Cain Velasquez climbed the beanstalk at UFC 121 and felled the giant atop the heavyweight division, Brock Lesnar.
When he did so, the new Heavyweight Champion might've started a dominant reign over a talented division a la middleweight champ, Anderson Silva. On the other hand, his seismic shift might've triggered a constant rumbling throughout the ranks of the biggest boppers a la Quinton Jackson's dethroning of former light heavyweight king Chuck Liddell.
In the latter case, the belt was on Rampage's waist for one defense against a fading Dan Henderson, then Forrest Griffin kicked it away from Jackson. Griffin got throttled by Rashad Evans in his very next bout, but Suga fared no better—handing the hardware to Lyoto Machida in his first defense.
The Dragon held Mauricio Rua at bay with five shaky rounds to retain the belt for one scrap, but Shogun obliterated him in the rematch to leave no doubt the title would change hands once again.
I mention the travails of the 205-pounders because the current state of the 265-pound division looks increasingly like its littler brother—the deepest class in all of mixed martial arts.
In other words, if Velasquez is able to string together some victories, he'll have accomplished quite a feat. Of course, his performance on Saturday night should convince anyone watching that it's not wise to underestimate Cain—el hombre es muy peligroso.
But the new champ also reminded us that no man or woman is unbeatable. With that in mind, here is the list of the top contenders to Cain Velasquez' shiny new belt:
It's highly unlikely anyone from Strikeforce's swelling heavyweight ranks would jump ship and dive into the UFC waters, but unlikely is not impossible so it at least deserves mention.
Scott Coker's developing quite a talented pool of 265-pounders and, if one of his apex predators joined the rival UFC, he would immediately land in the top five of this particular list.
Brutes like Fedor Emelianenko, champion Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, or even Josh Barnett would pose consider problems for Cain Velasquez. Not serious or fatal ones, but challenges nonetheless.
Let's start off with an oldie, but still (possibly) goodie—Cro Cop.
The once-mortifying striker has lost a considerable amount of his intimidating aura since moving over to the UFC from PRIDE, but he's shown signs of life as of late. Since a flat-line performance in a unanimous decision loss to Cheick Kongo sent the Croatian star into the sport's nether regions to find himself, Filipovic's only losses have been to Junior dos Santos and Frank Mir by submission due to strikes and knockout, respectively.
That means you can't really consider Cro Cop a top contender because those elite heavyweights dispatched him with relative ease, but it doesn't preclude him from ever regaining that status.
Yes, the window for such a renaissance is all but shut considering Mirko's a month passed his 36th birthday, but the man was a legend for a reason.
The Skyscraper is a serious dark horse at this point in the discussion.
Nevertheless, the 22-year-old bears mentioning because of his age and the fact that he already has quite a bit of rugged experience under his belt. The Dutch giant has 24 professional MMA contests to his credit and has stared down the likes of Junior dos Santos, Paul Buentello, and Roy Nelson.
Sure, the tussles with Cigano and Big Country ended with Struve in La La Land, but there's no dishonor in those losses. Especially for, quite literally, a kid—the loss to dos Santos came three days after his 21st birthday.
He must shore up his striking game so that he's no longer so vulnerable to the cataclysmic haymaker, but the talent and heart are there.
Minotauro has made a career in MMA by defying logic and showing resiliency uncommon amongst mortal men. Shoot, he's made a lifetime of it after being run over by a truck as a child in Brazil.
So I'm not gonna count him out until he does so himself by hanging up the gloves.
However, a phoenician rise from the ashes of gatekeeper status by Nogueira would be a true shock to the system. Especially if he were able to ascend all the way to the pinnacle of the division and unseat Cain Velasquez, a monster who just pulverized the Brazilian in Australia at UFC 110.
Not only would he have to slog his way through a nasty gauntlet of brawlers, he'd have to shake off serious injury that will shelve him for the duration of 2010.
I'm tempted to say stranger things have happened, but I'm not sure that'd be accurate.
Before anyone flips, hear me out.
Jon Jones is already walking around at 225 pounds by his own admission and the kid is only 23. Anyone who is over that age knows there's probably a significant period of weigh gain in his future—finely conditioned athlete or not.
Dude is gonna put on some mass—either muscle or fat—in the near future.
That's not to say he can't stick in the light heavyweight division Bones is currently savaging, but it is to say he will have his options. Something he's already open to considering his stated eagerness to close James Toney's flapping trap.
Oh yeah, there's also the matter of his 84.5" reach and 6' 4" frame. Both measurements place him firmly in the heavyweight profile. He'd be on the lighter side of things, but that might not matter considering the power, speed, athleticism, and accuracy he's demonstrated to date.
Jon Jones is certainly not an imminent threat to Cain Velasquez, which means the current champ would have to go on a long winning streak to make this possibility relevant.
