It's a point we've echoed on the Holy Smokes MMA Podcast numerous times -- these heavier divisions are wild.
Sometimes in a good way. Sometimes not so much.
Everyone knows heavyweight fighters and their primes tend to skew older. That's not new information. But over the past couple of years, there's been quite the exodus from the Light Heavyweight ranks that have birthed everything from promise to "who is that?"
The irony of this is, I originally wrote this column back in June, but hesitated to push the "publish" button because there were a couple of names emerging.
Let's take a look at the situation.
Josh Barnett was flagged by USADA -- main event level guy, gone. Arlovski has lost four in a row, and is somehow still ranked in the top ten. The UFC mercifully said goodbye to long overrated Roy Nelson. Travis Browne hasn't been able to put it together since leaving Jackson's MMA, and has lost 4 of 5 at 34 years old. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem look about out of title shots, and Cain Velasquez can't stay healthy. Fabricio Werdum is working his way back to that level. Mark Hunt is about cooked at this stage, and Andrei Arlovski's best years are behind him.
What lies beneath is most interesting.
Outside of Derrick Lewis and Francis Ngannou, the names didn't really jump off the page back in June. In the heavyweight division, 18 months can put a fighter on a 5-fight winning streak and develop a contender. A few good (or even not good) right hands can put you on a path that makes you look unstoppable. As we've seen, that's never the case at heavyweight.
29-year old Alexander Volkov was one of many Russian stars that Bellator used, before apparently abandoning all plans to make any efforts to utilize the country's talent. He's emerged in the UFC by defeating Roy Nelson and Timothy Johnson -- a top 15 heavyweight who alternates wins and losses.
Volkov also beat Stefan Struve last year. Struve has always been an anomaly in that he was in the UFC as a heavyweight in his early 20's. Despite his inconsistency, Struve has proven to be an asset, even after losing almost two years of his career due to a medical condition. The Dutch fighter has wins over Bigfoot Silva, Minotauro Noguiera and Stipe Miocic. Quite the resume, even if he hasn't put it all together yet.
Add Marcin Tybura, 31, to the merry-go-round of the top 15. He's 2-3 in the UFC and has had trouble against elite talent already. As fighters leave the division, sport and company, some of these losses won't look so bad. He has a couple of wins in Andrei Arlovski and Damian Grabowski that jump off the page, but he's been unable to get it done in the top 10.
There are a couple of more seasoned guys in the top 15 in Daniel Omielanczuk and Aleksei Oleinik who had nice showings, but would stutter -- in Oleinik's case, against Omielanczuk and Curtis Blaydes
However, there were a couple unranked fighters at the time I originally wanted to publish I was particularly interested in.
Justin Ledet doesn't physically look like a world-beater, but 10 fights in, he's done that. 29 years old and 3-0, Ledet has a quick submission finish and a decision win, proving he can make either work. The latter spoke volumes to me, considering he'd never went the distance in his six year career prior. Couple that with a near four-year break, and there were a lot of question marks (and still are) around Ledet. One of those involved a USADA violation, which was later proven to be a contaminated supplement. He came back in September 2017 and won a split decision over Zu Anyanqu in Pittsburgh
Walt Harris doesn't meet the youth criteria that others do. He's 34, and lost his first three UFC fights, with a stint in Titan FC in between. Since last year, however, Harris thankfully disposed of all-time horrible person Cody East, and knocked out Chase Sherman. His record is incredibly misleading, as he lost a fight via DQ, and took on a former UFC Heavyweight Champion in Fabricio Werdum on a few hours' notice.
Already making the rankings -- that's where the heat is at.
I'm not ready to put Junior Albini on that pedestal of Tuivasa yet, but his story is unmatched. He came to the UFC in July and earned 70k overall for his performance and win over top 15 Timothy Johnson. Albini revealed that he'd not been paid for his last ten fights and couldn't afford to buy his child toys. He went the distance in a decision loss to former UFC Heavyweight Champ but past his prime Andrei Arlovski, but 26 years old at Heavyweight? You know the drill.
Tai Tuivasa exploded onto the UFC scene at 24 years old with two crazy finishes and a charismatic personality. He drew comparisons to Mark Hunt for obvious reasons, and could be a marketable star for the UFC in the Australia and New Zealand areas.
Last, and certainly not least -- 26 year old Curtis "Razor" Blaydes -- who certainly isn't unranked anymore.. He ran into Francis Ngannou during his first UFC fight, and we all know what happens in that situation. Afterwards, he joined the "beat up Cody East" club, before beating Adam Milstead. Since July, Blaydes reeled off three big wins, including a breakout performance over Mark Hunt in early 2018
The odd thing is, despite the influx of new, younger heavyweights arriving on the scene, the average age of UFC ranked heavyweights has actually went up by 0.1 year over the past three months -- largely due to many of the names still ranked aging naturally.
Sometimes it can seem like the sky is falling. Fortunately for the UFC, the heavyweights often deliver fireworks. The tough thing is getting one of these emerging guys to make it 5 or 6 fights without their lights getting turned off by a 3XL mitt.