Recently we saw Sergei Pavlovich make an emphatic statement to the rest of the heavyweight division when he delivered a devastating first round knockout to longtime top contender Curtis Blaydes. Pavlovich has now won six successive fights, each one by a first round knockout. This type of run has never been replicated before in the division with previous knockout artist Francis Ngannou only managing four successive first-round finishes. This has led many people to wonder, is Sergei Pavlovich the man to beat Jon Jones? Quite possibly.
Pavlovich started his MMA career way back in 2014. The heavyweight would go on a tear through the Russian regional scene. He would compete under Fight Nights Global six times and would become their first ever heavyweight champion, defending the belt once before leaving for the UFC in 2018. Coming in with an undefeated record of 12-0, many fans were excited for the debut of Pavlovich especially as he was given a match-up against MMA legend, Alistair Overeem in his promotional debut.
Ultimately though, the gap in experience would prove too much and Pavlovich who was 26 at the time would be finished in the first round. Pavlovich would come back but this time instead of jumping at the deep end would hone his skills picking up a first-round knockout victory against current Bellator fighter Marcelo Golm and replicating the same feat against former “The Ultimate Fighter” contestant Maurice Greene. He was beginning to gather some momentum.
While two first round stoppages to his name certainly added to his credibility, many wrote him off after the poor performance against Overeem. A step up in competition was needed in order to prove to the hardcore fans of the UFC that he belonged in the heavyweight division and was capable of beating some names in the sport. This first step up in competition came in the form of Shamil Abdurakhimov.
A name not familiar to the casual fan of the sport and even to many hardcores, Abdurakhimov was at one time the proud owner of a 20-4 record, a three fight win streak in the organisation and had at one stage gone 5-2 in 7 fights. Admittedly when he fought Pavlovich he had already entered the beginning of his decline and had lost two on the bounce and since has been cut from the roster. Yet the 41 year old was definitely a step up from the likes of Greene and Golm and Pavlovich’s decisive victory was a sign that he was ready for bigger and better things.
These bigger and better things came in the form of Derrick Lewis. Lewis, who was coming off of a KO loss to Tai Tuivasa, is a former two time heavyweight title challenger and has defeated some of the biggest names in the sport such as Curtis Blaydes, Alexander Volkov and Francis Ngannou. He also holds the record for the highest number of knockout victories in UFC history with 13. This would surely be the test, the real deciding factor to see if Pavlovich belonged in the Octagon with the top heavyweights in the UFC.
Pavlovich is known for his immense power yet at the time many felt that Lewis would be the one with the advantage on the feet. He is another man who possesses unholy amounts of power. Many thought the fight playing out on the feet would allow Lewis a stylistically favourable match up to rebound after his loss to Tuivasa. A good old-fashioned brawl where he could easily land a right hand. The fight in fact did end quickly but it was not because of Lewis’s power but because of Pavlovich. The “Black Beast” was caught early on in the first round and finished with strikes on the ground. Now fans really started to talk notice of the Russian and he was being regarded as a serious threat to many competitors throughout the division.
Still, more wins were needed to prove that he was the number one contender for the division. The man who had beaten Derrick Lewis before him and had just been defeated in a number one contender fight was available. Tai Tuivasa.
Coming off a loss to Ciryl Gane, Tuivasa had previously been on a 5 fight win streak. Each win coming by way of knockout. Almost knocking out Gane in the second round of their fight as well Tuivasa was seen as one of the most dangerous, toughest fighters in the division. A brawler who hit like a truck and had an iron chin anyone who could pick up a win over Tuivasa was a clear top contender at Heavyweight. When Pavlovich and Tuivasa were matched up the excitement among the fanbase was palpable. Two of the most exciting fighters of recent times going at it? It was surely going to end in a knockout. Fans would not be left disappointed when the two finally did meet but they would certainly be surprised. It was all over inside of a minute.
Pavlovich administered a one sided beatdown of Tuivasa the likes of which had never been done to the Australian before. His face after a minute with Pavlovich looked as if he had been in a 5 round war while there was barely a mark on the Russian. No one had ever manhandled Tuivasa that way and Pavlovich’s ascension to the top of the division was beginning to look like a real possibility.
However, while the title picture was playing out in the form of UFC 285 with Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane, another contender among the ranks began to raise their head. Curtis Blaydes, a longtime stalwart of the Heavyweight division had been quietly picking up wins himself and had managed to build himself up an impressive 3 fight win streak. Blaydes had for a long time been considered one of the best heavyweights in the division and had been somewhat known for losing when it really mattered. Always one fight away from a title shot but never able to get over the line. At the time of his win streak he had lost only 3 times in the octagon picking up 12 victories over the likes of Alexander Volkov, Junior Dos Santos, Mark Hunt and the man who had beaten Pavlovich, Alistair Overeem. With the future of the Heavyweight title picture looking unclear with the consistent rumours regarding a return for former champion Stipe Miocic a fight between Blaydes and Pavlovich was booked. A fight in the eyes of many fans that would decide the true number one contender for the division.
Blaydes was going to give Pavlovich his toughest test yet. An accomplished grappler who had recently come on leaps and bounds in his striking. Pavlovich had never before faced someone with the grappling pedigree of Blaydes who was thought to be capable at taking down Pavlovich at will. As the fight drew nearer and more and more fans bickered over whether the size, grappling and strength of Blaydes would be enough to grind down and nullify the insane power possessed in the palms of Pavlovich. The fight would take place and within the first minute or two the fans had their answer. Blaydes and Pavlovich began by trading shots on the feet and while Blaydes landed cleanly on several occasions it did not even seem to faze the Russian who kept throwing back bombs. Each strike clearly got through to Blaydes who was staggered on his feet several times. After being on the receiving end of a hard strike one to many times Blaydes finally decided to abandon any plans to strike with the Russian and shot for the takedown. It was too little to late however. His energy, power and drive were gone and the desperate attempt for a takedown was easily denied by Pavlovich who went right back to pounding the face of Blaydes. A right hand would then stun Blaydes. This was followed by a series of wild hooks and an uppercut which would drop the contender before follow up strikes on the ground would seal the win for Pavlovich. It had taken just over 3 minutes.
This has led us to the present day. The six fight knockout streak and the names that he has beaten along the way have all contributed into Pavlovich looking like one of the most dangerous heavyweights in history. The question remains, can he beat Jon Jones? While the champion’s future actions are unpredictable at best it is hard to know whether he will even get the chance to fight Jones. With the prospect of Stipe Miocic returning Jones may wish to have super fight against the former champion and the man considered to be the heavyweight GOAT. With that being said, Jones has stated numerous times that he is fighting for legacy, and a win against Pavlovich, the scariest man in the division at the moment, would certainly massively add to the legacy of “Bones” Jones if he were to beat him. One thing is apparent, it is clear that Pavlovich is far and away the most dangerous contender that Jon Jones has right now and all he needs to do is touch the chin of the champion and we could find ourselves with a new Heavyweight King.