For months, rumors have circulated that the UFC is targeting an interim heavyweight title fight while undisputed champion Francis Ngannou is on the sidelines recovering from knee surgery. The proposed bout would feature former two-time heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic versus former light heavyweight champ Jon Jones. But some fighters in the heavyweight division, MMA Fighting’s No. 9-ranked heavyweight Jairzinho Rozenstruik for one, don’t think much of that idea.
“Right now, I’m not focusing on the champion, because we know he’s been injured and he got surgery. But the concern, the biggest problem, is what’s going to happen, because an interim title is coming,” Rozenstruik told Ariel Helwani on The MMA Hour. “Who is going to fight for the interim title. Some names are up in the air, and I disagree with them, because we are the fighters that keep the division up and running. I understand the point of it. It’s a fight that people want to see, it’s going to be a good fight, but I think it’s unfair compared to us, who has kept fighting during COVID, during all this. It’s [been] two years. Then you sit down, you’re not active, then you just jump in for a title shot.”
The rumored interim title fight puts the heavyweight division in a bit of a quagmire. Jones, in fact, hasn’t competed in over two years after vacating his light heavyweight belt in 2020. Similarly, Miocic hasn’t fought in over a year since his title loss to Ngannou at UFC 260. With other top-ranked heavyweights consistently competing and putting together wins, Rozenstruik believes there are more deserving contenders than Miocic and Jones.
“Jon Jones and Stipe, that’s the matchup they’re trying to make,” Rozenstruik said. “That’s what I see. It’s unfair compared to us. We’ve been fighting, so we should get a chance. I think somebody who should definitely get a chance is Curtis Blaydes. I don’t know against who, but he’s there, and he has been winning fights.”
Rozenstruik’s issues with the interim title are even more relevant due to the champion’s situation. Due to surgery, Ngannou will be out of action until 2023, and the heavyweight champion may not return at all; he fought the final fight of his UFC contract and said he will become a free agent in December.
With a lucrative boxing match against Tyson Fury a possibility, Ngannou may not re-sign with the UFC. Rozenstruik, at least, believes this is the most likely outcome.
“Hopefully [Ngannou re-signs] – I don’t think so, but hopefully,” Rozenstruik said. “If I was him, I’ve got this opportunity, I don’t come back. I’m already the champion, I’ve seen it all, I’ve got a bigger opportunity, why should I go back? I won’t be surprised [if he doesn’t re-sign]. That Tyson Fury fight, that’s a lot of cash on the line.
“I don’t know. I think you’ve got to figure it out. See what you want to do with your career, see what stage of your career you’re in. I’m 34. I’m thinking, ‘OK, right now, I’m the strongest in age, I’m moving forward, I feel good.’ If I got an opportunity like that, why should I go back?”