May 28, 2024

For the second straight month, the UFC is shuffling its pay-per-view deck due to injury. This particular instance hits hard, too, given the names involved and the circumstances.

Jon Jones tore his pectoral tendon and is out of his scheduled UFC heavyweight title defense against Stipe Miocic, UFC CEO Dana White announced early Wednesday morning on social media. Jones vs. Miocic was set to headline UFC 295 on Nov. 11 at New York’s Madison Square Garden.

It was a huge fight in several ways. Jones is the best MMA fighter of all time and a New York native fighting for the first time in his home state. It is the 30-year anniversary of the UFC as a promotion and Jones has been the organization’s bellwether for nearly a third of that time. On top of that, Jones is the best light heavyweight fighter of all time and Miocic is the most accomplished UFC heavyweight ever. It was something of a dream matchup.

To the UFC’s credit, as is typical, the matchmaking team acted fast, booking an interim heavyweight title fight between contenders Tom Aspinall and Sergei Pavlovich. That will be the co-main event of UFC 295 behind a fight for the vacant light heavyweight title pitting former champ Jiří Procházka against Alex Pereira, the ex-middleweight titleholder.

What does this mean for the heavyweight division? Will we see Jones vs. Miocic or even either of them in the Octagon again? How does all this impact Pavlovich and Aspinall? ESPN’s MMA insiders Marc Raimondi and Jeff Wagenheim answer those questions and more below.


How serious is Jones’ injury and how does it impact the heavyweight timeline?

Raimondi: It’s serious, according to White. Jones apparently tore his pectoral tendon off the bone, will need surgery and is expected to be out around eight months. That is not an ideal scenario. But the UFC is still hoping to rebook Jones vs. Miocic when Jones gets healthy, sources tell me. So, yes, they will both fight again and that will still be a big main event next year. Besides Conor McGregor, Jones is the biggest drawing card the UFC has right now — with the potential exception of Sean O’Malley — and his going up against Miocic is a great story and legacy fight for both.

A lot of fans have said Jones will have to fight the interim champion when he gets back, whether that’s Aspinall or Pavlovich. Not necessarily. The UFC makes the rules in these situations. The interim title is not binding in any way, shape or form. There is no sanctioning body here like in boxing. The UFC decides unilaterally, and an interim title is simply something of the company’s own making anyway. If the UFC wants to do Jones vs. Miocic first, with the interim champ waiting for that to be decided, that is precisely what it will do. Jones vs. Miocic is the bigger fight, after all.

If Jones vs. Miocic could be rebooked for International Fight Week next July, that would be an ideal scenario. But it could be a bit soon for Jones. Stay tuned.


Why not Stipe for the interim title?

Raimondi: Quite a few reasons. And this is the question I’m getting most on social media. Miocic was going to make a lot of money for this Jones fight (they both were, really). Aspinall and Pavlovich don’t have nearly the same name value as Jones, and that means Miocic versus one of them doesn’t make the UFC the same kind of revenue as Jones would in that position.

Secondly, Jones was a legacy fight for Miocic, in addition to a money fight. Miocic has not fought since March 2021. He is a full-time firefighter; he does not need to fight. But Jones was a name that intrigued him, and this is a bout that all three parties have been interested in putting together for around two years now.

What does Miocic have to gain by winning an interim title at 41 years old? That seems silly. The man is already a two-time UFC heavyweight champion with the best résumé the division has ever seen. He has much more to lose — like that potential Jones matchup — against one of those up-and-comers, Aspinall and Pavlovich.


Something old vs. something new: Jones-Miocic vs. Pavlovich-Aspinall

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Tom Aspinall returns to UFC with ‘fairy-tale’ TKO in London

Tom Aspinall finishes Marcin Tybura within the first 90 seconds of the first round of the main event.

Wagenheim: There’s no sugarcoating the loss of the main event, which was to be a clash between two immense figures. Jones is the consensus GOAT of the sport, and Miocic is acclaimed by many as the greatest heavyweight in history. This was a legacy-enhancing matchup befitting The World’s Most Famous Arena.

However, if you’re among those who’ll be in attendance at Madison Square Garden, you’ll just have to be content with … an even better heavyweight fight.

Neither Pavlovich nor Aspinall has the star power of the original main eventers, but they are the future of heavyweight MMA. And, with the Jones injury changing everyone’s plans, maybe the universe is telling us that the sport is ready for its future to start right now. Even if Jones-Miocic does get rescheduled many months from now, there doesn’t appear to be much roadway ahead for either of them. Miocic is 41 years old and hasn’t competed in over 2½ years. Jones, 36, has fought just once in nearly four years.

The newly matched heavyweight contestants are in a less dust-covered place in their careers. Pavlovich, 31, has won six fights in a row. Aspinall, 30, has won nine of his last 10. Every one of those victories by each man has come via finish. All but one ended in Round 1. (That last fact minimizes my concern that taking this bout on short notice might quickly empty the big guys’ gas tanks.) Pavlovich and Aspinall are both in their prime and ready to take over. It’s going to be interesting to see which one seizes control.


Which heavyweight on the roster has the best chance to beat Jones?

Wagenheim: It’s got to be the Pavlovich-Aspinall winner, because he will have taken out the other “best chance” guy. For either man, beating the other will be the biggest win of his career and will establish him as a legitimate challenger. That’s not to say the winner will get the job done against Jones, though. No one has beaten Jones by decision or finish in his 15-year career, and he has fought multiple world champions.

And we don’t even know when the Pavlovich-Aspinall winner will get a shot at Jones; the UFC seems more interested in rebooking the Miocic fight. If Jones sticks around after that to take on the next generation, the top contender by then could be Jailton Almeida (14 straight wins and counting) or even someone else. But while the stakes are unclear for the Nov. 11 heavyweight fight, I believe that when we watch one man’s arm being raised that night, we’ll be looking at the next UFC heavyweight champ. I just don’t expect that coronation to come until Jones has walked away from the sport.


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