Dos Santos vs Velasquez 2: 4 Legitimate Contenders for the Heavyweight Title

McKinley NobleCorrespondent IDecember 30, 2012

Dos Santos vs Velasquez 2: 4 Legitimate Contenders for the Heavyweight Title

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    One of the most interesting things about the UFC heavyweight division is the perceived gap between the top of the food chain and everyone else.

    Right now, the title picture seems to revolve solely around Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem. As it stands, those three men dominated the division for the last handful of years.

    But are other fighters in the rankings being overlooked?

    That's a question we can't answer until the halfway point of the next year, as no less than eight top heavyweights will be competing to round out the division. Until then, here's a look at the most legitimate contenders to the UFC title right now.

Alistair Overeem

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    As we've discussed at length before, Overeem holds a distinction as one of the most heavily-decorated superstars in the heavyweight division.

    Not only does he hold multiple world titles split between MMA and kickboxing, but the Dutchman also beat Fabricio Werdum, who handed Fedor Emelianenko his first real defeat.

    That may not have been enough to fast-track him to a title shot (and a need for a provisional fighter's license didn't help), but Overeem's record and current winning streak means he'll be a step away from the title until he loses.

    All it'll take for the next step is a win over Antonio Silva at UFC 156 to clear the path.

Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira Winner

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    Honestly, it's surprising that Nogueira has held on to his "Top 10" status for so long.

    Despite over 13 years on the MMA circuit, the Pride FC legend has yet to suffer back-to-back losses and is slated to face Fabricio Werdum as an opposing coach in a second season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil next year.

    Should they match up after that, UFC president Dana White says that Werdum is looking at a title shot.

    That makes sense, and if Overeem happens to win the belt, that's an easy setup for a rematch to wash away the taste of their lackluster fight in Strikeforce.

    Then again, Big Nog could be a spanner in the works.

    In all fairness, the always-dangerous Nogueira should realistically be getting a similar incentive from the UFC, even if Cain Velasquez is still the champion by then—and Big Nog would likely relish the chance at a rematch to avenge his knockout loss.

Daniel Cormier

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    As the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner, Cormier has his own legitimate claim to an immediate shot at the UFC title, even if he says he won't take it.

    In fact, Cormier may be committing to his weight drop too soon.

    While he doesn't want to fight American Kickboxing Academy teammate Cain Velasquez as long as he's holding the UFC heavyweight belt, it's still very possible that Velasquez won't be the champion by the end of next year.

    Cormier has already proven himself to be one of the sport's elite heavyweight fighters, and that's not a distinction he should throw away so easily.

Junior Dos Santos

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    Does Cain Velasquez have JDS' number, or was something wrong with the former champion?

    Either way, it might be premature to count out "Cigano" so soon.

    Not being able to defend the UFC Heavyweight Championship a few times isn't something that makes or breaks someone in the division anyway. Barring Randy Couture and a perpetually ill Brock Lesnar, practically no one's been able to hold onto the belt for longer than a year anyway.

    Sure, it'll take a few tune-up fights and some highlight-reel knockouts to drum up enough interest for a rubber match, but JDS can fight his way back to the title.