UFC 295 promised two new champions and two men stepped up and delivered.
By the end of Saturday night, Alex Pereira laid claim to the light heavyweight title that has been tossed around like a hot potato over the past two years and Tom Aspinall became the interim champion of a heavyweight division that won’t see its undisputed titleholder compete anytime soon.
So the question has to be asked: Are these two truly the best in the world in their respective weight classes?
First off, let’s look at where Aspinall landed in the MMA Fighting Global Rankings after his momentous win over Sergei Pavlovich.
Aspinall received five first-place votes to Jon Jones’ three, edging Jones out by the narrowest of possible margins. That makes sense given that our aforementioned question looms larger for Aspinall than it does for Pereira.
Interim implies that Aspinall’s time at the top is designed to be finite while the undisputed champ recovers from a pectoral injury. Jones looked nothing short of dominant when he bulldozed Ciryl Gane at UFC 285 and was worthy of the No. 1 spot even without having defeated lineal champion Francis Ngannou (who was only recently removed from our rankings due to MMA inactivity). However, with that being Jones’ lone win in the division and the likelihood that it will be over a year between fights for him by the time he returns, Aspinall marches past him in our rankings.
Call it disrespectful to the GOAT if you will, call it recency bias, but it’s easy to make a case that Aspinall deserves to be called the best heavyweight in the world right now. He’s 7-1 in the UFC now with all of his wins coming by way of knockout or submission and that lone loss being due to a freak injury. Unlike Jones, he’s actually been active in the division knocking off ranked opponents including Pavlovich, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov, and Serghei Spivac. Just as importantly, he’ll probably remain active in early 2024.
You can credit Jones for his sterling work at light heavyweight, but at the end of the day it is a different division and, respectfully, the last time he had a dominant win at 205 pounds was well over four years ago.
Full disclosure, I am one of the panelists who voted for Aspinall and after reviewing the facts, Aspinall sounds like a proper No. 1-ranked fighter to me. Sorry, “Bones.”
Alex Pereira’s case to be No. 1 is more clear-cut and while he tops our light heavyweight rankings more comfortably, he still falls short of undisputed status.
Six of our panelists crowned Pereira as MMA’s best at 205 pounds after his second-round knockout of our incumbent No. 1 Jiri Prochazka, which is as insane as it sounds given that the Glory Kickboxing Hall of Famer is barely a year removed from beating Israel Adesanya for the middleweight title in just his eighth pro MMA fight. Saturday’s fight with Prochazka was his 11th.
These things just... aren’t supposed to happen? Getting fast-tracked to one title and delivering? Fine, we’ve seen plenty of fighters do that under varying circumstances. But romping to two UFC titles in under a dozen fights in the modern era? What are we even doing anymore?
Those conundrums may explain why Pereira’s bid for No. 1 wasn’t backed by a pair of voters, who instead went with Jamahal Hill—who vacated the UFC light heavyweight title due to injury—and Bellator’s Vadim Nemkov instead. Like Aspinall, Hill and Nemkov have a case based on their activity in the division. Should Pereira’s wins over Prochazka and Jan Blachowicz outweigh Hill’s recent hot streak (including a one-sided drubbing of then-champion Glover Teixeira) or Nemkov’s sensational Bellator championship run (the man hasn’t lost a fight in seven years!)?
Admittedly, part of the hesitance to rank Pereira No. 1 has to come from our rational minds struggling to come to grips with what he’s accomplished in his brief cagefighting career. It just doesn’t make sense. That said, until Hill returns or Nemkov jumps ship or Magomed Ankalaev fights his way out of limbo, Pereira is as deserving of the top spot as anyone.