Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Top Heavyweights in MMA

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIJuly 27, 2012

Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of the Top Heavyweights in MMA

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    The heavyweight division will make history this year as Frank Mir is going to fight in Strikeforce in October. But that's not the only story that the heavyweight division has on its horizon.

    Junior dos Santos vs Cain Velasquez has been postponed. Alistair Overeem returns at the end of the year. Travis Browne has been elevated into a main-event role at UFC on FX 5. Mark Hunt is amid one of the most miraculous comeback stories in the sport's history. 

    To better understand what's going on in the heavyweight division, it's important that we know more about the top guys at 265 pounds. Here is a breakdown of the strengths and weaknesses of some of the top heavyweights in mixed martial arts today.

    On a side note, I would love it if nobody sent this article to any fighter on the list. I would prefer to not have 10 of the world's deadliest fighters wanting to break my face for talking about their shortcomings. 

Shane Carwin

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    Biggest Strength: Knockout Power

    Shane Carwin went 12-0 before getting a crack at Brock Lesnar, and The Engineer scored four first-round knockouts en route to fighting the champ.

    Carwin's brute strength nearly won him the UFC Heavyweight championship when he put Lesnar on the canvas with enormous punches in the first round. 

    Other strengths:  Solid chin, quality wrestling, great camp

    Biggest Weakness: Age

    Assuming that Carwin meets Roy Nelson immediately following The Ultimate Fighter 16 finale in December, his return bout will come only two weeks shy of turning 38 years old.

    This assumes that Carwin does not aggravate a lingering back problem that has kept him out of action for the majority of the past two years.

    By the time Carwin puts together a win streak worthy of challenging for the belt once again, he could be on the wrong side of 40.

    Other weaknesses: injury-prone, cardio

Travis Browne

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    Biggest Strength: Well-rounded striking

    Be it his powerful hands or his devastating knees, Travis Browne can hurt you if you are unlucky enough to stand with him. Browne rocked Cheick Kongo, and has knocked out Stefan Struve with a superman punch.

    In addition, Browne has an eight-second knockout via head kick to his credit.

    Other strengths: Hunger, great camp, size

    Biggest Weakness: Wrestling

    Browne has looked tremendous since joining the UFC. Going 4-0-1, with a draw coming against Cheick Kongo, we have yet to see how "Hapa" looks on the ground.

    Being that he trains with Greg Jackson in Alberquerque, it's safe to assume that the purple belt can defend himself, however, it is likely a facet of his game that he would like to avoid. 

    In a division that contains some large wrestlers, someone lacking a background in the sport should have some trouble with the Daniel Cormiers and Cain Velasquezes of the division.

Stefan Struve

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    Biggest Strength: Submissions

    With 24 professional wins to his credit, Stefan Struve has an incredible submission rate of 66 percent. Four of the Skyscraper's 16 tapout victories have come in the UFC, including a 65-second armbar win over Lavar Johnson.

    Not only does Struve have excellent submission offense, his defense is impeccable in a bad spot, as the Dutch fighter was able to escape a deep kimura with Sean McCorkle in his half guard.

    Other strengths: reach, long limbs

    Biggest Weakness: Easily Rocked

    Struve has been defeated in the UFC only three times, but all of them came in the form of tremendous knockout. Although Struve would show resilience to come back and defeat Dennis Stojnic and Christian Moorecraft, both men did huge damage and opened gnarly cuts on the 6"11' warrior.

    Other weakness: poor use of reach advantage

Mark Hunt

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    Biggest Strength: Technical Striking

    The sluggers who wing punches and throw every shot at 100 miles per hour might score a knockout every once in awhile, but only the technically proficient have the abilities to outlast the competition and win the K-1 World Grand Prix.

    Hunt won that tournament back in 2001, and has used his prowess to earn victories over both Mirko Cro Cop, Wanderlei Silva during their PRIDE heyday, and is the only man to knock out Cheick Kongo.

    Other strengths: Tremendous power, Excellent chin, Patience

    Biggest Weakness: Submission Defense

    Mark Hunt has a history of not properly protecting his arms. Of his seven career losses, six of them have come by way of first-round submission, and all six have see him caught by an upper appendage. 

    Hunt showed improved defense when he took on Big Ben Rothwell last September, however Rothwell is hardly known for his submission skills. A better test of how far Hunt has progressed would have come in February, but the Super Samoan had to pull out of a contest with Stefan Struve.

    Other weakness: Takedown defense

Alistair Overeem

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    Biggest Strength: Technical Striking

    Just like Mark Hunt, Alistair Overeem has accomplished the incredible feat of winning the K-1 Heavyweight Grand Prix. Proving that he is one of the best kickboxers alive, Overeem can be deadly on his feet.

    Of his 11 wins since moving to the heavyweight division, 10 of them have come via stoppage. The only fight that Overeem was unable to finish came when he met Fabricio Werdum in Strikeforce, and the BJJ master repeatedly flopped to his back.

    Other strengths: Power, excellent guillotine choke, great camp, experience against top competition

    Biggest Weakness: Cardio

    It's rare for Overeem to go into deep waters during a fight, however, when he does, it's clear to see that the Dutch fighter isn't training cardio with Clay Guida or Demetrious Johnson.

