During the last few years, a large majority of the UFC’s top events have featured smaller fighters from lighter weight classes who’ve brought an entertaining brand of non-stop action to a new generation of octagon addicts.
But while we’ve been busy enjoying the endlessly-entertaining exploits of mixed martial artists such as Conor McGregor, Anthony Pettis, and Donald Cerrone, the UFC’s heavyweight division has become a haven for former headliners who now fight Father Time on a daily basis.
Evidence of the aging division’s inevitable decline is everywhere, and when 36-year old Frank Mir steps into the octagon to face 41-year old Mark Hunt in the main event of Saturday’s UFC Fight Night Brisbane, the spotlight will shine on a division that’s truly desperate for new blood.
At the moment, 29-year old Ruslan Magomedov is the only heavyweight currently ranked within the UFC’s top-15 who’s also under the age of 30.
Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Stipe Miocic, Ben Rothwell, and Travis Browne, are all between the ages of 32 and 34, but all five are also well into their UFC careers, and the rest of the ranked heavyweights are on the wrong side of 35.
By comparison, eight of the UFC’s top-15 flyweights, including reigning 125-pound champion Demetrious Johnson, have yet to reach the age of 30, and none are currently older than 32. And at 135-pounds, seven of the promotion’s top-15 bantamweights are also in their 20’s, while five others are between the ages of 30 and 32.
With seven of the promotion’s top featherweights, and eight of its best lightweights also still south of 30, the UFC has done everything it can to ensure that the issues currently facing the youth-starved heavyweight division won’t plague its lighter weight classes in the future.
Because key heavyweights such as Velasquez, Dos Santos, and Miocic are only a few years older than many of the UFC’s sub-welterweight contenders, some would argue that the promotion’s heavyweight cupboards are fully stocked for the future.
But for many, the period between the ages of 25 or 26 until their early 30’s often represents the height of their UFC careers. And unless Velasquez and Dos Santos can get their hands on Marty McFly’s DeLorean, that time appears to have passed.
The overall lack of youth among the UFC’s top-15 heavyweights wouldn’t matter so much if the lower levels of the division were loaded with twenty-something talents waiting for a shot at the big time, but that’s just not the case.
Believe it or not, of the 43 heavyweights listed on UFC.com, only seven are younger than 30, and one of them hasn’t even appeared in the octagon. And of the six sub-30 heavyweights who have seen actual octagon action, three are 29, and another is 28.
While those numbers should concern both the UFC, as well as die-hard fans of the heavyweight division, the only way to infuse this aging weight class with a new crop of young heavyweights is by temporarily lowering the promotion’s standards until the problem fixes itself.
Hopefully, main events featuring Hunt and Mir on Saturday, Dos Santos and Rothwell on April 10th, Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovsky on May 8th, and a title fight between Miocic and reigning heavyweight champion Fabricio Werdum on May 14th, will somehow inspire countless young heavyweights to pursue their UFC dreams before it’s too late.
In the meantime, all we can do is sit back and watch while the UFC’s upcoming string of heavyweight headliners reminds everyone that the sport’s leading promotion is headed for a fairly serious problem unless something is done soon.