Shoutout to the Big Homie Aaron Bronsteter for sharing some UFC heavyweight championship futures betting lines on Wednesday morning, courtesy of something called BetOnline.Ag. Must admit, it was a pretty canny move by all parties involved to release these lines during the International Fun Dead Zone four days after Christmas, when there ain’t shit going on and we basically have no choice but to spend a few futile minutes obsessing over them. You got us again, Bronsteter, you sly fox.
Now, normally, we would scoff at the notion of trying to predict the future of the heavyweight division. These MFers are out here trying to predict the unpredictable, we’d shout! Injury, inactivity and the sudden onset of serious intestinal diseases are just a few factors that make the 265-pound class impossible to crystal ball. We’d reply to these numbers with ol’ James-Harden-Rolls-His-Eyes-And-Slides-Away-From-The-Microphone GIF and call it good. But, frankly, we’re bored and—also—we don’t know if you guys have noticed, but things are pretty interesting right now around the perpetual trash fire that is the UFC heavyweight title picture.
So, assuming you had $20 You Never Wanted to See Again, let’s take a look at some of these odds and game this out, shall we?
Francis Ngannou +225
The sharps at Bet Online dot Ag declare Big Fran the odds-on favorite to end 2022 out at the club with UFC gold casually tossed over one massive shoulder. And yeah, that seems right. That seems right, considering that during his current streak of five straight KO wins dating back to Nov. 2018, Ngannou has looked more and more like he hath become death, destroyer of worlds each time out.
EXCEPT! Well, you already know. These numbers hit the streets amid reports of the champ’s deteriorating relationship with the UFC. Ngannou has said he’s down to the last fight on his current deal and his manager this week disclosed that he hasn’t heard from Hunter And The Gang in Las Vegas since June. Since June! So, yeah, that doesn’t seem GREAT for Ngannou’s “futures” in the UFC, generally speaking.
At this point, conventional wisdom says if he beats Ciryl Gane in their title unification bout at UFC 270 in January—thereby likely automatically extending his contract for at least one fight—Ngannou might choose to sit out and run out the clock on his UFC deal rather than fight again in the octagon. A loss to Gane and Ngannou might just peace-out the promotion immediately.
So, there’s the conundrum, right? Any bet on Ngannou to be UFC champ at the end of 2022 requires that several dominoes fall: First, he would have to beat Gane (either in January or a rematch at a later date), THEN reach an agreement on an extension with the UFC, and THEN maybe win at least one more championship fight in order to have the belt as the sun comes up on 2023.
Clearly, we have all the faith in the world in Ngannou the fighter, but taking this bet means you’re also sort of betting on the UFC to at some point cough up a deal good enough to get him to stick around which, LOL, GTFOH.
Ciryl Gane +275
Gane is obviously knee-deep in the Ngannou Saga and the bad blood remains THICC, with Big Fran accusing Gane’s camp of “manipulating” some sparring footage between the two released just this week. Gane has been damn good while winning seven straight UFC bouts and amassing an overall pro MMA record of 10-0. Most recently, he wore Derrick Lewis around the cage like a hat at UFC 265 in August to win the bullshit “interim” heavyweight title and set-up this unification bout with Ngannou in the New Year.
So, any bet on Gane to be undisputed champ at the end of 2022 involves him defeating Ngannou at least once (their UFC 270 fight is currently a pick ’em) and maybe winning one more fight against someone of the Jon Jones, Stipe Miocic, Curtis Blaydes variety. Athletically speaking, he’s perfectly capable of doing it but *leans in close to whisper conspiratorially* honestly? We’re not really buying it. I mean, have things at heavyweight ever been that straightforward? That’s not typically how it works around here, is it? Aren’t we all expecting some surprises?
Frankly, you want to interest us in a bet, run some numbers on Ciryl Gane mysteriously getting diverticulitis by the end of next year. Then we’ll talk.
Curtis Blaydes +600
OK, now we’re having fun. Miami-area private detective Curtis Lionel Blaydes had an up-and-down 2021, rebounding from a KO loss to Lewis in February with a unanimous decision over the Bigi Boy at UFC 266 in September. He’s currently ranked No. 4 in the UFC’s 265-pound standings, but champion? Champion, dog? That would constitute a fairly goddamn grandiose turnaround in Blaydes’ fortunes, considering he’s already been starched by Ngannou (twice) and Lewis.
Could it happen? Well, yeah, fuckin’ anything could happen in the land of the giants. If you told us that Gane beat Ngannou in January and then the UFC couldn’t come to a financial agreement with Jon Jones or Stipe Miocic (or whoever) to be the next challenger and Lewis was indisposed (either being retired or not wanting a five-round fight) and Blaydes got the call, we wouldn’t exactly be gobsmacked.
Is Blaydes liable to actually WIN a matchup with Gane or anybody else in the heavyweight title picture? Probably not. Perhaps the best news for Blaydes is he’s only 30 years old and could hang around this division for another decade if he so chooses. But champion? Next year? We can’t see it.
Stipe Miocic +650
Remember just a handful of months ago, when Miocic was universally regarded as the greatest UFC heavyweight champion of all time but then lost the belt to Ngannou in their rematch at UFC 260 and was basically never heard from again? God, it feels like a lifetime ago. How the hell was that only March?
First, the bad news: Miocic turns 40 next August and the last time he fought someone NOT named Ngannou or Daniel Cormier was his UFC 211 win over Junior dos Santos back in *gasps* 2017. Plus, it has been eight months now with little to no sign that he’s still an active member of this division.
But, the good news: If we are to assume Miocic is still alive and well and living somewhere in the greater Cleveland, Ohio area … maybe … he isn’t the worst guy on this list to take a flier on?