    If someone is going to cream the Reem, it will likely be a top-heavy wrestler who can force Overeem to carry their weight for the early rounds, and then take advantage of his weakened state in the end.

    Other weaknesses: Failed drug test, ring rust

Daniel Cormier

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    Biggest Strength: Unparalleled Wrestling Skill

    It is my opinion that no one in the world of mixed martial arts has better wrestling than former Olympian Daniel Cormier. With takedowns that have yet to be shut down, and the ability to stay on his feet at any costs, the AKA fighter will be able to dictate where the fight goes, no matter who his opponent may be.

    Other Strengths: ground and pound, much-improved striking, cardio, great camp

    Biggest Weakness: Relative Inexperience

    Considering the success that Cormier has had, this feels like nitpicking, but it would be lazy of me to not point out that only three years ago, Cormier had never fought professionally in a mixed martial arts contest.

    Ten fights later, Cormier has picked up some quality wins against the likes of Jeff Monson, Bigfoot Silva and Josh Barnett en route to winning the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.

    Other weaknesses: relationship with Velasquez could keep him away from UFC heavyweight title

Fabricio Werdum

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    Biggest Strength: Ground Wizardry

    It would be unfair to describe the jiu-jitsu skills of Fabricio Werdum as excellent. With submission wins over top heavyweights Alistair Overeem and Fedor Emelianenko, as well as a few ground-and-pound victories to his credit, going to the canvas with Vai Cavalo is career suicide.

    Other Strengths: judo black belt, Muay Thai black belt, great camp, experience against top opponents

    Biggest Weakness: Inability to Adapt

    As we get closer to the top of the division, pointing out the weaknesses of these fighters gets harder and harder. Looking at the losses of Fabricio Werdum, the only loss of the last four years came in a bout with Alistair Overeem.

    The fight saw Werdum fail to get Overeem on the canvas on multiple occasions. Flopping to the ground repeatedly and hoping that his opponent would follow him down, Werdum realized that his plan was not working, but he never changed strategy in an attempt to change the outcome.

    Other weakness: takedown offense

Frank Mir

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    Biggest Strength: Jiu-jitsu specialist

    Frank Mir is another top jiu-jitsu practitioner who has used his skills to win some big fights. The most breathtaking of those wins came when he submitted Big Nog at UFC 140 back in December.

    Mir has nine submission wins to his credit, including winning the UFC heavyweight championship from Tim Sylvia back in 2004.

    Other Strengths: Tremendous experience, karate black belt, ability to recognize and capitalize on opportunity

    Biggest Weakness: Easily Rocked

    Frank Mir has six losses in his professional MMA career. All six of those losses have come by KO or TKO. In a division where mostly everyone has heavy hands, it makes sense that knockouts are commonplace, but Mir has had trouble recovering after finding himself hurt. 

    Opponents who keep the pressure on Mir with striking tend to earn the stoppage. The only time that the former two-time champion has survived came when Big Nog hurt him badly with strikes, but tried to score a submission win instead of pounding it out. Mir was able to grapple his way into a submission win.

    Other Weaknesses: Takedown defense, takedown offense, boxing defense

Cain Velasquez

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    Biggest Strength: Wrestling

    Going into UFC 121, Cain Velasquez did two things that I didn't think were possible. After being taken down by Brock Lesnar, Velasquez popped back up to his feet like a weeble-wobble. Additionally, he was able to score a takedown of his own against the much-larger NCAA Division I champion.

    This wrestling continues to improve, as Olympian Daniel Cormier has taken on the role of wrestling coach at the AKA camp. Getting to spar with that level of opponent on a daily basis has benefits that can not be put into words.

    Other strengths: Incredible cardio, improved striking, great camp, hunger

    Biggest Weakness: Poor Gameplanning

    Coming off of a year on the shelf, Cain Velasquez made the mistake of trying to exchange with Junior dos Santos in their heavyweight championship bout. Knowing that boxing is the sharpest knife that JDS has in the drawer, there is no question that Velasquez wanted that fight on the ground.

    The thought is that a fighter wants to convince his opponent that he wants to stand, and a takedown becomes easier to secure. However, Velasquez has the takedown skills that should allow him to come into a fight saying "I'm gonna take you down. Stop me if you can."

    Had he gone in with that mentality, there is a good likelihood that the Mexican-American warrior would have a big gold belt around his waist.

Junior Dos Santos

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    Biggest Strength: Crisp Boxing

    You might expect the biggest strength here to be the champ's one-punch knockout power, however, without the technical proficiency, that one punch wouldn't land as frequently.

    JDS has been a monster since joining the UFC roster, winning seven of nine fights with strikes. Only iron-chinned warriors Shane Carwin and Roy Nelson have been able to square off with the champ and walk out of the cage without first looking up at the lights.

    Other strengths: knockout power, world-class training partners, confidence

    Biggest Weakness: Inexperience in bad positions

    Because the champion has been so dominant, we have yet to see how he performs once put in a bad spot. More importantly, dos Santos has never seen how he performs once put in a bad spot. 

    Although he has a brown belt under the Nogueira brothers, there is no way to know how JDS will perform once he inevitably gets worked to the ground. Trial by fire works for some, but some fighters panic once being taken out of their comfort zone.