News broke earlier in the week that Shane Carwin is pulling out of his anticipated UFC 125 showing against Roy "Big Country" Nelson due to a back injury.
So who should Nelson face instead?
Two fighters immediately come to mind: Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and Frank Mir.
Big Nog was one good showing away from fighting for the UFC heavyweight title before getting knocked out by Cain Velasquez in Round One. Afterwards, Big Nog was scheduled to fight Frank Mir in a rematch, but pulled out due to an injury.
Now, though, he's had some time to heal after undergoing knee surgery, which is similar to Big Country having undergone knee surgery after his recent fight against Junior dos Santos.
Frank Mir had a lackluster showing against Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipović at UFC 119 despite winning by knockout in the last minute of their three-round fight.
Mir has done enough to stay relevant in the heavyweight division, but going from choking Cheick Kongo unconscious in just over a minute, to being pulverized by Shane Carwin in Round One, Mir's performance against top competition has been sporadic.
Still, a history between Big Country and Mir already exists. As most MMA fans know, the two faced each other at Grapplers Quest where Big Country beat him, along with Brandon Vera and Diego Sanchez to become Superfight Champion.
The thing is, Big Country won on points by utilizing dominant positioning, and when it comes to MMA, no gi grappling is a whole different ballgame.
That's not to suggest that the former International Fight League champion would have a poor chance against Mir. The fight would likely have little grappling as that is the strong suit for each fighter, but being that Big Country has heavy hands, Mir may not want to test the waters standing too much.
Other heavyweights are certainly relevant, but more than anything they are still up-and-coming. Brendan Schaub was already knocked out by Big Country, leading to his only professional loss.
Matt Mitrione starred on TUF 10 alongside Big Country and Schaub, though a likely matchup for him will be Mike Russow, which would show that he can handle himself against a good wrestler.
Based on talent and potential, Pat Barry would be a decent match for Big Country, but after a submission loss to an over-the-hill Cro Cop, it's likely that he doesn't have enough status, as a fight with Nelson is essentially a fight that will leave the winner seeing a title shot on the horizon.
Also, Gabriel Gonzaga is all too near to being cut from the UFC due to his inability to dominate in his last few fights.
Other than Mir and Big Nog, Kongo would normally be a decent match-up for Nelson. In fact, they had planned to fight each other earlier in the year before Kongo was injured.
However, due to Kongo's latest performance against Travis Browne, which ended in a draw, Kongo still needs to prove he can be dominant after losses against Velasquez and Mir, as his victory against Buentello didn't quite bring him to the level of having a near title shot.
With other prospective heavyweights, such as the undefeated Jon Madsen and the still growing James McSweeney (both TUF veterans), the heavyweight division has a lot of potential for growth, but after defeating Schaub and Stefan Struve in devastating fashion, Nelson is somewhere in the middle between the upper echelon of the up-and-coming heavyweights and just below the four horsemen, Carwin, Lesnar, dos Santos and Velasquez.
Either fighter, Big Nog or Mir, would make a good match for Big Country, but they would likely need a match with him more than he needs a match with either of them.
Again, since Big Nog was knocked out and Mir has performed poorly in his last two matches (despite winning one of them), both need a strong victory to be considered for the title with guys like Velasquez, dos Santos and possibly even Lesnar and Carwin at the top despite their recent losses.
Surely we'll know soon enough, but until then, let's hope it will be a good match and that we will still see Big Country fight in January 2011.
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