A quick snapshot of the heavyweight division captures a distorted image. Still partially in focus are two heavyweights who have exchanged the top two spots in the world a couple times now.
Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos both rocketed up the charts towards the title at about the same time. Reaching the title first through dethroning Brock Lesner, Velasquez failed to defend his belt against Dos Santos at their first fight on FOX TV at the end of 2011.
Both fighters subsequently KO’d their next opponent (on the same card for the second time) at UFC 146. Unfortunately for Dos Santos, he lost his belt by unanimous decision to the man he took it from initially, at UFC 155.
As these two perform pirouettes on an empty stage with seemingly no contenders in site who are capable of the level of aggression, talent, and speed they bring to the table, the rest of the division broods and shifts dramatically among-st each other.
To name a few heavyweights who have been derailed from any realistic goals of title contention within the next year are Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem, Travis Browne, Stephan Struve, and Gabriel Gonzaga. All of whom found themselves knocked unconscious recently.
Miocic was undefeated before his KO loss against Struve, Gonzaga was dropped by Browne, Alistair by Antonio Silva, and Struve by Browne. The rate of heavyweight contenders knocking each other out has been staggering of late, to say the least.
The remaining contenders who are sitting pretty for the moment include Daniel Cormier, who will face off against Frank Mir soon at UFC on FOX on the 20th of the month. He’s the only true contender since he’s the only top ten UFC heavyweight that hasn’t lost to at least two other of his peers in contention at the moment is because he’s undefeated and ( an even more likely explanation) hasn’t fought in the UFC yet.
Trickle a little further down the list of current contenders and Fabricio Werdum is poised to go on a three fight tear if he can get past Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC on FUEL TV 10 in June. Werdum lost to Dos Santos and Overeem in the past already, but has beaten Roy Nelson, Gonzaga, and Bigfoot Silva, all of whom are currently ranked decently high in the division.
Another man in an almost identical position as Werdum at the moment is Roy Nelson, of whom will be 3-0 as well if he beats Cheick Kongo at UFC 159 on April 20th.
Now with UFC 160 establishing what many believe are the current four top dogs in the division, it’s still very difficult to assess how important these fights are in the division. Antonio Silva has already lost to the man he is set to battle against for the belt in Velasquez. Sure Bigfoot beat Fedor Emelianenko, Overeem, and Browne, but don’t forget he’s lost to Werdum and Cormier.
Mark Hunt’s rise to challenge Dos Santos is almost as unprecedented as it is ironically deserved. Consider Hunt’s position for a moment.
He’s not struggling to get in to the title picture at the moment as he holds the longest current win streak in his division, and has knocked off top level fighters to boot. But is his rise to contention a testament to his skill, or the lack thereof among the heavyweights?
Personally I believe Dos Santos is too fast and too focused to lose to anyone in the division at the moment, much less a fighter in Mark Hunt who (among many positive characteristics) is probably not physically capable of contending with Dos Santos’s speed and precision boxing skill set.
Yet at the rate of upsets and flash knockouts occurring in the heavyweight division in the last few years, don’t count out Mark Hunt or Antonio Silva. If competition defines a generation of fighter’s legacy, this one may be the dream team of mixed martial arts, or the sorriest bunch of inconsistent heavyweights in the history of combat sports.
If anything can be taken away from the heavyweight division at the moment, it’s this: Don’t believe the hype, and everyone’s got a punchers chance.