I remember when I first started contributing to this blog, my first article was entitled, “The UFC’s “big” problem”. That article was written just after Randy Couture’s retirement, and it took a look at how the UFC’s heavyweight division was lacking any real star power.
Well it has been a little over three months since that article, and I have to say, the problems got a hell of a lot worse.
Let us just take a look at the reasons why the heavyweight division is in the state it is in.
Obviously the big one and pretty self explanatory. The UFC could’ve had absolutely no challengers to the heavyweight crown, but if they were still to have Randy as champ, people would still be interested in the heavyweight championship. He is probably the most well-liked and respected UFC fighter of all time and while he was around there would always be interest.
Whether or not you agree with Couture’s reasons for leaving is irrelevant because the fact is he is gone. It would have been a monumental task of replacing Couture when they had time to prepare for his retirement but “The Natural’s” sudden “resignation” has left the heavyweight division without a promotable heir to it’s championship.
This is related a great deal to Randy Couture leaving. The whole retired vs resigned contract mumbo jumbo has resulted in Dana Whitesetting up an interim title for an indefinite period of time. The theory being that if the UFC continues to offer Couture fights and still maintains that he is the UFC heavyweight champion then it will activate a clause in his contract that will stop him from getting out of it in October.
Dana White has stated he plans on keeping the interim title for as long as he needs to. Even though the Interim title is basically the real thing, it still technically means the holder of that belt is only the number one contender to the heavyweight crown. That’s not exactly a stigma you want attached to a division for however long this Couture vs. UFC debacle continues.
Lack of Marketable Fighters.
This one is also pretty self-explanatory. The only really marketable fighters the UFC has in the heavyweight division are Brandon Vera and Andre Arlovksi. Vera suffered an unfortunate loss to Tim Sylvia and has to work his way back up the ladder and Arlovski appears to be on the outs.
Aside from the those two you’re pretty hard fought to find another one.
Tim Sylvia is a public relations nightmare who charges fans for autographs, craps himself in fights, and then bases his fighting style around his size being able to squash his opponents offense and then he does the bare minimum to scrape a decision.
Antonio Rodrigo Noguiera has not really been promoted at all. In the promos for his upcoming fight with Sylvia, Dana White and Joe Rogan spend the whole time speaking about how he looked terrible in his fight against Herring. Unfortunately, the majority of American fans don’t appear to be very appreciative of Nogueira’s style either. Big ‘Nog pulls guard a lot and unless he is constantly exploding onto submissions the crowd can become a bit restless. Also the fact that he has been demolished by Fedor Emelianenko 2 and a half times doesn’t really give him credibility as the “Number one in the world” if he becomes the heavyweight champion.
Gabriel Gonzaga looked to be gaining fans when he demolished Carmelo Marrero and then knocked out Mirko Cro Cop with the head kick that was heard around the world but now after consecutive losses he has definitely lost a lot of his lustre.
Cheick Kongo has the look of a heavyweight champion and was well on his way to a shot against then champ Tim Sylvia when his weak ground game was exposed by Marrero and he was derailed periodically. A win over Cro Cop helped him to get back on track, but eventually he is going to come up against another ground specialist who could make short work of the Frenchman, so it probably wouldn’t be wise of the UFC to put all their effort into marketing Kongo.
Lack of Decent Challengers.
Forget marketability, right now the UFC is struggling for decent contenders. On February 2, the Interim Heavyweight champion will be crowned and either Nogueira or Sylvia will walk away with the belt. Though they may not be the most marketable, they are the two fighters worthy of fighting it out for that belt. However, once a champ is crowned… what then?
Dana White has said that Fabricio Werdum will get the next shot which basically says it all right there. Werdum went 4-2 in Pride, where his major victory was a submission win over the stand up specialist Alistair Overeem.Other than that he didn’t really beat anyone of note and when he stepped up in competition he lost. In the UFC he is 1-1, after having lost to Arlovski in a slow paced fight, where he showed his inability to control the pace of a fight and then his victory at UFC 80 was probably the least exciting fight on the card over Gabriel Gonzaga. I wasn’t really impressed with Werdum, he merely took advantage of Gonzaga who loses steam faster than a relationship with Hilary Clinton. He looked very open and definitely not ready for a title shot.
It begs the question however who is ready for a title shot? Andrei Arlovski is ready, but it appears he doesn’t want to renegotiate his contract. Brandon Vera, as mentioned before, lost his last fight and has to work his way back up. Gabriel Gonzaga just lost. Heath Herring just lost. Jake O’Brien hasn’t beaten anyone of note and is as boring as bat shit. If Brock Lesnar beats Frank Mir… he won’t… but if he does, he still will only have two fights and he isn’t ready for either of the two 30 fight veterans, not to mention the fact any State Athletic Commission might not even sanction it.
It appears that the only the only other two viable options are, Frank Mir if beats Lesnar and Kongo if he beats Herring. Still it was only recently that a State Athletic Commission wouldn’t sanction a match between Mir and Sylvia because they thought there was too much of a skills difference. Kongo on the other hand is probably most deserving if he gets past Herring, which isn’t a guarantee but it’ll still be a little hard to stomach Kongo as a contender after his fight against Marrero still lingers…
Lack Of Any Emerging Talent
There’s a lot to be said for “The Ultimate Fighter” as a breeder of young talent when you look at the up and coming talent in the heavyweight division. Even the middleweight division with its thin list of contenders, still manages to promote legitimate title match ups because it has younger talent working its way up. A lot of that talent were featured on “The Ultimate Fighter 4,” which in my opinion gave the division a new lease on life, because the general audience was exposed to 8 middleweight fighters and the fighters they fought which at least gave the division a foundation.
“The Ultimate Fighter” has only featured heavyweights once. Lightweights have only been featured once as well, but the whole 155 lbs. division was put on hold for so long that they had time to build up enough talent to sustain themselves. It also has to be said that the Heavyweight season of TUF was a joke with the majority of the competitors dropping to light heavyweight and the rest being not up to UFC level.
“The Ultimate Fighter” and the UFC Fight Nights neglect of the heavyweight division in my opinion has almost directly contributed to the division being pretty much completely void of up and coming talent. When Eddie Sanchez is being talked about as a prospect there is definitely a problem.
Brock Lesnar has the chance to be promoted into something huge but I seriously think he won’t get past Mir, which will definitely hurt his appeal. The recent addition of Shane Carwin at least appears to be a step in the right direction, but apart from them, the cupboard seems pretty damn bare.
To sum it all up… the division is pretty damn screwed. My suggestion would be that once they crown an interim champion on February 2nd they should delay any challenges for a period of time to give the division time to come up with a few more names and then they can take it from there. Because right now the division is just full of no names and no hopers.