Cain Velasquez's dominating performance over Cheick Kongo on Saturday night at UFC 99 has opened up the discussion as to what is on the mind of UFC's matchmaker Joe Silva and UFC President Dana White. Kongo was conceivably in line for a title shot if he had pushed past up-and-comer Cain Velasquez, but now there are questions regarding where Cain should be positioned near the top. While it's evident that Cain still has some improvements to make in his standup game, he still has controlling wrestling ability, power, and performances to warrant at least a shot at one of the potential contenders at the top.
The middle of the division will be the main focus at UFC 102 with one top flight fight that could potentially set up a title match with the winner of Mir vs. Lesnar. Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is an interesting match for a few reasons. Most notably, will the UFC give Couture a rematch with Lesnar right away if both win their next fight? I wouldn't believe an instant title shot would be warranted, but Couture's career may be heading toward a close. Also, would the UFC push a Noguiera vs. Mir rematch if both win? There are a lot of options, and the UFC hasn't truly stated if Couture vs. Nogueira is a contender match either. Both Couture and Nogueira may have lengthy turnarounds to get into fighting shape again as well due to their age.
UFC 102 also features Justin McCully vs. Junior Dos Santos and Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Chris Tuchscherer. My belief is that since Dana was willing to matchup Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic with Cain Velasquez, Dana is still trying to build up Cain and not rush him into contention. The winner of one of these matches will likely be Cain's next test since the concept of the UFC pushing Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic into contention is out of the question now. Santos would be a solid test, and it would also give Santos a stiff test in proving he has a ground game. Of course McCully could beat Santos by exposing him on the ground first. Gonzaga would also be a solid test as he has solid standup with a good ground game. Are either of those two guys beneath Cain at this point?
The other twist in this puzzle is Shane Carwin. According to his Twitter, he was cleared to spar on May 27th. It'll be interesting to see who the UFC decides to pit him against in the coming months. I'd go with a potential match with Santos if he defeats McCully, but there is always the possibility that the UFC pushes him into the limelight due to his impressive knockout win over Gonzaga. Could the UFC match him up with the loser of Couture/Nogueira? Or would they actually pit him against the loser of Lesnar/Mir?
It's truly a twist that put me into a deep conversation regarding the division with a friend last night after Cain Velasquez vs. Cheick Kongo fight took place. My thoughts are that if Mir wins and Couture wins, they could potentially push a title match. Of course, the concept of Couture being the champ and then retiring doesn't help that possibility. With a Lesnar and Nogueira win, Lesnar vs. Nogueira may make sense. I think the most intriguing questions involve the guys just outside of those two top fights.
The final factor to weigh in the potential for Fedor Emelianenko to put his name into the hat. Dana White will not do a one-fight deal, so it's up to Fedor if he wants to challenge himself. Conceivably, the UFC would push Fedor instantly into a title shot with Lesnar/Mir, and then set up matches from the contenders. The only guy who really loses from a Fedor acquisition is Nogueira, who has been defeated twice and was on his way to a third before an accidental headbutt ended their bout at PRIDE Final Conflict 2004. The UFC would want to set him up with Lesnar, Mir, Couture, and whoever comes out of the heap in the middle of the pack. This is all pure speculation right now, and I'm under the belief we won't see Fedor until next year... if at all.
Dana White also talked about the possibility of bringing Josh Barnett back if he defeats Fedor Emelianenko. I don't think Barnett is going to defeat Emelianenko, but he's an dangerous guy to throw in the mix at the top of the UFC's heavyweight division. He could give almost all the top guys problems on the floor, but many fans would say the bout with Gilbert Yvel was a true sign that Barnett might not be able to hang with the absolute best anymore.
In any case, how will the division stack up after UFC 102? It's a tough puzzle to solve, and it's going to be an interesting few months for the UFC brass and Joe Silva to sift through all the possibilities. Maybe they'll decide Ray Mercer needs a shot in the UFC.