But, here, stranger things have definitely happened.
Matt Mitrione has only three professional MMA fights on his resume so this is clearly a forward-looking selection. Furthermore, knockouts of Marcus Jones (no longer in the sport) and Kimbo Slice (no longer in the sport) plus a unanimous decision over Joey Beltran aren't exactly the exploits of legend.
Nevertheless, the former NFL defensive tackle is an excellent athlete and he's shown a remarkable ability to improve inside the Octagon. Additionally, he's shown a facility with a wide array of MMA tactics and a knack for striking.
The 32-year-old will have to continue his rapid improvement if he is to make waves in his second professional sport.
The Hybrid had an nice showing against Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 121 and firmly announced his presence on the contenders' landscape.
However, Schaub isn't ready for the bluer waters of the heavyweight division—he needs some additional seasoning before he'd be ready to take a stab at Cain Velasquez. OK, he probably needs a LOT of seasoning.
But the point is that the 27-year-old has the physical tool box to become a serious threat if he continues to work on his game. His striking is already a dangerous asset as he's registered six knockouts in seven career victories.
Another athlete who had a brush with the NFL, Schaub also possesses a purple belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu so he's no slouch on the ground, either. At least in theory.
Roy Nelson doesn't look like an elite professional athlete, but he is very much that.
Big Country also proved his one tough mamma jamma when he stood in the pocket and traded nuclear arms with Junior dos Santos. Not only did Nelson survive the encounter, he managed to land a few of his own power shots to let Cigano know he wasn't just there to be a punching dummy and collect a paycheck.
Though The Ultimate Fighter's Season 11 winner would drop the unanimous decision to JDS, his legion of true-believers only grew with the performance.
His next challenge isn't any easier as he's set to take on Shane Carwin at UFC 125, but beware the belly.
Frank Mir must've been smiling after Cain Velasquez did his thing at UFC 121.
Well, maybe not considering the semi-obsession Mir had with beating Lesnar—there's a part of him that probably wishes he were the one to wrest the belt from the Vanilla Gorilla. But there also must be a part of him that realizes he's much more relevant now that a title run doesn't necessarily HAVE to go through Brock.
Though Frank wouldn't necessarily fare better against Velasquez, there isn't the monumental size differential that Mir faced when he went up against the likes of Lesnar and Shane Carwin.
That's of little consolation when you consider the new heavyweight champ just pulped a much larger man (and the path to him would most certainly include either Brock or Carwin), but who knows?
Mir can go toe-to-toe with anyone when it comes to polished technique and—with primary attention paid to it—he should be able to improve his conditioning. That would at least give him a chance, on paper, against Cain.
Here's your other big winner from Saturday night.
Had Brock Lesnar continued to lounge in the heavyweight throne, Shane Carwin probably has a long wait for his next title shot considering his recent failure to finish the former champ.
However, with Cain Velasquez now in said throne, Carwin's path back to a five-rounder for the hardware is considerably shorter. Should the heavy-handed Denver native take out Roy Nelson at UFC 125 in January, you could begin to make the argument he deserves a shot at whomever owns the belt by then.
Remember, this is still a guy with only one loss—a bout in which he had the cream of the heavyweight crop on the ropes—and a slew of knockouts, including over top-flight competition like Gabriel Gonzaga and Frank Mir.
Say what you want about the holes in Brock Lesnar's game, the man is still a force of nature inside the cage. To deny his impressive accomplishments in such a short time is to marginalize what Cain Velasquez did at UFC 121.
And that's defeat an enormous man who moves like one much smaller using superior endurance and technique.
But those are two things that the Minnesota Mountain can work on quickly given his mental fortitude.
Granted, there's growing evidence of a third vulnerability—a suspect chin.
There's no shame in strolling down Queer Street when struck flush by Shane Carwin. Nor is there when the attacker is Cain Velasquez, but the big fella was sent stumbling and spinning by a relatively innocuous looking short left from Velasquez.
That's not to say the bomb didn't pack a wallop; it's to say a top contender should probably be able to wear that one. However, until further notice, Lesnar stays in the second spot.
There's no mystery or debate here—Junior dos Santos is the undisputed No. 1 contender at 265 pounds.
The question is not whether he will get the next shot at the new champ Cain Velasquez, the question is when his shot will come. Barring an injury that nobody in the sport wants to see, we knew going into UFC 121 that JDS would get the first crack at making the new champ's stay atop the heavyweight ladder a short one.
Cigano is a superlative striker with eight knockouts and two submissions that were a direct result of his artillery fire, but he's also got ground skills as a brown belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu from Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira attests.
Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos might not have the same sex appeal as the recent title collisions, but it just might end up being the best of them all.