Are The New Breed Taking Over Or Are The Champs Here To Stay?
Over the past year or so, people's opinion on the “Top Contenders” in the UFC have taken quantum leaps. Cast your mind back to this point last year. Brock Lesnar had pulverized Frank Mir and looked to have an overwhelming reign on the heavyweight division, George St-Pierre was ruling the “Pound For Pound” roost, and Anderson "The Spider" Silva was outclassing anyone brave enough to step into the octagon with him.
No one thought that the then-current set of fighters could be defeated in the foreseeable future; as they just kept improving with every fight. Now fast forward to present day and the story is completely different, with the sudden emergence of tough, unbeaten and, at times, underdog fighters; many divisions with in the UFC have been put on notice.
The middleweight division which was once rather stale, has now been lit up by a few young prospects. The fighter who has surprised me the most is none other than Yoshihiro Akiyama.
Although he has only one fight in the UFC, it was awesome enough to earn the “Fight of the Night” accolade after his split-decision victory, over an in form Alan Belcher, at UFC 100. "The Zainichi Korean Warrior" fought on despite a broken orbital bone to earn this victory showing just how much damage this “new breed” of fighters can endure.
Despite the fantastic performance, Akiyama set out to further improve on his game and enrolled with Xtreme Couture to work on his strikes. We have seen what the man dubbed “Sexyama” female admirers when he is suffering from cage-rust (and arguably “big fight” greenness”) then with improved training, Akiyama's middleweight potential is limitless and ultimately bound for a championship match.
The question then lies, could he defeat an on form Anderson Silva (implying that Anderson is not going to disgrace himself at this weight-class again)?
Well, if his upcoming match with the intimidating MMA legend Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva swings in his favor, then that could be the momentum Akiyama needs to go on to face “The Spider” and put up a worthy challenge for the championship.
Another man who has exploded onto the top parameters of the MMA rankings is Junior Dos Santos. The young Brazilian heavyweight, who learned his craft under the tutelage of two all time greats in Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and the aforementioned Anderson Silva, has defeated some notable competition en route to staking his claim at a championship opportunity in the very near future.
The way that the victims of The Cigano have fallen include four first round stoppages (two knockouts and two TKOs) and even an uncommon verbal submission, certain proof of Dos Santos' intensity and impressiveness so far.
Dos Santos has shown his awareness in the octagon via his uppercut on a ducking Fabricio Werdum, which resulted in a knock-out and a debut victory for the Brazilian.
From this, he has gone on to dominate and defeat MMA stars like the renowned Brazilian jiu jitsu master Gabriel Gonzaga (KO), Stefan Struve (TKO–punches) and a third round domination of Mirko “CroCop” Filipovic; the latter resulting in CroCop actually giving up against The Cigano after being blinded by a vicious uppercut after a barrage of strikes from Dos Santos.
This is a young man who is more than ready for a shot at the champion, and assuming Lesnar would still be champion, could easily dominate his way to a lengthy respectable heavyweight title run.
After suffering an almost career and life threatening injury, the verdict on Brock Lesnar has hugely changed following his absence. The former “Next Big Thing” is soon to be known as the “Former Big Thing” when he returns to full fitness and inside the octagon this summer against Shane Carwin.
With Brock on the sidelines, the so called “other guys” in the division have been able to showcase their abilities and highlight to fans across the world what the current champion lacks in his game. With the emergence of then up and comers like Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez, Lesnar now seems inferior in the heavyweight division. He is now the unofficial underdog in any fight that he competes in.
If Brock is the same fighter on his return, then fans should expect him to be convincingly squashed by the three main contenders to his championship and would fade and be lost in the shuffle of the division, much like the “big draw” Kimbo Slice upon his confrontation with real competition.
The current No. 1 contender, Shane Carwin, is a man who has somewhat shocked the UFC fans by his impact on the division and his well deserved rise to the top. Dubbed “The Engineer,” Carwin has been able to quickly manufacture a victory in all of his matches to date, even when being deemed the “underdog” in a bout.
He has never had a fight go past 3:48 in the first round in his whole career, and that was against the legendary Frank Mir.
Carwin has overwhelmingly dominated all of his competition and offers no relief for anyone standing toe-to-toe with him. Now before anyone dismisses Carwin as purely a striker, they should do their MMA history homework and view Carwin's five submission victories before joining the UFC elite. He also boasts training in wrestling and Brazilian jiu jitsu and should be able to tackle anything that comes his way in the octagon.
In my opinion, if Brock Lesnar had not pulled out due to injury, Carwin would currently be the UFC heavyweight champion because his overall game is ten times superior to Brock's and any MMA/boxing fan recognizes that Lesnar's sloppy Hulk-Smash punches (something I have previously wrote critically of) would easily be telegraphed and be avoided by a top quality striker in Carwin.
At UFC 116, Carwin gets his long awaited title shot and I will be hugely surprised if this goes the full distance, and even more shocked if Lesnar somehow manages to retain his coveted heavyweight championship and defeat the unbeaten Carwin.
Now, this next fighter (and final fighter of this column), is the man who has surprised me the most this year. That man is none other than Cain Velasquez.
In the past year, Velasquez has improved his already hard to defeat fighting style and shown the world what he is capable of.
After five impressive victories against respectable opponents including Cheick Kongo and Ben Rothwell, Velasquez was still deemed an underdog against Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, in the biggest fight of his career to date.
Critics said Velasquez had no chance because lack of “punching power,” but Cain proved the world wrong and knocked Big Nog out in the first round to cement his status in the heavyweight division and the “New Breed's" dominance in the UFC.
For me, Cain has it all as a competitor. He is a Two-Time All-American Collegiate Wrestler, which shows has ability to handle grapples, takedowns and reversals. He is trained in Brazilian jiu jitsu which allows him to utilize submissions and leverage when needed and he is also an established kickboxer.
It is hard to tell if or when Cain Velasquez will suffer his first defeat because, in my opinion, there is no one currently who could convincingly do so; that is assuming Cain is on top form.
Following UFC 116, Velasquez will ultimately receive a title shot against Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin—something well deserved for the No. 3 ranked fighter in the world. A match against the latter has previously been scrapped because officials knew that either man would be the next champion and an "Unbeaten Vs. Unbeaten" for the championship is a top draw in Pay-Per-View terms.
The likely match against Carwin, should be expected to be a fantastic encounter with no underdog in the matchup.
So, it seems that the young up and comers in the UFC have solidified their places and earned the respects of the MMA world with their well earned accolades and convincing victories over on form top fighters. However, the return of Brock Lesnar this summer could prove that the veterans and champions won't go down without one hell of a fight.
That's all for this month's edition of The Taj Show. Feel free to leave comments on any issues you would like to see me address, or what I can do to improve because everyone can. I'll see you all next month for the next edition!
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