Grading every heavyweight champion in UFC history

The heavyweight division is in a bit of a stalemate as fans wait for the promotion to announce what it will do with Jon Jones, Stipe Miocic and Tom Aspinall.

Jul 7, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Daniel Cormier (blue gloves) celebrates beating Stipe Miocic (red
Jul 7, 2018; Las Vegas, NV, USA; Daniel Cormier (blue gloves) celebrates beating Stipe Miocic (red / Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports
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Francis Ngannou (2021-2023)

Grade: A

Heavyweight may be a cursed division, as Ngannou is another example of a fighter whose UFC championship run was cut short. However, in this case, injuries were not to blame and neither is the fighter.

Given his short reign as champion, the given grade may appear too high, especially considering his previous loss to Stipe Miocic before winning the belt. But his title fight with Ciryl Gane, while not a highlight-reel moment, is a performance only the best in the world could have accomplished.

Fresh off a knockout of Miocic in his second title opportunity, Ngannou was one who many saw as unlimited potential. That included the UFC until the front office sensed the reality that their homegrown star was likely on his way out with one fight left on a contract. In an effort to save a pay-per-view card, the promotion threw together a senseless interim title fight that would be won by Gane.

Every factor heading into UFC 270 put immense pressure on Ngannou. Not only was Gane an undefeated prospect showing quickness and striking never seen before at heavyweight, but the two had trained together previously in France. The worst factor was not even revealed until post-fight, when Ngannou and his team mentioned that their fighter competed with essentially no working knees.

Not many fans saw the wrestling-based approach from Ngannou coming as he defended his title against Gane but given the matter of his injuries and the pressure from the UFC amid contract negotiations, the performance was almost breathtaking.

Though it would ultimately be just two fights, there are few things Ngannou could have done to make his title reign more impressive under the given circumstances. One year after defending his belt against Gane, Ngannou would leave the UFC, being the first incumbent heavyweight champion to do so since Randy Couture.

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