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Bubble Busters is a limited series examining each division for
on-the-bubble MMA contenders who operate just outside of Top 10
contention and outlining their potential paths to ranked
recognition. From skills fighters could improve to possible matches
for which they should campaign, we attempt to solve the riddles
associated with crossing the contender threshold. First up, the
heavyweights.

The ordering process for Ultimate Fighting Championship
pay-per-views has changed: UFC 249 is only available on ESPN+ in the
U.S.

Walt
Harris
:
“The Big Ticket” has been a fan favorite for
much of his
Ultimate Fighting Championship
tenure due to game-changing
knockout power that has resulted in a 100 percent finish rate
across his 13 professional victories. After spinning his wheels as
a low- to middle-tier talent, Harris has rattled off three wins in
his last four appearances and no longer flies under the radar. He
has twice been booked opposite Alistair
Overeem
in a fight that has the potential to serve as Harris’
big break, only to see those plans fall through. If they get
rescheduled at some point in the future, it would provide the
Alabama native with the opportunity to establish himself as a
legitimate contender. A seasoned, technical and accomplished
veteran who can hold his own no matter where the action takes
place, Overeem has one glaring weakness: a suspect chin that has
betrayed him more than once; and Harris has become an expert at
finding his opponent’s chin. With his combination of hand speed and
power, he has the weaponry necessary to put him over the top
against a majority of the UFC’s current heavyweight roster.

Justin
Willis
:
Although the
American Kickboxing Academy
export was ushered out of the UFC
following his unanimous decision loss to Curtis
Blaydes
a little more than a year ago, it appears as though he
has landed in an ideal situation with the
Professional Fighters League
. A chance at a million-dollar
prize brings about a new lease on life and perhaps a hungrier, more
motivated Willis. The only real knock on “Big Pretty” was his
inability to pull the trigger when it mattered most, opting to
fight behind his jab and leg kicks instead of going for the kill—an
approach that did not endear him to UFC brass. The incentive to
finish fights in the PFL might push Willis to new heights and
unlock the capabilities he flashed in multiple wins on the big
stage. A strong showing during the 2020 season could open doors for
Willis, a fighter far too talented to stay down for long.

Ciryl
Gane
:
The undefeated Frenchman has only six
professional MMA bouts on his resume, but it only takes a few
standout performances to push such a skilled competitor towards the
top of the heavyweight division. As he awaits his fourth assignment
in the UFC, Gane finds himself in position to stake his claim as a
contender by clearing one more hurdle. Though he boasts an
impressive kickboxing pedigree, his ground skills have opened eyes
inside the Octagon, where he has secured two of his three wins by
submission. Gane’s consistent improvement in the grappling
department bodes well for his future, but he needs to show more
urgency in standup exchanges. All too often, he seems content to
sit on the outside while chopping away with leg kicks and jabs. At
a physically imposing 6-foot-5, 265 pounds, Gane undoubtedly has
the power he needs to place fellow heavyweights in peril, so it
will be interesting to see what problems he poses when he sits down
on his punches and commits to his shots. Perhaps the UFC will pair
him with Shamil
Abdurakhimov
next. They were scheduled to meet at UFC 249 on
April 18 before an injury forced Gane to withdraw and the COVID-19 pandemic
left the rest of the sport in limbo
.

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