While the biggest winner of the weekend was, without a doubt, Nate Diaz going 2-0 on water bottle throwing and choking out dudes who look like one of the Paul brothers, Sergei Pavlovich worked his way to the top of the heavyweight rankings by putting down Curtis Blaydes in the first round of their main event clash at UFC Vegas 71.
There were a lot of statements that were made on Saturday night, between Gervonta Davis proclaiming himself the new “face of boxing” after knocking out Ryan Garcia and Patchy Mix winning both a Bellator Grand Prix and an interim championship at the same time.
But when it comes to the Octagon, Pavlovich showed us that maybe there’s more to the UFC heavyweight division than just Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic.
Sergei Pavlovich has been on a tear
Sergei Pavlovich (18-1, 6-1 UFC), since suffering his lone defeat against Alistair Overeem in his promotional debut, has gone on a tear of 6 straight knockout victories, setting a new record for consecutive first round knockouts, and placing him second in overall knockouts behind Chuck Liddell’s iconic run to and through the light heavyweight division.
That’s quite impressive, especially considering that Blaydes (17-4 (1), 12-4 (1) UFC) not only has a win over Overeem from the same year as Pavlovich’s loss, he has put away every other top contender he has faced except for Ngannou and Derrick Lewis.
As good a grappler as Blaydes is, he has a weakness for strong punchers, and, unfortunately for him, Pavlovich punches quite hard. The win has allowed Pavlovich to rise above the muck that is the middle of the heavyweight rank and file and make a clear assertion that he’s ready for a shot at the UFC Heavyweight Championship.
And, with how well he’s performed, it’s hard to deny that Pavlovich doesn’t deserve that opportunity. And I think he will get it.
I just hope he’s okay with an interim championship.
Sergei Pavlovich might have an asterisk in his future
We all know the fight being worked on for Jon Jones’ first title defense is against former champion Stipe Miocic. The two had been circling each other for years prior to Jones finally making his heavyweight debut at UFC 285 and capturing the vacant championship with a quick submission of former interim champ Cyril Gane. And, with Ngannou out of the picture (seriously, praying for that Deontay Wilder clash to happen), there’s no reason to believe that won’t be the fight that gets booked.
Well, unless issues around pay start popping up. We all know how much fun those can be.
If the fight does indeed happen at some point this year, either at Madison Square Garden or somewhere else, there will be a big question that will need to be answered afterward, namely “Now what?”
I ask that in the sense of, regardless of who wins, what are the odds that either Jones or Miocic will have any interest in sticking around to defend the championship after that fight?
For Jones, he’s only ever talked about facing three fighters at heavyweight: Miocic, Ngannou, and Brock Lesnar. With Ngannou not an option at the moment and with Brock out of reach (unless Jones wants to test out the new relationship between UFC and WWE), there’s not going to be anyone for him that’s worth defending his lofty status against if he beats Miocic.
Jones already teased the showdown as being his retirement fight. Unless it’s some negotiating tactic, there’s little reason to not believe he’s being serious.
And for Stipe? He hasn’t fought since he lost the title to Ngannou over two years ago. He seems very content living his life outside the UFC grind, only really showing interest in coming back to face either Ngannou or Jones. If he can get one but not the other, he may well choose to head back home and spend his days doing what he really loves: fighting fires and prank calling his wife.
That means we could very well find ourselves in a situation where we have a contender deserving of a title shot (Sergei Pavlovich) but no champion interested in defending against him.
You know what that means, right?
INTERIM CHAMPIONSHIP, BABY!!!!!!
Did you know that, while the UFC heavyweight division has a lush history of vacated championships, there have also been quite a few interim champions as well? The last time one was crowned was in 2021, when Gane defeated Lewis even though UFC could have booked Gane against Ngannou if they had just waited another month.
I do think it’s possible UFC can get the Jones/Miocic winner to face Pavlovich. However, I think we’re more likely headed towards a scenario where the Jones/Miocic winner announces their retirement, leading to Dana setting up an interim championship fight in the vain hope of getting the champion to come back and defend the title against the winner of that fight.
If that happens, Pavlovich will obviously be in that interim title fight. He’d likely face Gane, who will be in need of a big win to revitalize his career after getting embarrassed by Jones in March. It’s a fight that would feel as big as the men competing in it and, personally, I think Pavlovich wins that fight.
That’s right, I’m calling it now: Pavlovich will become the Interim UFC Heavyweight Champion before either getting the chance to face the undisputed champion or being promoted to full champion after the undisputed champion leaves to face Bob Sapp and Rampage Jackson in a Hell in a Cell match or whatever other nonsense will manifest itself within the next year.
And boxing thinks MMA fans always get the fights we want…
No matter what happens in the next few months, it’s clear that Sergei Pavlovich is ready to step up and be the future of the heavyweight division. Hopefully he doesn’t have to wait too long for the future to get here.
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