UFC 295 concluded with two new champions, as Alex Pereira won the vacant light heavyweight title and Tom Aspinall took home the interim heavyweight title. But with two divisions plagued with questions, what’s next for the new champs and their weight classes? Brett Okamoto, Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim react to the biggest storylines of the night.
Jon Jones was scheduled to headline UFC 295 but had to withdraw because of injury. As it turned out, the heavyweight champion and consensus GOAT of MMA was a ghostly presence during Saturday night’s final two bouts at Madison Square Garden in New York.
First, the co-main event established Tom Aspinall as a clear No. 1 contender for Jones’ title. The UFC might opt instead to re-book Jones in the planned matchup against former champion Stipe Miocic once Jones’ pectoral tendon heals. But the injured champ’s comeback might not occur until next summer, by which time Miocic would be 42 years old and coming off a layoff of nearly three-and-a-half years.
Conversely, Aspinall showed in Saturday’s 69-second KO of Sergei Pavlovich that he is championship material. The 30-year-old from Salford, England, just outside of Manchester, owns an interim belt now and — no disrespect to Miocic — would be the best choice as a challenger for Jones’ first title defense.
Jones also figured into the UFC 295 main event, contested in his former weight class, light heavyweight. After he ruled at 205 pounds for the better part of a decade, Jones vacated the belt in August 2020 in order to move up to heavyweight. Since then, the belt has been a hot potato, circulating among six different fighters. The latest among them is Alex Pereira, the former middleweight champion, who on Saturday was crowned as light heavyweight champ in just his second bout in the weight class.
Pereira captured the title by knocking out one of Jones’ successors as champ, Jiří Procházka, at 4:08 of Round 2 in a fight that arguably wasn’t going Pereira’s way until right before it ended. Procházka, who had to surrender the title a year ago after suffering a major shoulder injury, was leading the dance in Saturday night’s return to action, until Pereira dropped him with a short counter left hook.
Procházka was hurt by the punch and the follow-up elbows to the side of the head, and Pereira ended up on top of him in full mount, at which point referee Marc Goddard jumped in. The stoppage seemed too quick, although Pereira was in prime position to do more damage, so the result might have been the same even if the fight lasted a bit longer.
Either way, it was not the kind of definitive beating that fans became used to during the bulk of Jones’ reign. And until Pereira or someone else becomes a domineering force in the 205-pound division, “Jonny Bones” will remain an ethereal presence, with all comparisons coming up second best.
All credit to Pereira, the UFC’s ninth two-division champ and second Brazilian to achieve the feat — joining Amanda Nunes. He is on top of the world of 205-pounders, and his power-packed fighting style and stoic persona resonate with fans. But while Jones will never compete as a light heavyweight again, the former champ has not been replaced, not yet. — Wagenheim
Raimondi: Welcome the next generation of UK champions
Michael Bisping was waiting for Aspinall before Aspinall headed backstage at Madison Square Garden. Aspinall had his head down, emotional. The UFC interim heavyweight title was slung over his left shoulder and he was holding it tight. Aspinall had just knocked out Pavlovich to win the belt.
Bisping stopped Aspinall, who wrapped Bisping in a giant embrace. It was an incredible moment between Bisping, the first UFC champion from the United Kingdom, and Aspinall, the third and latest UFC champ from the UK.
Bisping was a pioneer for MMA in England and greater Europe. Aspinall is a representative of the next generation, along with UFC welterweight champion Leon Edwards. The UFC now has two champions who call England home, meaning MMA could not be healthier in the region.
There’s something special about a British heavyweight champion, though. Sure, it’s the interim belt. But Jones will be out for a while with a torn pectoral and he’ll likely fight Miocic when he comes back in a legacy bout. Aspinall will be the one carrying the water for the heavyweight division in the UFC for months and could even defend the interim belt while the promotion waits for Jones and Miocic.
