While the general perception is that the big man is the greatest competitor when it comes to combat sports, that’s not necessarily a fact. If you really take a gander at some of the lighter weight classes, particularly in mixed martial arts, the depth of talent appears drastically deeper. That said, the heavyweight division has always played host to the rare phenomenon.
Examining today’s MMA landscape, one big man in particular truly stands out: UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos. Junior’s still a young buck in a brutal game, and his future career trajectory remains a mystery. For the time being however, it’s safe to label the man the baddest SOB north of 205 pounds.
At 28 years old, JDS has 16 professional bouts on his ledger. He’s years distanced from his fighting prime, he’s lost just a single match (in his sixth professional fight, against Joaquim Ferreira, who he’d beaten roughly seven months prior), and he’s risen to and above every challenge deposited in his path.
With a UFC record of 9-0, the Brazilian has already disposed of worthy opposition. He made his promotional debut at UFC 90, a virtual unknown, where he knocked well-respected Pride veteran Fabricio Werdum unconscious in 81 seconds. Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga and Shane Carwin were all recognized as genuine threats to the blossoming prospect. He battered all three in a rather one-sided fashion.
And then, the night arrived in which JDS would cement his place as the division’s finest competitor. November 12, 2011, JDS entered the octagon to challenge newly-minted champion Cain Velasquez. Pundits praised Velasquez to High Heaven, declaring the man the uncontested future of the division, but someone forgot to pass dos Santos that memo.
Sixty-four seconds into their highly anticipated tussle and Velasquez was sprawled on the canvas, semi-conscious, the massive JDS hammering away at his foe’s cranium, forcing referee intervention.
Cain’s days as the division’s kingpin met a quick and cruel end.
Since that match Junior dos Santos has defended his belt against Alistair Overeem fill-in, Frank Mir. Mir, ever the gutsy man, accepted a fairly short notice fight with the champ and paid dearly for it. “Cigano” battered the former champion for a round and a half, seemingly toying with the outclassed Mir. Dos Santos’ dominance looked amazing, plain and simple, and few hurdles remain in his path.
Dos Santos is scheduled to rematch Velasquez in roughly one week. Should he duplicate the first fight’s outcome, only one legitimate threat looms: the controversial Alistair Overeem, who seems to have a penchant for horse meat.
Just as a man named Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira was emerging as a massive heavyweight favorite with a submission game that appeared unrivaled, a quiet Russian began to break down barriers himself. Fedor Emelianenko spoiled Nogueira’s likely long-term reign over the Pride heavyweight division early. “Big Nog,” as we’ve come to know him, held the belt for just two years.
Fedor and Antonio first met at Pride 25. The Russian abused the champion for 20 minutes and walked away with the Pride Heavyweight Championship. He made it look easy, and would continue to do so for years.
Fedor put together a 28-fight unbeaten streak over the expanse of nine years. Amongst his victims are a number of notables, including Heath Herring, Mirko Cro Cop, Mark Coleman, Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski.
The punishment that “Minotauro” has sustained throughout his career has stolen quite a bit of his physical youth. He’s not the monster he once was because he allowed himself to take part in too many vicious battles. But, that’s exactly what made Nogueira so special: the man can take a nauseating beating and turn the tables in a second, pulling off a Hail Mary submission rally.
Fans love a comeback, and Antonio offered too many to count.
This Brazilian warrior has held the Pride Heavyweight Championship, as well as the UFC Interim Heavyweight Championship. Among his career victories a few names really stand out: Mirko Cro Cop, Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture, Heath Herring and Fabricio Werdum have all been victimized by this living legend.
Igor never got the appreciation he deserved. That’s because he was busy flatlining opponents in promotions far less prominent than the UFC or Pride. “Ice Cold” is as old school as they come, and in his prime, he was an intimidating monster that looked nothing short of unbeatable.
Vovchanchyn began his career in 1995 and often competed in open weight tournaments, winning multiple single-night events. He enjoyed an amazing unbeaten run from 1996 to 2000, earning 36 wins in four years. Now that’s an amazing career.
Did I mention the fact that this man managed to level monsters, and he was only 5’8”?
One glance at Randy’s résumé and you may be fooled into believing he was nothing more than a good fighter. He was more than that; he was a fantastic fighter who mastered and refined the art of ground and pound.
Randy won titles at heavyweight, as well as light heavyweight, and he beat some dangerous guys in the process.
Couture defied the odds early in his career by grinding out the “next best thing,” Vitor Belfort. Prior to their bout, Belfort looked like a professional assassin in the cage, with the fastest hands anyone had ever seen inside the cage. But Belfort offered Couture nothing.
Belfort wasn’t the only man to be stunned by Couture. “The Natural” also toppled Kevin Randleman, Pedro Rizzo and Tim Sylvia en route to legendary status.
Mirko is unquestionably the most successful K-1 import. The man entered the world of MMA in 2001 and within five years had beaten excellent opponents like Josh Barnett, Mark Coleman, Kevin Randleman, Igor Vovchanchyn, Heath Herring and Wanderlei Silva. He also swept the Pride 2006 Open Weight Grand Prix.
Although Cro Cop peaked early, and faded quickly, there’s no forgetting the look of fear that brimmed in the eyes of his opponents as they stared across the ring at the Croatian killer. Few strikers create the aura that Filipovic manifested, and his best days will never be forgotten.
If only the man would concede to Father Time, he might prevent any serious long-term health issues.
Josh Barnett has a checkered past, there’s no doubt of this. He’s failed more than a single urinalysis and at one point, he engaged in a public feud with UFC president Dana White that looked like a guaranteed ban from the promotion.
But things have changed, and Barnett looks to be headed back to the UFC in 2013. He’s not quite the animal he was half a decade ago, but he’s still a dangerous out for any man not named Daniel Cormier or Mirko Cro Cop.
“The Warmaster” has earned 31 victories in 37 fights, and he’s beaten a handful of well-respected individuals. He’s also beaten every man to beat him, sans the aforementioned Cro Cop and Cormier. Randy Couture, Aleksander Emelianenko, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Pedro Rizzo and Sergei Kharitonov have all fallen at the feet of this crafty veteran who still looks to have a few good bouts in him.
Let’s all be honest here: Cain is still a very green opponent. The man has the tools to potentially be the most dominant heavyweight on the planet, but he’s young and he’s still got a lot of learning to do and experience to pick up.
To know that even now, with just 11 fights on his ledger, he’s already held the UFC heavyweight title and taken out strong opposition in Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva is amazing. Cain, relative to fighting, is just a kid.
I don’t favor him in the upcoming rematch with Junior dos Santos, but I have no problem seeing him eventually enjoying a superior career. As good as he is now, just imagine what he could be with more experience, having overcome more adversity and tangled with more worthy opponents.
“The Godfather of Ground and Pound” was an animal unlike any we’d seen in 1996. This guy knew exactly how to use his wrestling, and he knew exactly how to posture for crazy leverage: when those blows rained down on the faces of his grounded foes, you felt the pain through the TV screen.
Coleman always had issues with cardio, and that’s understandable, carrying all that muscle around. But when Mark was able to avoid the deep waters of combat, he was a nightmare. To beat him, you were practically forced to endure a solid 10 minutes worth of abuse. If you couldn’t survive, it was night-night, another W for “The Hammer.”
Mark racked up some amazing accolades in MMA, including winning the UFC 10 and 11 tournaments. He also captured the Pride Grand Prix 2000 title. Don Frye, Igor Vovchanchyn and Kazuyuki Fujita all crumbled before this now retired pioneer.
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