With another big heavyweight tilt in the books and Alistair Overeem’s remarkable collapse to Antonio Silva now official, there’s much to consider in the way the promotion is ranking its big men. Perhaps even more so now that an official ranking system is coming soon.
Here’s a look at the top-10 heavies presently on the UFC roster.
Struve has been on a tear recently, scoring four straight wins and quietly pushing his record to 9-3 in the octagon. The only thing keeping him from a higher placement on this list is quality of opposition, as his biggest win in that stretch is probably Lavar Johnson (and even he was a short notice replacement).
All of his losses have come to upper echelon heavyweights, but with 30 fights before his 25th birthday, it’s hard to imagine "The Skyscraper" not putting together his considerable skill and experience to build a run at a title shot in the next couple of years.
Not that long ago, Dana White was pleading with Minotauro Nogueira to retire. He was telling anyone with ears that "Big Nog" didn’t have anything left to prove, and that the aging warrior could go out knowing he gave everything possible to MMA.
What a difference a couple of years can make.
The living legend starched Brendan Schaub in Brazil and was seconds away from finishing Frank Mir at UFC 140 before an error in judgement cost him the fight. Since then, he’s bested Dave Herman and will look to really make a statement in a fight with Fabricio Werdum some time this summer.
A win there and Nogueira is in the title hunt again.
Overeem looked wildly overconfident and generally unimpressive in his return to the octagon at UFC 156, succumbing to a barrage of shots against the cage from Antonio Silva. For a man many had pegged for a shot at the world title, the "Dutchman" proved he has a long way to go to be elite in the UFC.
The Reem is the rare blend of power, skill, and promotional ability that the UFC lacks in its heavyweight class. He’s has some skill and carries himself with a swagger that people either love or hate immediately. For that reason, it may not take him long to regain his position near the top of the heap.
As of now though, he's a guy with one win on his UFC resume (over a halfway retired Brock Lesnar, no less), one violent loss, and a year off for a PED suspension. He needs to do more to show he's as good as the hype suggests.
You wouldn’t expect a 36-year-old fighter to be better at that age than he was at 26, and you certainly wouldn’t expect it from a guy who looks like he’d be more suited to fix your muffler than break your face. And yet, that’s exactly what Roy Nelson is – a veteran who’s getting better every time we see him.
Finally developing some technique to go with his considerable power, the ultra-durable "Big Country" keeps knocking out the guys that the UFC puts in front of him. He’s not always successful against the top of the division, but anyone below him in the rankings is getting stopped violently.
Given the relationship he has with Dana White, it’s not likely that he’ll ever work his way into title contention, but he’s still among the most entertaining fighters and interesting characters on the roster.
Silva looked calm and cool in disposing of rival Overeem at UFC 156, firmly staking his claim to a spot in the top-10 of the heavyweight division.
Though questions remain about his chin and his standup game, the fact is that "Bigfoot" can match anyone in the division in terms of raw power and has a jiu-jitsu game that doesn't get nearly enough attention. His ground and pound is also frightening to behold, and he looks to be coming into his own in the biggest promotion in the world.
Mir is a valuable guy to the UFC: he’s always in contention and always a viable option for a title fight, but the game has evolved to the point that he’s not likely to ever hold the title again. Still, he’s a name with a pedigree who never turns down a fight and is always game, and he’ll beat most guys he comes across. There’s value in that.
His grappling is second to none and his striking continues to improve, a testament to his commitment to being the best martial artist he can possibly be. His chin has never been great though, and it’s not getting better with more punishment over the course of his career.
Mir isn’t on his way down yet, but he’s not heading upward either. He’s a very good heavyweight who isn’t likely to be the best again.
2012 was a roller coaster year for the former champion, marred by opponent switches, personal issues and being on both sides of a serious beating in his two fights. Unfortunately, the beating that he received from Cain Velasquez was much worse than the one he dished out to Frank Mir, and it cost him his title as well.
Dos Santos is as likeable as any man in MMA, but there’s little question he has some work to do. No one can question his standup skill or his heart, but Velasquez exposed flaws in his conditioning and ability to keep the fight standing against a particularly determined wrestler.
At 28 there’s no doubt that Cigano will be back, but he has some things to flesh out first.
Werdum has enjoyed something of a resurgence in the back half of his MMA career, winning five of his last six and looking decent in a fight most thought he would be killed in against Alistair Overeem (butt scooting aside).
With an all-world submission game that people finally took note of when he choked out Fedor Emelianenko, and a Muay Thai game that got scary good kind of out of nowhere, Werdum is on the cusp of getting a crack at a world title.
He’ll coach TUF: Brazil 2 against Minotauro Nogueira, and it’s likely that a win in their matchup this year will put him in the cage with the champion.
Cormier’s meteoric rise over the past couple of years is nothing short of astounding as the heavy handed Olympic wrestler has been putting the world on notice that he’s coming for a title.
He’s beaten the likes of "Bigfoot" Silva and Josh Barnett in recent outings, earning the Strikeforce GP crown and pushing his record to an unblemished 11-0 after defeating Dion Staring in the final Strikeforce event.
He has potential to succeed in two divisions, but his first UFC test will come against former champion Frank Mir in April. From there, the sky’s the limit.
MMA is very much a “what have you done for me lately?” business. The rise and fall and rise of Cain Velasquez is a serious, and for Junior dos Santos, very painful reminder of that.
On his way to the top of the sport, Velasquez outright couldn’t find opponents willing to fight him. He joined the UFC with only a couple of fights to his name and before long was a 10-0 heavyweight champion. A year later he was an also-ran, a never-was that people were writing off after a single loss that happened on one good leg.
Fast forward another year and he’s the best in the world again after utterly destroying dos Santos and regaining his title. To put it mildly, when he’s on, there is no one in the world capable of such a high level of violence, both in terms of work rate and sheer damage inflicted.
It’s been said before, but Cain Velasquez is the best in the world and he might be for a long, long, time.