What a difference eight months can make.
July 11, 2009 was the UFC's monumental 100th official event.
The talk that followed was the same throughout any MMA community. Everyone was asking the same question, supporters and haters alike.
The question: "Who can beat Brock Lesnar?"
After a near one-sided destruction of Mir, the champion did look unbeatable. He appeared to be a machine sent back from the future with the task of killing Sarah Connor.
Terminator references aside, it did seem that Lesnar was going to be holding on to the heavyweight strap for some time. That is, until he was plagued by a mysterious illness prior to his scheduled defense against Shane Carwin.
While the media searched feverishly for answers on Lesnar's ill situation, the rest of the heavyweight division moved on. In fact, they moved on in impressive fashion, creating a logjam of contenders in a weight class that once seemed to be lacking.
Since Lesnar's absence, five skilled heavyweights have battled their way into contender status.
UFC 102 was the start of it all, as Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira picked apart Randy Couture. Out-striking and out-grappling the legend, Nogueira showed that he still has some prime fights left ahead of him.
On the same night, Gabriel Gonzaga proved that win, lose, or draw, he's better off fighting the top of the division. During his brief gatekeeper status, Gonzaga destroyed UFC rookie Chris Tuchscherer, launching him back into the mix of contenders—albeit at the bottom of the mix, but in the mix nonetheless.
Then came UFC 103, where Junior dos Santos announced his arrival as a serious threat with a lopsided victory over Pride legend Mirko Cro Cop. The Black House protege once again showed his amazing hands, knocking Cro Cop around the cage with ease. The Brazilian added to his growing stock with another knockout victory over Gilbert Yvel at UFC 108.
In October, during UFC 104's co-main event, AKA prospect Cain Velasquez threw his name into the fray with another phenomenal display of his unparalleled control, using his dominant ground-and-pound to batter the journeyman Ben Rothwell into a daze.
Sitting in the eye of the injury bug storm was UFC 107, where Frank Mir got back on track over feared striker Cheick Kongo. However, Mir had no fear. He showed off his ever-improving boxing skills to put Kongo to the mat, where he used his world class jiu-jitsu to end the fight.
Since then, the UFC has announced that Lesnar will make his much anticipated return this July. This gives the company time to sort out the snarled and twisted logjam of contenders in the coming months.
It all starts with this weekend's showdown between Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Cain Velasquez. Both fighters are seemingly one win away from the title shot, but this fight won't be a No. 1 contender match.
However, a win will put the victor in a very good position as the division continues to sort itself out. If anything, an injury may occur, and Nogueira or Velasquez may end up getting the title shot after all.
Then, when March rolls around, we will have two more fights that look to clear the rubble from the river.
First Junior dos Santos will finally battle Gabriel Gonzaga in a fight that was originally suppose to happen at UFC 108. Although the winner would still be a win away from a title shot, crazier things have happened. See Demian Maia for example.
Less than a week after dos Santos and Gonzaga square off, the true No. 1 contender match will take place between Frank Mir and Shane Carwin. The match looks to be exciting; its result sets up the rubber match between Mir and Lesnar or the battle of monstrous wrestlers between Carwin and Lesnar.
Having an abundance of contenders in the heavyweight division is a nice change of pace from last year, but it's about time to sort out the challengers. The UFC can't keep feeding their top guys unranked opponents and expect the same type of pre-fight hype that they've gotten in the past.
Thankfully they've realized this, and they've already got a crew on their way to sort out the logjam, starting with the much-anticipated main event of UFC 110.
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