The logic (if you want to call it that) goes like this: Ngannou beats Gane in January and begins a lengthy holdout. The UFC ain’t trying to hear that, see, and strips the big man almost right away. By spring, they’re shopping around for candidates for a vacant title fight. Who ya gonna put in that, hmmm? Gane, sure, but who else? Jon Jones? Maybe, if you can make a deal. Derrick Lewis? Maybe, but he just lost to Gane. Blaydes? Eh, probably not.
But what about this motherfucker right here? What about the former champion who always grumbled about not getting paid enough but then always signed on the dotted line anyway? This guy who has been just cooling his heels at home, fighting fires and doing the attack ropes at the gym, waiting for his phone to ring? Doesn’t he suddenly look like a pretty attractive option to plug in there for a summertime title fight?
Maybe he does, and then, friends, you are just one win away from cashing your bet. Because if Miocic does mess around and pulls the upset over Gane, guess what? He probably ain’t fighting again that year! Congrats on your winnings, player.
Jon Jones +650
I mean, Jonny Bones has to fight again at some point, right? And when he does, it’s either going to be for the UFC heavyweight title or in a No. 1 contender fight. So, I guess if you’re betting on Jones here you’re convincing yourself that A) he and the UFC can make a deal for a heavyweight title fight by the end of next year B) he can make it to the cage without any further, uh, incidents and C) he can win.
Not sure which of those seems like the biggest hurdle, to be frank. Jones has suddenly stopped being so aggressively online about his various contract complaints in the wake of his latest arrest. On the plus side, perhaps that means he and the UFC aren’t as far apart as they once were in their negotiations. On the obvious downside, Jones hasn’t done a damn thing to make us think he’s gonna be able to keep himself eligible for all of 2022 so, you know, buyer beware.
There’s also the small matter of his most recent fights (against Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes, respectively) not doing a TON to stoke our confidence in how he will fare when the opponents get even bigger and stronger. But, fuck it, he’s still Jon By God Jones and this is probably the only time in your life you will ever get 6-to-1 odds on him doing anything MMA-related. Might as well take the chance, if you can find a way to respect yourself in the morning.
Derrick Lewis +700
Ah yes, The Black Beast. Somehow in a division full of absolute wild cards, Lewis remains perhaps the biggest enigma on this list. In the wake of his recent KO of Chris Daukaus we talked at length on The Proper about how–despite the fact he would very much like us to go on believing he’s just a goof who gets by on power punches and hot balls—he’s actually developed into a well-rounded heavyweight MMA fighter.
Can Lewis be UFC heavyweight champion in 2022? Sure, if opportunity and preparation meet-up in exactly the right synthesis of blah blah blah. But will it happen? To cash this bet, you’d probably need a lot of help. Lewis’ best chance at becoming champ likely still remains being in the right place at the right time, when a last-minute injury situation necessitates a late replacement that just happens to be him. At that point, just one bungalow would separate him from the gold.
An unlikely longshot perhaps, but still a respectable bet, if you’re so inclined.
Alexander Volkov +900
Tom Aspinall +1600
The 28-year-old from Manchester, England-England (sing it: across the Atlantic Sea!) is obviously quite talented, as evidenced by his 4-0 start in the UFC and 11-2 record overall. Again, like Blaydes, he’s just a pup in this division of graybeards, but short of a charter bus accident or mass food poisoning incident at the Mandalay Bay buffet, he ain’t working his way into title contention during 2022. Don’t bet him just yet, but keep your eye on him for your future futures.
Jairzinho Rozenstruik +1800
Little surprised to see the Bigi Boy Dumpster diving down here below the likes of Volkov and Aspinall, but that’s what going 2-3 during the last two years will get you. As it stands, we don’t really see how the Large Lad works his way back into title contention next year, what with those recent losses to Blaydes, Gane and Ngannou.
Actually, now that we really look at it, Rozenstruik—who at 33 is pushing into territory where we might insist he change that nickname to the Bigi Man—is dangerously close to becoming the gatekeeper you gotta beat just to fight the gatekeeper to the heavyweight elite (Lewis). Not sure how bullish we’re feeling about his future all the way around.
Chris Daukaus +2500
No. Nope. Uh-uh.
Tai Tuivasa +2500
First of all, as Mr. Tuivasa’s official legal representatives, allow us to say we are fucking OFFENDED that he is ranked so low on this list. Fuck is this shit, B? Below fucking Daukaus, who just got tucked in for his long winter’s nap against Lewis? Below the slumping Bigi Boy? Below Alexander “I still somehow haven’t established my identity in the UFC, even though I am a five-year veteran of the octagon” Volkov. The DISRESPECT! We won’t stand for it.
Look, if Gane was the breakout heavyweight star of 2021, Tuivasa was easily the Breakout Fun Fighter of the division. Another spry 28-year-old, he’s riding a four-fight win-streak (including three in 2021). Is he gonna break into title contention in 2022? Well, no, probably not, BUT Tuivasa has already done the yeoman’s work of turning himself into a fun, charismatic fan favorite and known entity, which in today’s UFC is actually incredibly hard to do.
If, by the end of next year, some injury or—ahem—arrest had derailed the big heavyweight title fight the UFC had planned as the slam-bang finish to what will undoubtedly be ITS BEST YEAR EVER!!!! well, you couldn’t do much better as a late replacement than Tuivasa.
And at that point, like Lewis before him, this man would be just one swing of a giant Australian fist and shoey chug away from actually being champion.
What we’re saying is, if you put a twenty-spot down on Tuivasa to win the gold by the end of 2022, you could feel both morally good about where you spent your money AND … well … crazier things have happened.
Plus, that shit pays out huge.