So who will be the next challenger to the heavyweight champ after the dust settles in the desert on Saturday night? The following is total conjecture on my part, but I'd like to put forth a theory on what might happen next. First of all, I'm operating on the premise that Zuffa will probably want to have the heavyweight belt defended on their year end pay-per-view (a card that we know they usually try to stack). Well, let's look at the possibilities for a viable/sellable challenger:
Randy Couture and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira- fighting in late August (and at their age might need more time in between bouts than younger counterparts)
Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin- reportedly facing each other in October and definitely could not be expected to be ready in late December.
Who else currently on the roster? Junior Dos Santos (booked for a fight in late August), Checik Kongo, Gabriel Gonzaga(also slated for a bout in late August)?
So who do you suppose would get the next crack at the gold?
Well, assuming the news that circulated recently is true, I'm going ahead and predicting that it would be none other than Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic. Now before anybody presents a list of reasons that Mirko should not get such a shot, please realize that I already know the arguments and agree 100% with you. However, this is a fight that is very sellable and if Mirko is indeed signed to an ironclad contract, this is potentially a fight that could sell well not only in the States but also in overseas markets as well. In the fight game it's not unusual at all for such business considerations to be made when setting up a big-money fight (see Klitschko-Rachman and Valuev-Holyfield for very recent examples in boxing). Remember, lots of people were up in arms about Lesnar's title shot following his 1-1 early run in the UFC but it made business sense and it was a great decision by Zuffa that was validated by his knockout of their champion. I know for a fact that some folks behind the scenes at the UFC will always be kicking themselves for putting Mirko in with Gonzaga instead of immediately setting up the big money fight with Couture. If "Cro Cop" (who is now once again riding a win streak) really has re-signed with Zuffa, don't expect them to make the same mistake again. I have no inside knowledge, but my gut tells me that this fight will be announced within the next 8 weeks if the former Pride star truly has inked with Zuffa. Time will tell if I'm right. But the question remains, if I'm wrong then who will get the next title opportunity?