Aspinall having the title opens the doors even further regarding British MMA. UFC CEO Dana White said he could reconsider his position about doing a stadium show in the United Kingdom, which he has been lukewarm about previously. But imagine an iconic packed soccer venue like Old Trafford (Manchester United), Emirates Stadium (Arsenal) or Wembley Stadium, with Aspinall and Edwards in headlining positions. The scenes, as our friends across the pond, would say.
It’s also worth noting that Aspinall is only 30 years old. That’s basically an infant in heavyweight years. Former UFC heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier was 34 when he first got into the UFC, let alone be champion. It feels like the start of a new generation. One with a Union Jack slapped on it.
Okamoto: What’s next for Pereira, Aspinall and other stars of UFC 295
Alex Pereira, light heavyweight champion
Who Should be Next: Jamahal Hill
This division has been weird. Prochazka vacated due to injury. Hill vacated due to injury. There was a championship fight draw (Jan Blachowicz vs. Magomed Ankalaev) mixed in there as well. Finally, we have some momentum to move forward. Unfortunately, outside of Hill, there is no apparent next title challenger for the belt. And unfortunately, he’s not healthy right now. A torn Achilles tendon is a serious injury, and nothing can be taken for granted in Hill’s path to recovery. That said, I see few attractive options for the UFC to move forward with now. So, for now, wait for Hill — even if it means waiting until mid- or late summer.
Wildcard: Winner of Jan Blachowicz vs. Aleksandar Rakic
This fight has yet to be officially booked, but it’s expected to be the next matchup for both. Neither of these two is on a solid run right now, but if it’s Blachowicz, you can promote it as his final shot. For Rakic, it would be a new title challenger.
Jiří Procházka, light heavyweight
Who Should be Next: Nikita Krylov
Krylov has won three in a row, and the UFC prefers to book winning streaks against winning streaks, but in this case, it makes sense to go away from that. Krylov would get a higher-ranked opponent, and Pereira would have to defend his spot in the rankings against a game opponent.
Wildcard: Anthony Smith
There is always a chance Smith comes into play here. He’s a big name for the UFC, and a fight between Pereira and Smith could be a nice addition to any UFC card, whether it’s PPV or Fight Night main event.
Tom Aspinall, heavyweight champion
Who Should be Next: Jon Jones
Let’s go. Come on. With all due respect to Stipe Miocic — he is the greatest heavyweight of all time — title shots aren’t lifetime achievement awards. I want to see Jones in a fight to determine whether he is the best heavyweight on the planet. The only way to determine that is by booking him against Aspinall. It’s a big fight, too. Jones vs. Miocic might have more star power, but is it more profitable than Jones vs. Aspinall? I don’t think so. Jones in England, to take on the English interim champ? Scenes. Miocic has not won a fight in over three years. Aspinall vs. Jones is the fight.
Wildcard: Jailton Almeida
We’ll have to see what happens with the Jones-Miocic scenario. If they end up fighting, I believe they will both retire. And if that happens, I think Aspinall’s first defense of the undisputed belt would be against Almeida.
Sergei Pavlovich, heavyweight
Who Should be Next: Stipe Miocic
It won’t happen, but my honest answer of who should be next is Miocic, unless Miocic is retired. I firmly believe Jones should fight Aspinall next. So, if Miocic wants one more chance for the belt, let him take out Pavlovich to prove he’s still got it. As I’ve mentioned previously, Miocic hasn’t won in three years. I’m not here to speak poorly of Miocic, far from it. The man is the most accomplished heavyweight in UFC history. But the clear title fight to make is Jones vs. Aspinall, so let’s book Miocic something else.
Wildcard: Serghei Spivac
I find this one much more likely. Spivac has shown a lot of potential in recent years, but is coming off a loss to Ciryl Gane in his last performance. Makes perfect sense from a rankings standpoint. Two guys with plenty of ceiling left and plenty of gas in the tank.