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After UFC 166, Where Does the UFC Heavyweight Division Go From Here?

With Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos wrapping up their trilogy on Saturday night, a trilogy that may have been a bit rushed along, it would appear at least on the surface that there isn’t much out there for competition for the best heavyweight fighter in the world.  Velasquez has now dispatched Dos Santos twice, and both fights were thorough routings that left the former champion bruised and bloodied.  These two fighters are widely considered the two best heavyweights, and I still think that they may meet again sometime again down the road if Dos Santos is able to string together a streak of wins over the rest of the top echelon of the division, whichI think he is absolutely capable of.

The next contender waiting in the wings for Velasquez is Fabricio Werdum, who submitted Rodrigo Nogueira in his last outing.  Werdum is on a three-fight winning streak, having defeated Roy Nelson, Mike Russow, and Nogueira.  His lackluster decision loss to Alistair Overeem in the 2011 Strikefore GP is sandwiched in there between those and three other wins, against Mike Kyle, ”Bigfoot” Silva, and what is arguably his biggest career victory, a submission win over Fedor Emeliankenko in June of 2010.  None of those six men are even close to the level of competition that Velasquez presents, or even JDS.  Nelson lost to Dos Santos, Bigfoot got destroyed by Velasquez twice, and Velasquez has a knockout win over Nogueira.

The idea that JDS and Velasquez stand head-and-shoulders above the rest of the division becomes more evident when you look at who else is in the top 10 at heavyweight.  Bigfoot is ranked #4, and Frank Mir, Stipe Miocic, and Nelson are all still in the top 10.  Aside from Werdum, the most intriguing options for the champ might be Travis Browne and Josh Barnett, who are booked against each other at UFC 168.  Browne’s potential hasn’t found its ceiling yet, as his back-from-the-brink behind knockout of Alistair Overeem in Boston showed resiliency that few in the division possess.  Barnett has seen a career resurgence since the 2011 Strikeforce tournament, and with a win over Browne, he could be right in line for a title shot.  The man who could potentially be Velasquez’s stiffest test is his best friend and training partner, Daniel Cormier, who is ranked #2 in the division and on his way to 205 pounds to chase Jon Jones and the light-heavyweight title.

With Cormier not a viable option, the linchpin in the division seems to be the Barnett vs. Browne fight. currently lists 32 heavyweights on their roster.  That list includes Stefan Struve, who is treating a career-threatening heart condition, and names like Nandor Guelmino, Nikita Krylov, Soa Palelei, Brandon Vera, Matt Mitrione and Todd Duffee.  A few of those guys have the punching power that can keep them employed, but it’s unlikely any of them will be cracking into the top 10 anytime soon.

The specter of Jones moving up to heavyweight seems to have subsided, at least for now, as he has been making weight at 205 pounds with no major problems and has plenty of contenders to try to knock off as he looks to extend his record for most light-heavyweight title defenses.  After finishing Dos Santos,who may be Velasquez’ only true contemporary, one would think that though the UFC will keep lining them up, Velasquez will simply keep knocking them down.