Ranking the Heavyweights, Post-UFC 111
Everyone loves a good slide show, and with all of the recent heavyweight action we've seen lately, it's time to take a look at how the UFC's biggest division stacks up.
With Brock Lesnar's imminent return from illness set for mid-summer, a number of fighters have had strong showings and have staked a claim to Lesnar's title.
Cain Valasquez continued to impress at UFC 110, while Junior Dos Santos continued his reign of terror. Recently we witnessed Shane Carwin become the interim heavyweight title holder at UFC 111.
With those performances and recent comments from UFC President Dana White, let's see how the heavyweight division would look if it were to be ranked.
1. Brock Lesnar
Despite not competing since July of 2009 at UFC 100 due to illness, Brock Lesnar is still the holder of the actual UFC heavyweight belt and therefore No.1 on my list.
Finally given the all clear a month or so ago, it appears the champ and the UFC are targeting a summer return, likely at the UFC 116 in Las Vegas. There he will meet the newly crowned interim heavyweight champion, Shane Carwin, to unify the belts.
Lesnar entered the cage after Carwin's win at UFC 111 to lay down the gauntlet. He claimed that Carwin's newly acquired belt is fake and that he is the true champion.
So we can now look forward to a few months of trash talk in what will truly be a clash of giants in the cage, and a huge fight for the UFC.
2. Shane Carwin
The newly crowned UFC interim heavyweight champion made a huge statement this weekend at UFC 111 by destroying Frank Mir in the first round.
He is now 12-0 in his MMA career, still undefeated, and he has never seen the second round of a fight. Carwin is for real; a true threat to current champion Lesnar.
With size, strength, and KO power he might be the only person who can physically match up with Lesnar.
We will eventually find out how evenly matched they are when they face off in what could be the main event at UFC 116.
As the interim champion, Carwin fills the No. 2 spot in the division right now.
3. Cain Valasquez
Valasquez has been on a tear since his UFC debut at UFC 83.
Undefeated and sitting on an eight-fight win streak, the AKA trained fighter has advanced through the UFC heavyweight division at a rapid pace.
At UFC 110, Valasquez won the defining fight of his career, as he destroyed Pride legend, and former champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira.
That win placed the young fighter at the top of the contender list in the heavyweight division. It appears the UFC big boys are impressed, also.
At the UFC 111 post-fight press conference, UFC President Dana White confirmed that Valsquez will likely sit out and wait for the winner of the Lesnar and Carwin match-up.
He is the No. 1 contender in waiting and the No. 3 ranked fighter in the division.
4. Junior Dos Santos
Much like Cain Valasquez, Junior "Cigano" Dos Santos has also been on a tear since entering the UFC.
Many people, including myself, think that JDS has been on a more impressive run than Valasquez.
He has beat Werdum, Struve, Yvel, Cro Cop and, most recently, Gonzaga since debuting.
It would appear that UFC management disagrees; Dana White says JDS will fight again this year, and he will not wait on the sidelines to get his title shot.
That's all well and good in theory, but tune-up fights are notoriously dangerous and a loss could ruin the momentum of the Brazilian.
Despite this there is not much argument in placing Junior Dos Santos at No. 4 in the rankings. I would rank him at No. 3, but if we go with what the UFC says, then he is beneath Cain for the moment.
5. Frank Mir
Despite recent losses to Brock Lesnar and current interim champion Shane Carwin, Frank Mir claims the No. 5 spot.
Wins over Cheick Kongo at UFC 107 and Antonio Nogueira at UFC 92, do just enough to keep him in the top half of the division.
The problem the UFC now has with the former champ is, who does he fight next?
Lopsided losses to Lesnar and Carwin mean he needs a few big wins to get close to another title shot.
The winner of Wednesday's clash between Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson could provide a good opponent for Mir.
6. Anotonio Rodrigo Nogueira
The Pride legend, and former heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has not looked like himself lately. Maybe age and years of punishment are catching up to him.
His loss to Frank Mir at UFC 92 was debatable due to an illness in the build-up to the fight. We just don't know how badly he was affected.
But his destruction at the hands of Valasquez at UFC 110 is not in doubt.
He is good enough to beat the older guard like Randy Couture, but the question is can Big Nog hang with the young lions?
A rematch with Frank Mir could be on the horizon which will keep the Brazilian legend relevant in the division.
7. Cheick Kongo
You may be surprised to see Cheick Kongo this high on the list, but when you look at the big Frenchman's recent fights it's where he deserves to be in the division.
Kongo is 4-2 in his last six fights, including a recent win over Paul Buentello.
When you consider that he took Cain Valasquez the distance at UFC 99 on short notice, it makes his only other loss, a KO to Frank Mir, not seem too bad.
Kongo needs a lot of work on his ground game now that the heavyweight division is littered with wrestlers, but his striking is solid and he would give most guys a good match.
Bottom line: He's not as bad as people think.
8. Stefan Struve
The young, lanky Dutchman has impressed since being blown away by Junior Dos Santos in his debut at UFC 95.
Rattling off three straight victories since, Struve is on the verge of joining the contender list.
His upcoming fight with Roy Nelson on Wednesday is easily the biggest fight of his career. A win would definitely push him to the next level in the division.
At 6"11, his size causes problems. He has strong K-1 kickboxing, and he trains at the famous Vos gym in Holland. He has a good ground game as well, finishing two of his UFC fights by submission.
The sky is the limit for "The Skyscraper."
9. Gabriel Gonzaga
Gabriel "Napao" Gonzaga is an interesting fighter to look at in the UFC heavyweight division.
Gifted with all the tools to succeed, the one-time No. 1 contender has allowed the division to pass him by.
He is a top level BJJ artist and capable of devastating KO finishes, but Gonzaga doesn't look like he's getting another title shot since losing to Randy Couture. That could be the peak of his career.
His recent KO loss to Junior Dos Santos means his only win in the last few years has been over Chris Tuchscherer, which is not that impressive.
Maybe Gonzaga is still dining out on that head kick KO of Cro Cop.
10. Roy Nelson
Roy Nelson's recent inactivity has actually done his standing in the division a lot of good, simply by not losing recently!
The Ultimate Fighter: Heavyweights Season Champion and former IFL Champion, Roy Nelson has a very strong MMA resume.
He is set to face the up-and-comer Stefan Struve at Fight Night 21. "Big Country" could very quickly find himself in a big fight with title implications.
A win on Wednesday night will move him up the rankings quickly.
In the Mix
Mirko Cro Cop—In my opinion he is still living off the Pride Open Weight GP win back in 2006. He is Simply not the feared striker he once was, but he has the ability to win fights.
Todd Duffee—The undefeated prospect has one UFC win and it took him just 7 seconds to win it. He can't be judged yet but, looks like one to watch.
Ben Rothwell—His one and only UFC fight is a loss, but the former IFL fighter has ability and is certainly capable of making the top 10.
Pat Barry—The K1 kickboxer has converted quite well to MMA and has the ability to end any fight. A potential fight with Mirko Cro Cop will define career path.
Brendan Schaub—The TUF finalist looked great in his recent win at UFC. He trains at a great camp and is young.
The future could be big for the former NFL player.