Grading the 5 major MMA promotions based only their heavyweight champions

How do each of the five major MMA promotions stack up if you judge them only on their heavyweight champions?
Feb 8, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Jon Jones (red gloves) fights Dominick Reyes (not pictured) during UFC 247 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 8, 2020; Houston, Texas, USA; Jon Jones (red gloves) fights Dominick Reyes (not pictured) during UFC 247 at Toyota Center. Mandatory Credit: Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports / Thomas Shea-USA TODAY Sports

Mixed Martials have slowly begun to eclipse boxing as the premier combat sport. The heavyweight
boxing champion held the unofficial moniker of The baddest man on the planet. Now it seems the moniker belongs to the heavyweight champion of MMA, especially the UFC. There are several MMA promotions in the world but for casual fans, five hold prime importance: UFC, PFL, Bellator, ONE Championship, and Rizin.

For casual fans, heavyweight champions of the five promotions are considered the most dangerous combat sports athletes. Other promotions like KSW, Cage Warriors, ACA, Brave CF, and LFA have skilled heavyweight champions. However, they are relatively unknown to their counterparts. PFL has recently acquired Bellator but they operate as two entities at press time and therefore have champions of their own.

Evgeniy Goncharov, the ACA heavyweight champion, is a force to be reckoned with. He has only lost once with the promotion and is a two-time heavyweight champion. Nonetheless, he has fought exclusively in Russia and is now 37 years old which is not old for a heavyweight.

Phil De Fries, the KSW heavyweight champion, had fought five times with the UFC, winning twice. At KSW, he has 9 title defenses but he had already lost to inferior competition in the UFC. Nonetheless, he has also fought Stipe Miocic but lost via knockout in 43 seconds.

Cage Warriors do not have a heavyweight champion. Mauro Cerilli, their last champion, left for ONE Championship in 2017. Bahrain-based Brave Combat Federation also does not have a heavyweight division. Similar is the case for Ares FC, the French MMA promotion.

South African-based Extreme Fighting Championships also do not have a heavyweight champion. Matunga Djikasa, their last heavyweight champion, left for ONE Championship where he did not have much success. Hugo Cunha, the LFA heavyweight champion, is a beast. His only defeat was to Dustin Joynson, via split decision.

The UFC has a stacked heavyweight division, comprised of veterans and youngsters. Bellator also has a good heavyweight division but doesn't match well with the UFC. The PFL has some of the biggest heavyweight fighters and so does ONE Championship. When compared to the other four, Rizin has a weaker heavyweight division. Nonetheless, the heavyweight champions of each promotion have a claim to be the best in the world.

How do the heavyweight champions of the five promotions stack up against each other? Let's rank the heavyweight champions of each of the five promotions.

Rizin Fighting Federation

Rizin is Japan's biggest MMA promotion. As it is the spiritual successor to Pride FC and Dream, it employs the flash and flair of its predecessors. However, the promotion does not have a heavyweight champion. Moreover, the heavyweights on their roster are Sumo wrestlers. Since the promotion is based in Japan, there is limited availability of fighters in the heavier weight classes. However, Rizin has collaborated with foreign promotions and has produced exciting cross-promotional fights, especially with Bellator.

Despite having an inferior roster in the heavier weight classes, RIZIN has exciting fighters in their smaller weight classes. Nonetheless, the lack of viable contenders and a champion at heavyweight is something the promotion should address.

Grade F

Bellator MMA

The PFL recently acquired Bellator but they remain as separate entities for financial and business purposes. Therefore, they have their respective champions. Ryan Bader is the heavyweight champion at Bellator. Bader is an ex-UFC light heavyweight who was once a double champion at Bellator. In his latest fight at PFL vs. Bellator: Champs, PFL heavyweight champion Renan Ferreira easily knocked out Bader in the first round. Bader was untouchable at Bellator but found the size and power of Ferreira too much to handle.

In Bellator, Bader defeated Muhammad Lawal, Matt Mitrione, Cheick Kongo, and Fedor Emelianenko. At the same time, he also competed at light heavyweight where he was the champion but lost to Vadim Nemkov and Corey Anderson.

Bader has already lost to the PFL heavyweight champion. Moreover, Jon Jones, the UFC heavyweight champion, also has a victory over Bader, albeit at light heavyweight. Bader is 40 years old and won't likely have a chance against Anatoly Malykhin, the ONE FC heavyweight champion. Bellator has a weak heavyweight roster. However, Vadim Nemkov, the former light heavyweight champion has moved up to heavyweight and could potentially be the next champion. Nonetheless, Bader is the current champion, and that has put Bellator way below in the rankings.

Grade B-

Professional Fighters League

Since the PFL are two entities, they have a separate champion apart from Ryan Bader. Renan Ferreira the 2023 PFL heavyweight champion towers over his opposition. The six-foot eight-inch tall heavyweight recently knocked out Bader at PFL vs. Bellator: Champs. Even though Ferreria has showcased power, he has shown a weakness in wrestling which many thought Bader would exploit.

