For some reason, heavyweights in almost any sport seem to captivate the audience a little more than their less-girthed compatriots. MMA is no different. Although the dispersion of talent over several organizations has separated some of the best of the best in this division, the steady rise of new talent and emergence of others has begun a newfound appreciation of the heavyweight division across the board. This week's ‘Examining What's to Come' takes a look at key matchups in each of the American organizations and some of the key players emerging from there:
Brock Lesnar (3-1) vs. Frank Mir (12-3) at UFC 100 - If you would had told me a little over a year ago that a match between former WWE wrestler Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir would not only headline one of UFC's biggest upcoming events but also be in contingence for the UFC heavyweight title, I would have admitted you to the local asylum. Alas these two have silenced their critics and have forged their away amongst the top of a very talented division. At UFC 100, many questions will be answered by this monumental pairing. Was their first fight a fluke? Is Frank Mir really the best of the best in the UFC's heavyweight division? Is Brock Lesnar truly ‘The Next Big Thing' in MMA? I'm sure many will be glued to their television sets come July 11th.
Randy Couture (16-9) vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (31-5-1) at UFC 102 - I compare this match up to Chuck Liddell and Wanderlei Silva's UFC 79 bout. Just a little too late. While still intriguing, both guys are coming off brutal beatdowns thanks to the aforementioned Brock Lesnar and Frank Mir respectively and both are at the tail end of their careers. However, with a good showing, both are poised to claim back some of their momentum towards the top, as they'll meet at UFC 102 in August. A loss for either won't necessarily hurt their legendary status, but it will leave them pretty much void of any chances at one final run at the title.
Junior Dos Santos (8-1) vs. Justin McCully (9-4-2) at UFC 102 - Some may be wondering why this preliminary bout is a key matchup but for one of the participants it is. Dos Santos burst upon the UFC scene with a first round knockout of then number one contender Fabricio Werdum, which led to Werdum receiving a pink slip. While Joe Silva and the Zuffa brass has been slowly building Dos Santos, who is 2-0 in the UFC and has ended both of his fights by stoppage in the first round. With another impressive win I think this will move Dos Santos away from mid-level competition to the big boys. I could see a matchup with someone along the lines of Cheick Kongo with an impressive win against McCully.
Here we'll examine the other key players currently not booked in the UFC Heavyweight division.
Shane Carwin (11-0) - Many people didn't give Shane Carwin much of a chance against the heavy-handed jiu-jitsu black belt Gabriel Gonzaga in their UFC 96 bout, but after absorbing some big shots, Carwin shut the critics up and shut Gonzaga down. With that win, he's moved into many people's top 10 and has fully recovered from what I believe was a nose injury. As of now, he doesn't have anyone on deck but many want to see him face the other unbeaten heavyweight, Cain Velasquez, which I'll get to later. I believe Joe Silva and company should be wise in their matchmaking as both Carwin and Velasquez are going to be marketable if handled correctly. Maybe one more big challenge could come Carwin's way before any title talk, but it will be hard to find another top heavyweight not named Cain to really give him the challenge he deserves.
My Pick for his Next Opponent: While I would love to see him face the loser of Randy/Big Nog that would leave him on the sidelines for a wee bit too long. The only other name value heavyweights are either coming off losses (Cheick Kongo, Heath Herring) or would waste a marketable fighter (Cain Velasquez)...so my pick is...the loser of Frank Mir/Brock Lesnar!
Cain Velasquez (6-0) - Dominating French striker Chieck Kongo should have your name being mentioned in title talks and whatnot. However, his dominating performance wasn't enough as many glaring holes in his game were the main topics coming from his win. Kongo was not only able to nearly put the brute wrestler to sleep with some heavy leather; he was also able to survive his ground and pound which had him both in turtle position and giving up his back. These small setbacks shouldn't devalue the fact Velasquez has been dominant throughout his UFC stay and will most likely get better. As stated earlier, a bout with Shane Carwin should be placed on the backburner right now to help maximize their potential and lead up to a future, much hyped showdown.
My Pick for his Next Opponent: This one's tough, with the win over Kongo, I could see them maybe giving him a title shot due to there being slim pickings when it comes to top challengers right now. Why I put him ahead of Carwin for the shot? I think Dana and the rest had Kongo set up to possibly be next in line for a shot even before he faced off with Cain. Seeing as how Cain dominated him for the most part, that may have bumped him up to contention. Most may disagree but I think they just might jump the gun, especially with a Brock Lesnar win. Thus, I'm going with the winner of Frank Mir/Brock Lesnar!
Cheick Kongo (14-5-1) - If you've played UFC 2009: Undisputed's career mode, you know the ups and downs of taking a fight on short notice. Unfortunately for Kongo, who I feel was on his way to a title shot, he felt the downs of this. Cain Velasquez was able to take the kickboxer down at will and beat on him whenever he felt the need. Kudos however to Kongo for surviving the onslaught and further proving he's a hard guy to put away. With this loss, he falls a rung or two down the ladder but not too far with guys like Gabriel Gonzaga and Pat Barry falling in their last bouts.
My Pick for his Next Opponent: Junior Dos Santos, as long as he gets by Justin McCully!
Fedor Emelianenko (30-1) vs. Josh Barnett (24-5) at Affliction: Trilogy - Probably one of the last highly anticipated heavyweight bouts of fighters outside the UFC, this one is a big one! The only guy many feel can give the unstoppable Emelianenko finally gets his chance to do so. This match alone, in my opinion, will shape how much more Affliction can squeeze out shows. A dominant win for Fedor, pretty much should end the organization permanently. He would have beaten three top heavyweights handily and pretty much cemented his legacy atop of MMA's heavyweight division. A dominant or even close win for Josh Barnett could see them have an immediate rematch seeing as how Fedor's a guy that hasn't lost in a long, long time so people would want to know whether it was a fluke or not. I believe this match alone is the life support that is keeping Affliction breathing and either one can pull the plug on the promotion.
Paul Buentello (27-10) vs. Pedro Rizzo/Gilbert Yvel - Originally supposed to be a key bout between Buentello and Tim Sylvia, Ray Mercer of all people ruined that. While this doesn't really shake up anything as far as Affliction is concerned it should be a good match against some tough heavyweights. A win for Buentello may put him in another big time fight, barring Afflictions inevitable end. A win for either Rizzo or Yvel basically gets them back on track and could give them leverage for another organization.
As of right now with the recent losses of Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, and Ben Rothwell needing at least two major wins, I do not see any other key players in the heavyweight division concerning Affliction.
Alistair Overeem (29-11) vs. Brett Rogers (10-0) at Strikeforce ??? - The bout that was supposed to happen at Strikeforce's June 6th show, but unfortunately a club mishap left Overeem with a freak injury and thus Andrei Arlovski stepped in to fill the void only to be filled with sadness 22 seconds into their fight. This will pretty much answer the big question on whether Rogers is a serious threat at heavyweight. Overeem is well versed in pretty much every area to be a problem wherever the fight goes, but he's shown to have a questionable chin much like Arlovski when hit hard and Rogers could certainly blitzkrieg him and crack his jaw a few times.
Much like Affliction, Strikeforce has some building to do as far as the heavyweight division with Rogers and Overeem being the only mainstays or possible mainstays around.
Next Week: We'll take a look at the land of the Light Heavyweights.