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The UFC Heavyweight Division Has Entered a Dark Age…Again

(See? It’s not as easy as it looks. / Photo via Getty)

By Matt Saccaro

Ask yourself this question: Within the next two years, will the UFC heavyweight title be held by anyone whose last name isn’t Dos Santos or Velasquez?

That’s the scenario the UFC heavyweight division currently faces. The division is like the grim days of old, when Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia traded the belt back and forth, stomping “top contenders” like Justin Eilers, Paul Buentello, and Tra Telligman along the way.

The only difference is that now, instead of a hairy Belorussian feuding with an overweight hunting enthusiast, we have a personality-challenged Mexican feuding against a Brazilian with a badly receding hairline.

This isn’t to disparage Cain Velasquez or Junior Dos Santos as fighters, though. Both men are insanely talented. But that’s the problem — they’re both so talented that the rest of the fighters in the division aren’t a match for them. The only challenge to Velasquez is Dos Santos. The only challenge to Dos Santos is Velasquez.

Before you run to the comments screaming about Alistair Overeem and other heavyweight fighters, hear me out.

The UFC heavyweight top ten isn’t what it used to be…well actually; it’s exactly what it used to be: A list of overrated fighters who people think are top-notch because of the UFC label, as well as a division with the UFC’s least athletically gifted fighters.

The UFC’s official rankings rightfully have Dos Santos as the number one contender. After him comes Daniel Cormier, Fabricio Werdum, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, Alistair Overeem, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson, Stipe Miocic, Travis Browne, and Josh Barnett.

Bigfoot Silva spectacularly derailed the hype train of Overeem, whose days of being viewed as an invincible killing machine are over. Silva showed that once you start hitting the former K-1 champ back, he becomes a kitten. Silva also put down one of MMA’s Next Big Things™ in Travis Browne, who evidently still needs work before he’ll be a real threat to the division’s top two fighters, Velasquez and Dos Santos.

But Silva, himself, is no threat to Dos Santos or Velasquez. Velasquez ran through Silva twice and it’s probable that Dos Santos’ fast hands and footwork would decimate the slow, plodding, Silva.

Werdum was no match for Dos Santos in the past and wouldn’t be now. It’s also unlikely that he’d be able to threaten Velasquez. Werdum’s strength is BJJ but he possesses no way of bringing Velasquez to the ground, save for endlessly butt-flopping and then looking confused.

Stipe Miocic, with a loss to Stefan Struve and his biggest win coming over a Roy Nelson who looked like he was trying to do a Kimbo Slice vs. Houston Alexander re-enactment, is too green and quite frankly too unskilled to be relevant in the discussion of the heavyweight title.

And Mir? He’s had his shot multiple times and failed. As has Roy Nelson, who decided that the “fat guy” gimmick was more important than beating upper echelon fighters.

Outside of Dos Santos and Velasquez, there are only two men who can make the division interesting: Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett. But Cormier is leaving the weight class specifically to avoid fighting his longtime training partner Velasquez, and Barnett, at age 35, has seen better days, unless you consider submitting the mighty Nandor Guelmino to be a feat worth boasting about.

So…who’s left in the UFC’s top ten that can beat Velasquez?

Junior Dos Santos.

He’s the only one in the top ten that has a good chance at beating Velasquez. And Velasquez is the only other fighter in the division with a good chance at beating Dos Santos. They have wins over one another. While the optimistic among MMA fans and UFC marketing might present this as a good thing — as an epic rivalry that deserves a special place in MMA history — it’s a terrible thing.

It means that the division only has two good guys in it; the rest of it is full of fodder.

The UFC heavyweight division is in a dark age.

The winner of Velasquez-Dos Santos III in October will crush unworthy contenders while the loser strings together wins over fighters beneath his skill level. But since the fight happened three times, Uncle Dana & Co. will be unlikely to book a fourth match even though it makes sense. Thus, the division will be boring and useless until an injection of new blood resets the pecking order and makes the heavyweights worth paying attention to again.

Remember the old Mortal Kombat arcade ladders where the last two guys on the ladder where the final boss and the second to last boss (Shang Tsung and Goro in MK1, Shao Kahn and Kintaro in MK2 and so on)? That’s what the UFC heavyweight division is like. The two toughest, most important, most relevant guys are on a completely different level than anyone else. They’re the unplayable characters that everyone else in the division wishes they could be. But there’s no cheat code to unlocking them and no secret trick to besting them in the cage. They’re just better, and it looks like nobody else is coming along who will change this fact any time soon.


  1. As Good As Anyone Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 06:10

    So, what's the big idea? We've been dealing with a worse issue in the Middleweight and Welterweight divisions for years. Also what may be the light heavyweight division too. At least there's somebody who may be able to (and already has) beat Velasquez. There are promising prospects, too. Duffee (minus the susceptible chin), that new Russian can crusher, Stipe, and the ol' faithful in Hunt and Nelson can always provide an exciting scrap. Maybe we need a heavyweight division superstar, maybe this is the future of MMA. We can always hope new talent will arrive and clean out the division, but then what? We're back at square zero. Move along - nothing to see here.
  2. hjdevnull Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 06:20

    Didn't Travis Browne tear his hamstring before Silva ever touched him?
  3. Onan Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 06:40

    "A list of overrated fighters who people think are top-notch because of the UFC label," Couldn't that be applied to just about every division in the UFC.
  4. coolsnow7 Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 07:25

