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UFC’s Heavyweight Division: From Rags to Riches

From February 2003 to March 2007, the UFC‘s heavyweight championship was in a dark place. This was the time frame that it’s crown was traded back and forth between Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski, with a brief special appearance by Frank Mir in 2004. For a long time, there was not much to get excited about outside of the previously mentioned three.

Randy Couture was able to snap the heavyweight division out of it’s funk, and to breathe some new life into the weight class when he toppled the much larger Sylvia in their title clash in March of 2007.

Of course the division went through another dark phase while Couture and the UFC were engulfed in a court battle regarding the veteran fighters desire to be released from his contract, and during that time, dangerous Pride FC veteran, Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira, was also able to defeat Tim Sylvia on his way to being crowned the UFC’s interim heavyweight champion in Couture’s absence.

To confuse matters worse, when Couture decided to make his return to the UFC, he was dethroned by former WWE superstar turned mixed martial arts phenom, Brock Lesnar, making Lesnar the UFC’s heavyweight champion.

Of course, that would be a little too easy to understand. So just to top things off, one month after Brock’s staggering victory over Couture, Frank Mir was able to knock out Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira and claim his half of the UFC heavyweight championship.

As it stands now, Lesnar and Mir will face off at UFC 100 for the second time, this time for the unified heavyweight championship of the UFC. Will the winner of Mir vs. Lesnar be the heavyweight king in the UFC for many years to come? Well, the odds are definitely stacked heavily against them.

In the twelve year history of the UFC’s heavyweight championship, not a single champion has managed to hold onto his title for longer than a year and a half. The most defenses to the title ever made by a UFC champion was two. Randy Couture did it back in 2001 when he beat Pedro Rizzo twice, and Tim Sylvia also managed to defend his belt twice in 2006, once against Andrei Arlovski and the second time against Jeff Monson.

The bottom line is this, the UFC has never had a dominant heavyweight champion. However, the potential for a long running heavyweight championship may be greater right now, than it ever has before.

Currently the heavyweight division in the biggest fighting promotion in the world seems to be more stacked with talent than it ever has before. More promising than anything else, most of the divisions prospects are young, up and coming fighters with seemingly unlimited potential.

Following an extended stretch of normalcy for the UFC’s big men, the division promises to be abundant with fascinating, and most importantly, exciting match ups for quite some time to come.

In a year or two, after many of the names that I am about to mention have faced off with one another, will the UFC’s first truly dominant heavyweight emerge from the ashes, or will the present abundance of talent just reinforce the past trend with the UFC’s heavyweight belt, forcing it to be passed back and forth every title defense or two? I don’t claim to have the answer to that question, but I do know this, for the first time that I can remember, I am genuinely excited about UFC’s heavyweight division.

Let’s take a closer look at some of the key players in the upcoming tournament of destruction.

Frank Mir

I know, Mir isn’t exactly a fresh face in the UFC’s heavyweight division but his ability to keep himself relevant by submitting two other guys on this list, and most recently shocking many with his improved stand up while knocking out former UFC interim heavyweight champion, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. At twenty nine years old, possessing some of the games most dangerous submissions and always improving striking skills, Frank Mir has as good a chance as anyone to take control of the UFC’s heavyweight division for a long time. If he is able to get past Brock Lesnar at UFC 100, it would be hard for me to pick against him for a long time to come. If he is able to get past Brock Lesnar.

Brock Lesnar

Hands down my front runner for having the best chance at being a dominant champion for years to come. While I will admit that it’s hard to assume that Brock is as good as I think he may be with only four bouts to his name, his freakish strength, athletic ability, overpowering size, and ever improving boxing are going to make Lesnar the heavyweight that I have a hard time seeing anyone beating anytime soon. While he obviously showed a hole in his arsenal when he was submitted by Frank Mir in the first round of their bout at UFC 87, that fight was over a year ago, and on top of his strength and athletic ability, Lesnar has displayed an uncanny capacity to learn a tremendous amount in a short amount of time. His ability to soak up different tricks of the trade like a sponge combined with his natural ability place Brock in the front runners position of this talent pool.

Shane Carwin

It doesn’t take much to get excited about this massive, always impressive heavyweight. All eleven of Carwin’s fights have combined to last a whopping total of twelve minutes and twenty two second. Needless to say, it doesn’t take powerful Greeley, Colorado native has stopped every single man that has stood before him in less than one round, in an average of about one minute and six seconds per bout. He showed the sign of a true fighter when he was rocked in his last bout with Gabriel Gonzaga, but managed to weather the storm and knock the top ranked Brazilian unconscious with a devastating straight right hand just over a minute into their bout on March 7th. Much like Lesnar, Carwin has a strong wrestling background he brings to MMA, combined with freakish strength and size. It’s going to be hard to pick against Carwin until I see him lose. Something that doesn’t seem to be likely anytime very soon.

Cain Velasquez

What does Velasquez have in common with the two previously mentioned heavyweights? You guessed it, an impressive collegiate wrestling resume. A former All-American, Velasquez is a scholar of the prestigious Arizona State University wrestling team. the same team that has produced the likes of Jamie Varner, CB Dollaway, Ryan Bader and Aaron Simpson. Much like Carwin, none of Cain’s previous opponents have managed to make it to the scorecards. Velasquez has shown tremendous striking ability combined with top level wrestling that combines to create the much sought after ability to dictate where the fight goes. Cain is comfortable no matter where the fight ends up, and that makes him one of the heavyweights with the most potential to really stir things up in the UFC in the near future.

Junior Dos Santos

Dos Santos exploded onto the UFC’s heavyweight scene when he knocked out consensus top five rated heavyweight, Fabricio Werdum, in the very first round of their contest held in October of 2008. Widely seen by many to be a tune up for the top ranked heavyweight, Dos Santos left a lasting mark in the heavyweight division, and considering who he trains with, it shouldn’t have been as big a surprise as it was. Black House Gym is home to both Nogueira brothers, Anderson Silva, Vitor Belfort, Lyoto Machida, and the list just goes on and on. His last appearance in the octagon saw him dismantle the towering Stefan Struve by TKO in the very first round. A purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu with a kickboxing record of 18-0 and an MMA record of 8-1, the twenty four year old Brazilian is sure to be one to watch in the future.

Pat Barry

This K-1 veteran became one of the UFC’s most devastating strikers the moment he signed his initial four fight deal with the organization. Barry had competed in K-1, Chuck Norris’ World Combat League and is a former Sanshou champion prior to making the decision to transition over to mixed martial arts. Up until this point in his young career, he has fought four times, finishing all four by knockout in the first round. Training with Alan Belcher and Eric “Red” Schafer at Duke Roufus’ gym is sure to be a considerable factor in the continued development of this talented striker. Barry is notorious for the owning some of the hardest kicks in the business and an equally impressive set of hands.

Cheick Kongo or Antoni Hardonk?

The reason I lump these two heavyweights together followed by a question mark is fairly simple. Both have had their share of ups and downs since coming to the UFC, and both are currently on an upswing, but these two will be meeting up in just a couple of weeks on the main card of UFC 97. The winner of that bout will clearly be the much larger prospect with the most potential to be a key player in the future of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Both men are tall, imposing fighters with dangerous striking arsenals. Kongo continues to improve all aspects of his game, while Hardonk is as lethal as they come on the feet. This one promises to be filled with fireworks, and to serve as a heavyweight prospect elimination bout all in the same night.

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