However, Ferreira wasted no time to rock Bader with a punch and ultimately finish him. Despite his staggering physique, Ferreira has lost via decision, TKO, and submission. Nonetheless, Ferreira found success in the latest PFL heavyweight grand prix after faltering in the previous two editions. Nevertheless, he has no signature victory other than Bader. With the victory over Bader, Ferreira has set himself on a high-profile matchup with Francis Ngannou, who signed with the PFL after vacating the UFC heavyweight title. Ngannou has lost his past two fights at boxing but is on a knockout spree in MMA.

Ngannou's brutal loss to Anthony Joshua via knockout was a sight to behold. This would be the perfect opportunity for Ferreria to bag a victory over Ngannou. Before the loss to Joshua, Ngannou had never been knocked out and had shown a durable chin. If Ngannou was the heavyweight champion at PFL, the promotion would've been higher up in the rankings. Unfortunately, Renan Ferreira is the heavyweight champion at PFL. Ferreira is not part of the current heavyweight grand prix.

Therefore, a new PFL heavyweight champion will be crowned at the end of the season. As it stands, Valentin Moldovsky, the former Bellator interim heavyweight champion, is the favorite to be crowned the champion. Nevertheless, Ferreira currently holds a victory over Bader and that has put him the PFL champion over the Bellator champion in the rankings. Apart from Bader, Ferreira does not have a resume to be ranked higher.

Grade B+

ONE Championship

ONE Championship is the biggest MMA promotion in Asia. Based in Singapore, the promotion focuses on all types of combat sports but their heavyweight division has been attracting attention from across the world.

The undefeated Anatoly Malykhin is the heavyweight champion at ONE Championship. Malykhin is also the middleweight and light heavyweight champion. He is undefeated in 14 professional MMA fights, 6 at ONE Championship where he finished every opponent via TKO. At five foot eleven inches, Malykhin does not have the height advantage over the heavyweight champions of the other major promotion. However, what he lacks in size, he compensates with finishing prowess, evidenced by his 10 TKO and 4 submission victories.

Malykhin is a tank capable of beating any MMA fighter on the planet. At ONE Championship, Reiner de Ridder, Amir Aliakbari, and Arjan Bhullar are the big names Malykhin has fought. Nobody has gone past round three against Malykhin. Malykhin's last four fights have been title fights across three weight divisions. Moreover, he has won post-fight bonuses in all four fights. Unbeknownst to many, ONE Championship has a pretty good heavyweight roster.

Oumer Kane, Marcus Almeida, and Kang Ji-Won are tough fighters Malykhin has yet to face. Moreover, there is Ben Tynan, the undefeated Canadian, rising up the ranks. If Malykhin had a couple more title defenses at heavyweight, he very well could've put ONE Championship in the number one spot. However, Malykhin does not have a single defense of his heavyweight titles. Moreover, his victories at heavyweight do not hold much value, considering they are against inferior competition when compared to the other big promotions.

Nonetheless, due to the immense skill Malykhin possesses, only the UFC was able to leapfrog One FC to claim the number-one spot

Grade A-


Jon Jones became the heavyweight champion of the UFC, defeating Ciryl Gane at UFC 285, winning the title vacated by Francis Ngannou. Jones was supposed to defend his title against Stipe Miocic at UFC 295 before a pectoral injury halted the plan.

Jones is arguably the GOAT of MMA. Before he moved up to heavyweight, Jones wreaked havoc in the light heavyweight division. Although he lost steam in the latter stage of his title reign at light heavyweight, Jones is still considered by many to be the most decorated MMA champion in history.

Even though he has only fought at heavyweight once, the resume of Jones at light heavyweight is something that cannot be matched anytime soon. Jones' title defenses at light heavyweight were against some of the legends of the sport. Moreover, even at a higher weight class, Jones would be favored to beat almost all the fighters in the heavyweight rankings. Nonetheless, a new breed of heavyweights like Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich pose a stylistic threat to Jones.

Jones, the arguable GOAT of MMA, is the heavyweight champion of the UFC. Therefore, it's hard to put the promotion anywhere other than the top spot in the rankings. Nonetheless, a hypothetical matchup between Jones and Anatoly Malykhin would be fascinating. In addition to the all-round skills he possesses, Jones has a granite chin that has never been cracked. He has been hit with some of the hardest punchers and kickers in MMA but Jones never faltered. However, his chin has never been tested at heavyweight.

Jones does not have a single title at heavyweight. That would be a reason to put any other promotion lower in the rankings. But this is Jones, one of the best to ever do it. Therefore, the UFC bags the top spot in the rankings, courtesy of their former pound-for-pound king.

Grade A+


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