The UFC heavyweight division went from being an abandoned ghost town from an old western movie with tumbleweeds for contenders to a thriving metropolis, vibrantly pulsating with excitement, all in the matter of two years. Simply put: the days of agonizing over another lackluster Tim Sylvia title defense, in a dried up division full of Gan McGees and Justin Eilers, are over.
Out with the old and in with the new. During those two years, the MMA community has welcomed in a new batch of advanced talent—future heavyweight ambassadors of the sport.
These physical specimens are hungry for success and the opportunity to revive the allure of watching men, as big as sheds, do battle that once captivated the public back in the early days of boxing. Greats like Ali, Frazier, Liston, Foreman, and Patterson once dominated the sports headline, time and time again.
We have entered a new dawning of combat sports. Boxing lost its legitimacy, along with its fanfare, years ago due to greed, corruption, and promoting tactics that make Enron CEO’s look honest. The page has turned and sports fans are now paying hard-earned money to witness tomorrow’s mixed martial arts headlines live on pay-per-view—ie “Cain Velasquez Decimates Legend Nogueira.”
The name Velasquez, along with Dos Santos, Lesnar, Mir, and Carwin, represent the new breed of fighters over 205lbs making headlines with memorable octagon performances, sparking life into a rejuvenated division.
Just in the last year there have been plenty of plot twists in the UFC’s heavyweight drama: the ongoing Lesnar/Mir soap opera, Brock’s battle with diverticulitis, Dos Santos’ destruction of Pride legend Mirko Cro-Cop, the interim title fight announcement…to name a few.
In the most recent episode, American Kickboxing Academy prodigy Cain Velasquez headlined UFC 110, the promotion’s first event in Australia, against Antonio “Minotauro” Nogueira in what was a precursor to his undeniable status as one of the best in the division.
The 27-year old Mexican-American outclassed Nogueira through and through with quickness and technical striking. He beat the Brazilian to every punch, getting off combos before Nogueira could think once about blocking or countering; his vicious leg kicks were thrown with perfect timing and powerful hip movement. The fight ended after “Big Nog” absorbed a left hook to his noggin, followed by a thunderous right that dropped him six under the canvas.
Once referee Herb Dean ended the match, after Nogueira’s face was plastered with five more hard shots, the headlines started writing themselves as a new heavyweight force was born.
The question on many MMA enthusiasts’ minds is: Does the UFC give Velasquez a shot at heavyweight champion Brock Lesnar now, let him wait until the winner of Mir/Carwin faces Lesnar, or keep having him take dangerous fights against top-tier competition that could threaten his contention status?
In a recent interview with Heavy.com’s Jeremy Botter, Velasquez gave his own assessment of the situation by declaring that his time was now, but respected the fact that both Frank Mir and Shane Carwin earned a shot against Lesnar. Cain is a patient man who has no problem waiting for his shot at the title rather than risking the chance by taking another fight with a dangerous opponent.
“I think that for me, the best bet would be to wait. I think it’s my time now, and I’m ready for it,” Velasquez told Heavy.com. “That’s what I want right now. That’s the reason I got into the sport, to get a shot at the title, to fight for that top spot. I can wait.”
While viewing the action from the sidelines until Brock is ready might be more than ideal for Velasquez, his inactivity would be bad for business—something the UFC is likely to avoid. This scenario certainly holds true if the victor of Mir/Carwin walks away unscathed. It becomes an economic liability that surprisingly works in favor of fight fans.
The grass will never turn blue and the sky will never turn green, just like the UFC will refuse to sit quietly on one of their hottest prospects for a potential six months—especially since Velasquez won his bout against Nogueira without injury.
The only “waiting” option in Cain’s future would be if he had to replace an injured Mir or Carwin respectively. Otherwise, the undefeated Mexican fight patron will be accepting another dangerous and risky fight with an equally determined and equally prepared, rising heavyweight star—Junior Dos Santos.
Despite preferring to travel down the conservative path of inactivity, in regards to a title shot, Velasquez recently told MMAfighting.com that he would be very interested in fighting Dos Santos.
“That would be a great fight. I think his boxing is the best in heavyweight MMA and he’s just really strong and really tough. I haven’t seen a weakness in his game yet and that would be really interesting if it came to that fight,” Velasquez explained.
The overwhelming similarities between the two are intriguing to say the least. Both men are making quite the impression on the MMA community at the tender ages of 25 and 27. The Brazilian has only one loss on his record after 11 fights; Cain has a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Dos Santos a brown. Each fighter possesses the ability to take their opponents down at will, but due to excelling in different disciplines—wrestling and BJJ. They also bring precise striking to each of their bouts.
Assuming Dos Santos remains healthy and victorious after his upcoming match against Gabriel Gonzaga on March 21st at UFC Live on Versus, Velasquez vs. Dos Santos could happen in July when Brock Lesnar is rumored to defend his title against either Mir or Carwin.
Regardless of when the fight takes place, all fight fans could rest assured knowing that it would be happening. The war-drums have been banging rigorously with the echoes and excitement from the internet for this match-up, a true number one contender match for those of us not terribly impressed with Mir or Carwin.
With Dos Santos being a close friend and training partner of Nogueira, a classic plot twist waits to be added to the pre-fight hype machine—will student avenge mentor’s loss or will the pride of Mexico be one step closer to being the first Mexican UFC champion?