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The Current Heavyweight Crisis

BrockSixty-five million years ago, the biggest, baddest animals on the planet were wiped out by an intergalactic pebble. Today, their top-of-the-food-chain contemporaries – the UFC heavyweight fighter – are facing their own extinction level event.

No fewer than three of the promotion’s best 265-pound bruisers have been sidelined with illnesses and injuries, placing the future of the entire weight class in jeopardy and opening the door for its chief rival to gloat a little bit.

Brock Lesnar, the musclebound monstrosity who wears his championship belt like a charm bracelet, has been hospitalized in North Dakota with an undisclosed illness. First it was thought he had H1N1, then mononucleosis, and now UFC president Dana White is hitting the panic button by saying whatever he has is “bad” and that he’s “very, very sick” and “he’s not going to be getting well anytime soon,” although White did rule out cancer and AIDS.

As a result, White has already been forced to scrap Lesnar’s title bout with undefeated top contender Shane Carwin twice, first from next Saturday’s UFC 106 main event and then from UFC 108’s main event on January 2.

But the damage doesn’t stop there.

The scheduled replacement bout for UFC 108 between heavyweights Cain Velasquez and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira has also been thrown on the trash heap because Nogueira has been hospitalized with a severe staph infection that’s entered his bloodstream. And you can forget about dropping Carwin into the vacant slot opposite Velasquez because Carwin has a knee injury that will require surgery, putting him out of commission indefinitely.

Suddenly, the most dangerous division in mixed martial arts can’t even stand on its own two feet. I’m not running around screaming that the sky is falling, but the depth of the weight class has been significantly drained, at least for the foreseeable future. That’s especially bad news when you consider that big-name heavyweight bouts provide powerhouse pay-per-view numbers.

So while three of its stars are taking up space in the hospital, what does the UFC do in the interim? The obvious answer is to create an interim championship, except that Lesnar just unified the title in his last fight against Frank Mir at UFC 100 and it’s too soon to go down that road again (ask me how I feel about it in three months if Lesnar’s still on the disabled list).

Besides, who among the UFC’s current crop of 265-pounders deserves to fight for even a temporary title? The answer is none of them.

Mir is the best of the rest, but he needs to prove he can still roll with the big boys since Lesnar turned his face into luncheon meat. He’ll have that chance at UFC 107 in December when he faces Cheick Kongo, the French kickboxer who needs to learn to grapple (or at least some serious takedown and submissions defense) if he’s to ever be a threat for the title.

Nogueira protégé Junior dos Santos embarrassed the hell out of PRIDE legend Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic at UFC 103 but he’s only had three UFC fights and needs a couple of more to be considered a legitimate contender. He’ll be able to notch another win when he faces another Cro Cop killer in Gabriel Gonzaga at UFC 108. Gonzaga already blew his title shot when he lost to then-champ Randy Couture at UFC 74 and he’s since lost to Carwin, so he’s a long way from being in the hunt.

Meanwhile, Cro Cop and his UFC 110 opponent Ben Rothwell are merely fighting for respect and continued employment, and former three-time champ Couture has made it clear he’s happy fighting at light heavyweight even if his clinch-and-prey win over Brandon Vera on Saturday didn’t have too many people smiling.

Of course, this would be the perfect opportunity to start integrating some of the fighters from the current all-heavyweights season of The Ultimate Fighter. The reality series is a farm team of sorts for the Big Show, after all. But as anyone who’s watched even a single episode can tell you, this season is a bust. And a belly and a beard. With perhaps one or two exceptions, none of these Biggest Loser look-alikes have a chance of winning anything more than a pie-eating contest. And before you start talking about Kimbo Slice, the former backyard brawler is plenty popular, and he’ll have his moment to shine in the UFC but he will never – I repeat, never – get a shot at the heavyweight title. There’s truth in the saying about teaching old dogs new tricks. You can get Slice to roll over, but once he’s on his back all he knows how to do is let you scratch his belly.

The timing of all of this couldn’t be worse for the UFC. Its chief rival, Strikeforce, is coming off its biggest event ever, a live network TV card headlined by the number-one-ranked T-Rex, Fedor Emelianenko, and undefeated contender Brett Rogers just over a week ago. The card also included a heavyweight showdown between former UFC fighter Fabrcio Werdum and Antonio Silva. Toss in the currently MIA heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem and up-and-comer Bobby Lashley and Strikeforce can now make a (tenuous) claim to having the best heavyweight pool in MMA. At least until Lesnar, Carwin and Nogueira are healthy.

It must be killing Dana White to lose those bragging rights, not that he’ll ever admit it. But the moment he re-signs former champs Andrei Arlovski or Tim Sylvia we might want to consider watching the skies for falling rocks.

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