Heavyweight Division Has a New Look in the Aftermath of UFC 156
Promised title shots are becoming kryptonite to fighters in the UFC.
Last night at UFC 156 in Las Vegas, heavyweight powerhouse Alistair Overeem became the latest potential contender to watch his title dreams go up in flames.
"The Reem" suffered a third-round drubbing at the hands of Antonio "Big Foot" Silva, and no sooner than the former Strikeforce champion hit the canvas, the landscape in the UFC heavyweight division took a different shape.
With a championship tilt between Cain Velasquez and Overeem now off the table, there is suddenly room in the divisional upper tier for a other heavyweights to make a play at title contention.
Over the next few months, there are a handful of heavyweight throwdowns that have the potential to determine who gets the next shot at the heavyweight crown. Then again, Silva's upset may have given one former champion a shot at redemption by proxy.
Here are a few scenarios to think about.
It May Be Trilogy Time
The images of Junior dos Santos leaving the cage at UFC 155 are still fresh in all of our minds. "Cigano" had just come out on the business end of a five-round beating at the hands of Velasquez and his face told the story well.
Gone was the jovial JDS the MMA world had come to love, and in his place stood a battered fighter who had just endured 25 minutes of punishment.
The Brazilian slugger vowed to regain the heavyweight title, and that opportunity may come sooner than expected.
Typically when a champion is dethroned, he has to work his way back up the ladder for a title shot. Following Velasquez's loss in their first meeting, the AKA-trained fighter had to defeat Silva at UFC 146 before having his title hopes green-lit.
Had Overeem been successful last night in Las Vegas, this certainly would have been the case, but now, the road is wide open for Velasquez versus dos Santos 3.
While the timing of a trilogy bout between the two heavyweights seems a bit off when additional factors are included, it may simply be the best possible option.
Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner Daniel Cormier is set to enter the UFC fold against Frank Mir at UFC on Fox 7.
But even if Cormier is successful in his Octagon debut, the Louisiana native will not pursue a title shot. Velasquez and Cormier are teammates at AKA, and the wrestling standout from Oklahoma State University has already set his course for dropping down to light heavyweight should that issue arise.
On the flip side of that equation, if Mir were to emerge victorious from the clash with Cormier in San Jose, the Las Vegas native could possibly get the nod to face Velasquez.
That being said, Mir suffered a lopsided loss in his most recent attempt to reclaim the title at UFC 146, and it would come down to whether or not a bout with Velasquez drew more of a buzz with the fans than a third throwdown between the champion and JDS.
Werdum's Stock Rose When Overeem Fell
With Overeem out of the immediate title picture, an opportunity for UFC gold could be in the near future for Fabricio Werdum.
The Brazilian submission ace has been successful in both of his two outings since rejoining the UFC and would be an interesting stylistic matchup for Velasquez. On the other hand, there are a few obstacles obstructing Werdum's path to a title shot.
"Cavalo" is set to square off with former champion Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira following their coaching stint on the second installment of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.
A victory over "Big Nog" would put the icing on the cake for Werdum to earn an opportunity to compete for heavyweight gold, but timing will ultimately play a huge factor.
The bout with Nogueira is slated for June, and even with a quick turnaround, a realistic target for a Velasquez versus Werdum matchup would be late September or early October. It would be difficult to imagine Velasquez staying on the sidelines that long, but it is certainly a possibility.
In the pack of potential contenders, Werdum has flown somewhat under the radar. The 35-year-old has won five of his last six bouts, with the only loss on that run coming in a lackluster tussle with Overeem in the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix.
Outside of that loss, Werdum has collected victories over Fedor Emelianenko, Antonio Silva and Roy Nelson. A victory over Nogueira should put Werdum on the doorstep of a title shot, but the timing of the situation could keep Werdum one win away from it becoming a reality.
Big Country vs. Kongo Now Holds More Sway
When the bout between Roy Nelson and Cheick Kongo was announced for UFC 159 in New Jersey, it seemed like a solid scrap between two fighters looking to stay in the conversation of elite heavyweights.
While this scenario still rings true, following Overeem's defeat at UFC 156, the fight between "Big Country" and Kongo will now carry a few more implications.
Both men are a few steps away from a title shot, but with the lanes to the top of the division wide open, the victor of their Garden State throwdown will put himself in position to make a title run a reality.
Nelson has won three of his last four outings and is coming off back-to-back, first-round knockout victories. In his most recent showing against Matt Mitrione in December, the former TUF winner displayed an improved striking game.
Nelson's overhand right has always been a hammer, but working with Jeff Mayweather has added a few new tools to the former IFL champion's stand-up.
Much like Nelson, Kongo has also claimed victory in three of his last four outings. The 37-year-old bounced back from a loss to Mark Hunt at UFC 144 by earning a unanimous-decision nod over Jackson's MMA product Shawn Jordan.
A victory over Nelson would solidify Kongo's relevance in the heavyweight picture, but a loss has the potential to push him out the top-heavyweight conversation for good.
A Skyscraper & Bigfoot: A Few Final Thoughts
Coming into the Super Bowl weekend card, the next steps in the heavyweight division appeared to be laid out for smooth sailing. Antonio Silva obviously saw things going a different way.
After knocking out Overeem, the Team Nogueira fighter has proven he is not to be overlooked.
The 33-year-old Brazilian has bounced back in huge fashion after suffering back-to-back losses to Velasquez and Cormier.
His victory at UFC 156 paired with a first-round knockout over highly-touted prospect Travis Browne have put Silva in an interesting position.
A rematch with Velasquez seems highly unlikely at this point, since it has only been nine months since the current champion pounded Silva into a bloody mess.
That being said, Silva defeating Overeem certainly put his stock through the roof, and "Pezao" could be one fight away from getting a title opportunity.
It is a similar situation for Stefan Struve. The 7'0" Dutchman has collected four consecutive victories, all coming by way of stoppage, and has built solid momentum toward earning a title shot of his own.
The 24-year-old's potential has been heralded for the past three years, and it certainly appears as if Struve is fulfilling those expectations.
He is slated to face Mark Hunt next month at UFC on Fuel TV 8. If Struve is able to defeat the "Super Samoan", he will definitely carve out his place in the heavyweight division's upper tier.
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