The heavyweight division outside the UFC is unusual and is in transition due to Bellator’s lack of interest in up-and-comers at this weight while other independent promotions focus on other divisions.
The biggest independent promotion Bellator MMA don’t have a heavyweight champion with Vitaly Minakov having been stripped of the belt in May 2016 for not defending it. Bellator instead using their few fights at this weight to draw attention and ratings. In 2017 Bellator held only seven main-card fights on their televised shows contested at heavyweight with all but one being UFC or Strikeforce stars from years gone by dominating relative obscure fighters, the only exception being Justin Wren. Bellator kick off 2018 with an eight-man grand prix featuring their top stars but again it is filled with former UFC and Strikeforce stars basically trying to answer the decade-old question of “could Fedor Emelianenko have done well in the UFC”. For the purpose of scouting the next generation all Bellator has to offer in his division is Wren who is now 13-2 with six wins in a row, his only fight in 2017 being a submission of Roman Pizzolato who is now 9-8.
Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series had a huge impact on scouting fighters and heavyweights were no exception. Of the three heavyweight fights on the first season of DWTNCS Zu Anyanwu and Allen Crowder moved on to the UFC however both took losses in their debuts. The only other victor at heavyweight was ROC champion Shelton Graves who after defeating Everett Sims on episode 5 picked up a victory in regional promotion Primus FC extending his win streak to six in a row.
Several promotions don’t have champions at heavyweight. CFFC’s belt has been vacant since Anyanwu moved on to the UFC, Titan FC’s has been vacant since Chase Gormley moved on to Bellator, and M-1 Global’s has been vacant since Alexander Volkov moved up to the UFC.
The biggest standout if one would pardon the pun is Blagoi Ivanov of PFL, the successors of WSOF. Ivanov is 16-1 with his sole loss being to Volkov in the Bellator 2014 tournament finals while his defeat of WSOF’s then-champion Smealinho Rama won Ivanov the belt. After three victories in WSOF the promotion changed ownership and names but Ivanov retained his title but his PFL victory over Caio Alencar on November’s PFL card was a non-title one.
AXS TV have an active division with LFA’s champion being Jeff Hughes, CES MMA’s being Juliano Coutinho. Hughes took the title from Richard Odoms in November while Coutinho took the belt from Ashley Gooch in August. Of the 29 LFA events in 2017 six had heavyweight fights on the main card with Don’Tale Mayes going on to fight Allen Crowder in DWTNCS while Juan Adams returns in January to face Dwight Gipson. CES MMA’s Greg Rebello had a good year with victories in that promotion with three wins in that promotion but he is a protected star there, his only competitive fight last year was the loss to Anyanwu in DWTNCS that earned Zu his UFC shot.
Daniel Gallemore started out 2017 well by claiming the vacant VFC title in a victory over Daniel James but then lost to Mike Kyle in PFL while James bounced back with a win in VFC. Fellow UFC Fight Pass promotion CWFC meanwhile fielded Mauro Cerilli who rattled off two wins in that promotion before claiming the vacant belt with a win over Nills van Noord.
In theory UFC vet Brandon Vera is still One Championship heavyweight king. Vera won the belt by defeating Paul Cheng in December 2015 and defended it in December 2016 but hasn’t fought since then.
Champions and standouts
- Bellator: vacant
- CES MMA: Juliano Coutinho
- CFFC: vacant
- CWFC: Mauro Cerilli
- LFA: Jeff Hughes
- M-1 Global: vacant
- One Championship: Brandon Vera
- PFL: Blagoi Ivanov
- ROC: Shelton Graves
- TFC: vacant
- VFC: Daniel Gallemore
- Others: Justin Wren, Caio Alencar, Josh Copeland, Richard Odoms, Greg Rebello, Don’Tale Mayes, Maurice Greene, Juan Adams, Daniel James