The Land of Giants: 5 Fights the UFC's Heavyweight Title Picture Needs
At UFC 166 at the Toyota Center in Houston, the world’s two best heavyweights entered the Octagon and after nearly five rounds of pure, unadulterated one-sided brutality, a true colossus of MMA was born.
Cain Velasquez, drenched in his adversary’s blood, rose from the fire and ash that is a title fight of such magnitude and now sits atop the UFC’s heavyweight division. The runner-up in this violent marathon was Junior dos Santos and having all but cleaned out the weight class himself over the last five or six years, sequesters himself distinctly as the world’s No. 2 heavyweight.
And this would be perfectly acceptable in maybe every other weight class but not heavyweight. Because this was the second time in one calendar year Velasquez has pulverized dos Santos beyond recognition.
The problem is that no heavyweight outside of Velasquez stands even a chance of defeating dos Santos. So after yet another display of mastery over “Cigano,” Velasquez turned what was already a two-man race into an out of control runaway.
The division belongs to Velasquez. And the matchups the UFC makes in the near future could have dire consequences if not drawn up properly.
As great as dos Santos is, it would be terrible for the sport to see anything remotely similar to the division’s dark age that pitted Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski against one another in what seemed to be an endless series, owing to the sheer lack of viable contenders.
The division may technically be more talented than it’s ever been, but the discrepancy between Velasquez and dos Santos and every other heavyweight could very well force something alike the Sylvia-Arlovski conundrum just alluded to.
In hopes of preventing that, here are five fights the UFC’s heavyweight title picture needs to see happen.
Cain Velasquez vs. Fabricio Werdum
Since being felled by Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox back in November of 2011, Cain Velasquez has since been rebuilt back up to something resembling more of a bloodthirsty demigod than a collegiate wrestler-turned-MMA fighter. And his ravenous hunger for violence provided yet another trouncing of dos Santos at UFC 166, thus ordaining a fourth fight between the two to a time not near.
For now, there’s only one heavyweight fans should expect to see in the Octagon with the heavyweight champion. That being the grappling marvel, Fabricio Werdum.
Dubbed “Vai Cavalo,” Werdum is a two-time ADCC (Abu Dhabi Combat Club) Submission Wrestling World Championships gold medalist and 3-0 since rejoining the UFC ranks in 2012. Having defeated popular knockout artist Roy Nelson, a 15-1 Mike Russow and even submitting jiu-jitsu ace Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Werdum is more than worthy of a title shot with dos Santos and Velasquez’s teammate Daniel Cormier out of the picture.
Werdum’s Brazilian jiu-jitsu acumen makes him possibly the most threatening stylistic matchup of Velasquez’s 8-year career. And demonstrated by his battering of Nelson on the feet and in the clinch, Werdum’s much-improved Muay Thai offers the seemingly superhuman heavyweight ruler a legitimate challenge to his throne.
Josh Barnett-Travis Browne Winner Receives a Title Shot
Expected to lock horns at UFC 168 on Dec. 28, Josh Barnett and Travis Browne are both surging. Barnett (33-6) is a former UFC heavyweight champion that has lost just once in the past six years and “Hapa” Browne is 15-1-1 over his career and coming off back-to-back Knockout of the Night performances. Whoever emerges victorious in their bout this December should be designated a title challenger.
Having never fought either Cain Velasquez or Junior dos Santos—something nearly every other notable heavyweight can’t say—Barnett and Browne are both a breath of fresh air for the division.
With that being said, both men would be deemed underdogs against dos Santos. So in that case, the UFC would be wise to place the winner of their UFC 168 bout in a title fight and leapfrogging the Brazilian pugilist—in hopes of preventing any more of a murky situation than the weight class is already in.
As for the loser, according to the UFC’s official divisional rankings, a pairing with dos Santos makes plenty sense sometime down the road.