    That was the dumbest thing I've read on Cagepotato. One could make an identical argument about any UFC division. Want welterweight? Condit lost badly already and then lost to Hendricks, so he's done. Diaz is Diaz. Ellenberger got finished by Kampann of all people, and his signature win is over... Jake Shields? Clearly hasn't been tested. RoryMac is WW's DC, Maia is WW's Werdum. Kampann has a tendency to get dropped and weak wrestling, which are the two worst things to have when you're worried about GSP or Hendricks - who finished him by the way. What's left? Saffedine who beat... Marquardt post TRT, Lawler is a classic journeyman, and Koscheck whose only recent wins are an actual loss to Mike Pierce and a knockout of... Matt Hughes. Who's left? Hendricks. The whole POINT of having the fights is to learn what you didn't know already. Perhaps Stipe will develop. Perhaps Roy will have a run without any short-notice fights or "pneumonia", or Overeem will stop fighting with his hands down (really, you'd think a K-1 champ would be smart enough) or Travis won't have debilitating injuries mid-fight, or Werdum's striking will be enough to clinch up with KDS and bring him down. Maybe Mark Hunt will come back, not lose mobility with a toe-injury mid-fight, and have a crazy rise to the top again. That's the whole point - WE DON'T KNOW UNTIL THE FIGHTS HAPPEN.
  5. Guerrero azteca Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 07:27

    Lets see what Travis Browne has in store for us. His only loss came to Big foot and that only happened bc he tore his hamstring. He might fuck up Alistair so bad that he changes our whole opinion.
  6. danomite Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 07:35

    This article is racist.
  7. Ben Hauser Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 07:58

    Clearly you left your brain on the table this morning before writing this. All the previous comments said it perfectly. This is a problem in most divisions in the ufc. Just because its the heavyweight class doesnt mean we have to have a heart attack because there are two phenominal fighters that are better than everyone else. All that means to me personally is that every time they get to fight. Ill be shelling out my money to watch
  8. Birdman Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 08:33

    Daniel will beat Jon. Jon will jump to heavyweight and make everything interesting again.
  9. cman Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 09:35

    I think you discount werdum to much. He has VASTLY improved his stand up since overeem. Is still probably the most dangerous on the ground, good reach, good gas tank, solid chin. I can see him threatening either and let's not forget Valazquez has a power question since his proof of power is over a hate to be hit lesner and a remember me in pride nog.
  10. Phattousai Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 09:37

    I think the thing differentiating the heavyweight division from the others mentioned in the comments is that for the last few years, the HW divison has appeared to be stacked. With the revelations of guys like Mir, Nelson, Lesnar, Overeem and others not being as good as we thought, it's shining a light on the chicken salad becoming chicken shit, to paraphrase Mr. Lesnar.
  11. 2DaDeath Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 10:02

    Boo this man!
  12. mma4everbitchs Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 10:36

    O Matty boy the pipes the pipes are calling. Weed and lots of it wrote this article head.
  13. RoezCity Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 10:39

    Jon Jones moving up will be interesting.
  14. DARKHORSE06 Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 11:07

    Granted the division doesn't have the depth of the flyweights or middleweights, but it is what it is. Is there a glut of outside heavyweights out there scrabbling to get into the UFC? If so who? The Maine-iac?
  15. dwthomas86 Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 12:29

    Okay, so how is this different then the Welterweight, Middleweight, or Light-Heavyweight division? This division even as an extra guy to be the champion? I guess all of these divisions are in dark times?
  16. Hill-Billy Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 12:30

    Matt... you just made a case for the UFC Heavyweight division being one of the better divisions in the UFC. We have a division that is Jon Jones and... no one. Another one is GSP and... no one. Do I even need to mention the one that is Anderson Silva and...thats right. No one. the only way to make a compelling championship fight in any of those divisions is to have a champion from outside the division come up or down for a *superfight*. So with two worldbeaters that are fairly evenly matched vs eachother I'd say that makes heavyweight twice as good as most other divisions. And with Cormir going down to 205 AT BEST, you'll get a similar situation in that division. But I'll believe it when I see it.
  17. Tristan Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 01:31

    Go rewatch Cheick Kongo drop Velasquez, then tell me Overeem couldn't take Cain out.
  18. Thumblaster Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 02:45

    Kongo rocked the non-mexican mexican champ numerous times in that fight and dos santos dropped him with one punch which makes you think any big puncher has a shot against cain . Dos santos seems pretty unbeatable if he has no drama with his greasy troll...err wife. With guy's like hunt,werdum,cormier,barnett,miocic, overeem out there the division actually seems stacked.
  19. Mr_Misanthropy Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 04:23

    THERE CAN BE ONLY ONE!!!!!!!!!!1!!!!!!!!!
  20. OPIO Says:

    Wed, 06/26/13 - 07:32

    I would love to see Dos Santos & Miocic box it out.
  21. enrikk Says:

    Thu, 06/27/13 - 02:50

    Since everyone else already made many excellent points, I'll just get to the claim about this being the "Dark Ages" of the HW division: Well, shit, just look at the comparisons: Andrei Arlovski and ...Tim Sylvia... compared to JDS and Cain. I'll just say that again... Tim Sylvia ...compared to ...anyone. Cain and JDS have legit fighting credentials and are at the top of their game. Tim Sylvia wasn't even at the top of his game when he was at the top of his game. And now he's pan handling to raise money to pay for an internet connection so he can log onto a free YouTube channel to beg Dana for another shot at BEING in the UFC. The only way he'll become relevant again is if he puts on pink sweatbands and rocks out to a Flashdance spoof in the hopes that someone recognizes the pun. So yeah. Tim Sylvia. I rest my case.
  22. macreadysshack Says:

    Thu, 06/27/13 - 11:04

    TS;DR - Too Stupid; Didn't Read
  23. ArmFarmer Says:

    Thu, 06/27/13 - 04:45

    I don't know where to begin, and I don't feel like blathering on for paragraphs.. so I'll just say that this article is really stupid, and you should be ashamed of comparing jds and cain to timay and captain glass chin.
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