspinall booked for UFC 295, the division's landscape is unknown. Will the winner face Jon Jones, or the winner of Jones vs. Stipe Miocic, or perhaps have to defend their interim title? Either way, as the number #1 contender, Ciryl Gane will fit into the equation somewhere. Despite suffering his only two UFC losses in undisputed Championship fights, the Frenchman has remained perfect throughout the rest of his career, racking up wins over Spivac, Tuivasa, Volkov, Lewis, and more during his rise to the top. Although he initially declined a matchup against Tom Aspinall, he may be forced to fight him in his next bout, depending on how his fight vs. Pavlovich plays out. Regardless, we'll likely see Gane against one of those two fighters next.
Finally, we must decide what to do with the loser of UFC 293's co-main event, Tai Tuivasa. The Western Sydney banger managed to scrap his way to an unofficial title eliminator bout against Ciryl Gane, but after a war in Paris, he was KOed late in the third round. Following the loss, he'd drop two more defeats to Pavlovich and Volkov, leaving him on his second three-fight losing streak inside the UFC. The next logical matchup for Tuivasa is a step down outside the top-10 to face Marcin Tybura. "Tybur" is also coming off a loss to Tom Aspinall, but before that, he was 7-1 in his last eight. The Pole always comes to fight and is always a tough matchup for anyone. It's the logical next matchup for Tuivasa to see if he's still capable of handling himself in the upper echelon of the division.
So, what do you think? Which of these bouts would you most like to see heading into 2024, and do you disagree with any? As a member of the Verdict Community, let us know in the comments below.