Stipe Miocic vs. Mark Hunt-Antonio 'Bigfoot' Silva Winner
Stipe Miocic broke into the UFC’s top-10 with his upstaging win over the popular Kung Fu artist Roy Nelson this past June. Demonstrated in each of his five bouts inside of the Octagon, Miocic is one of the most athletic and versatile heavyweights on the planet. It’s his sort of adaptability that has helped usher in the most talented heavyweight landscape the sport of MMA has ever seen and he’s a talent the UFC needs to continue to build towards a title fight.
What matchup would bode well for that? The winner of the Mark Hunt-Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva showdown set to take place in Australia later this year, of course.
Miocic is a former NCAA Division I wrestler and baseball player with a pair of Golden Gloves under his belt and his 5-fight UFC career has already bestowed a ton of experience on him. In a battle of budding prospects, he proved to be too versatile for a former Muay Thai world champion in Shane del Rosario and overcame a bit of adversity when he turned things around (in the blink of an eye, no less) on a surprisingly fast starting Phil De Fries. He did suffer a TKO loss at the hands of Stefan Struve but showcased brilliant boxing for a heavyweight and exceptional punch resistance in defeat.
At his best, though, Miocic can give any heavyweight in the world fits with his multifaceted array of attack, best exhibited in his decision-victories over Nelson and Joey Beltran.
A breakthrough into the pantheon of the weight class for a fighter like this would do the division wonders. And a back end top-10 heavyweight like the Hunt-Silva winner is the perfect stepping stone for that sort of success.
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Frank Mir-Alistair Overeem Winner
A bout between former UFC heavyweight champion Frank Mir (16-8) and 2010 K-1 Grand Prix Champion Alistair Overeem (36-13) is expected to take place at UFC 169 in what appears to be a “loser leaves town” matchup as neither man will have won a fight in at least their last three attempts.
But both are still premiere heavyweights and it makes far too much sense to not pair the winner of the two with the flourishing Gabriel Gonzaga for a world title…the preeminent heavyweight gatekeeper title, that is.
Long held by the recently released French striker Cheick Kongo and with the possibility of a move to 205 pounds for Roy Nelson, the heavyweight gatekeeper title is up for grabs and its top contenders are Mir, Overeem and Gonzaga. Gonzaga, the Brazilian savage he is, has put together an impressive 4-1 run in his second stint in the UFC, not only defeating but finishing notable names like Ben Rothwell, Dave Herman and most recently Shawn Jordan. His only defeat being to Travis Browne, who according to this author, at least, is on the cusp of a title shot.
The Mir-Overeem bout doesn’t take place until February, so the chances of Gonzaga getting another fight between then and now are likely. But win or lose, his ticket has been punched to one of combat sports’ most essential (even if embarrassing) titles: Gatekeeper.
Mir or Overeem, with a win, are guaranteed at least one more fight in the organization, and the same fate as Gonzaga. Thus creating a benchmark every would-be contender should hope to aim for.
Junior Dos Santos vs. a Willing Striker (TBD)
What to do with Junior dos Santos?
Limbo or purgatory is what you would call his situation.
“Cigano” is the clear-cut No.2 heavyweight in the world, without a doubt, but his hopes of becoming world champion again are now in complete abeyance following the second stomping he’s taken from Cain Velasquez.
The damage dos Santos received from his last encounter with the heavyweight champion was frightening and his return date still isn’t clear. When the Brazilian blockbuster does make his way back into the Octagon, it should certainly be with someone who is willing to stand and trade shots with him.
A Stefan Struve rematch might be more competitive than it was five years ago. If Pat Barry manages to stay on the roster over the next six months or so, that would be fun. How about a fight between dos Santos and the UFC’s (extremely) poor man’s Junior dos Santos, Brendan Schaub?
A marketable name like Schaub, who just picked up a big win over fellow TUF 10 alumni Matt Mitrione, produces a fight that will assuredly end by knockout—and it wouldn’t be dos Santos being put to sleep.
Or could Alistair Overeem possibly pick up a couple of wins by the time dos Santos is ready to come back and provide the fireworks between the two that fans have been salivating over for far too long now?
Only time will tell. And in this case, it’s unfortunate that the future only comes one day at a time.