Before we have to time to digest UFC 295’s night of constant action, here are some half-baked thoughts about Tom Aspinall’s minority stake in the title, Alex Pereira’s historic achievement, and Jared Gordon seizing the moment.
Tom Aspinall and the Disputed Heavyweight Title
Tom Aspinall walked out of Madison Square Garden with a heavyweight belt. But he can only rightfully claim one-third of the throne. While there is a convincing argument to be made that UFC 295 featured the two best heavyweights on the planet, Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich were officially, and unofficially, placeholders.
In the past, such as when the rosters of Pride, Strikeforce, and the WEC were merged into the UFC, doubts about rightful champions were settled in the Octagon. Unfortunately, that tradition is highly unlikely to continue here. Tom Aspinall carries the burden of being the world’s best heavyweight without a chance to prove it against the other two men who can say the same thing.
The UFC seems intent on rebooking Jon Jones and Stipe Miocic for the “undisputed” crown and all signs point to both legendary fighters walking away from competition if and when their legacy-defining fight happens. That means that Aspinall cannot expect to legitimize last night’s success by duplicating his performance on either one of the future Hall of Famers.
There’s an even slimmer chance that Tom Aspinall will ever stand in front of lineal champion Francis Ngannou. The UFC’s aversion to co-promotion will undo any effort that the PFL or ESPN put toward making it a reality.
And unlike Jones and Ngannou, Tom Aspinall doesn’t have a history of buzz-sawing through multiple generations of top fighters or potentially changing the landscape of the fight world with shrewd business decisions to elevate him above them in hypothetical debates. This leaves him in a particularly unenviable position.
If he goes out and defends the interim belt in the meantime, the shadow of Jones and Miocic will linger over anything he can accomplish or any contender that’s able to take it from him. On the other hand, remaining on the sidelines means letting valuable time tick away. Tom Aspinall has all of the ingredients for establishing a legacy at heavyweight that could rival that of Miocic, Ngannou, or Jones. However, it will be quite some time before we can truly appreciate him.
Alex Pereira’s Overnight Greatness – 12 Years in the Making
Give Alex Pereira his flowers now. The average fighter has achieved very little in the sport by their eleventh fight. Most haven’t even touched the big show yet. Even great fighters haven’t made much of a dent by that time.
For example, let’s look at what the previous three light heavyweight champions did in their eleventh fights. Glover Teixeira won a TKO over journeyman Joaquim Ferreira at Bitteit Combat 6. Jiri Prochazka defeated a debuting Viktor Bogutzki at Gladiator Championship Fighting. Bogutzki left the sport with an 0-2 record. Jamahal Hill thrilled in his KO of Thiago Santos at the Apex Center in August of 2022 but even with that notable win he was still one step removed from his title-clenching victory over Teixeira.
Even the trio of light heavyweights who achieved double champ status, Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, had not come close to what Pereira did. Jones was still climbing the ladder with a finish of Brandon Vera while Cormier had yet to make his UFC debut. Randy Couture had cemented his status as a legend by his eleventh fight, but the sport of mixed martial arts was a far cry from what it is now.
Pereira earning his second UFC title in his second weight class in that time frame is simply unprecedented and is highly unlikely to be duplicated anytime soon. To make the accomplishment even more special, just a week ago he was inducted into Glory Kickboxing’s Hall of Fame.
Less than 13 years after lacing up the gloves for the first time as a professional, Pereira has earned double champ honors in the world’s premier MMA and kickboxing organizations. If there ever was a combat sports version of Mt. Rushmore, Poatan would make a great addition.
Jared Gordon Bites the Big Apple
Despite his reputation for fun fights, this felt like a must-win for Jared Gordon. On the heels of an injury withdrawal, which was preceded by a false start against Bobby Green and a heavily debated split decision loss to Paddy Pimblett, it felt like the momentum that Gordon built up just a couple of years ago was long gone, lost to alternating results and bad circumstances.
Fortunately, Gordon found the right time to overperform. In front of his hometown New York City fans in an iconic arena on a marquee pay-per-view event, “Flash” delivered with a first-round knockout over Mark Madsen.
Beyond the simplicity of that narrative, the timing of Gordon’s show-stealing win and equally inspiring post-fight speech is particularly advantageous. While Islam Makhachev comfortably sits on top of the throne with either BMF belt holder Justin Gaethje or former champ Charles Oliveira seemingly waiting in the queue, the rest of the lightweight division seems to be in flux, making it ripe for Gordon to invade.
With several of the division’s top contenders coming off of losses, seemingly reaching the tail end of their careers, and attempting to reclaim their own lost momentum, Gordon could conceivably find himself with a number next to his name for the first time in his 6 years in the Octagon.
Similar to Green’s upset win over Grant Dawson officially earning him contender status, another entertaining but unheralded fighter in one of the most competitive divisions in the sport could sneak his way to relevance. Jared Gordon made the most of a golden opportunity that couldn’t have come at a better time.