With the recent announcement, although still unconfirmed by the UFC, that Brock Lesnar will take on Shane Carwin at UFC 106 for the UFC Heavyweight title, it brings up some interesting questions regarding the division's stance as being full of potential contenders. Most notably, is the UFC bringing Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez too quickly to take on Brock Lesnar, or is it simply a strategy to set up more interesting fights at the top of the weight class?
Since Carwin would be taken off the UFC 104 card in the match-up with Cain Velasquez, it's been rumored that Velasquez will, in fact, take on the winner of the Carwin-Lesnar showdown after UFC 106. Many fans see this as an opportunity for Lesnar to crush both of the UFC's top heavyweight contenders in back-to-back battles, further solidifying Lesnar's stance as potentially the greatest heavyweight we've ever seen in MMA.
There are some great scenarios in almost any outcome to this formula. Lesnar defeating both Carwin and Velasquez in devastating fashion will only further build drawing power and interest from fans. It should also begin pushing some of the heavyweights below him into overdrive in terms of training and bulking up in order to truly give Lesnar a test. The big problem, however, is that we may have another dominating divisional champion that could be seen as certainly unbeatable, and it would be a tough prospect for the UFC to find new talent, even with the new season of The Ultimate Fighter.
If Carwin or Velasquez defeat Lesnar, it opens a plethora of possibilities. Carwin would take on Velasquez if he defeats Lesnar, or Lesnar defeats Carwin but succumbs to Velasquez. In any case, Lesnar would either take on another up-and-comer or get his immediate rematch. Frank Mir could potentially grab a rubber match out of that scenario along with the potential for Randy Couture to be granted his wish to take on Lesnar if he can defeat Nogueira.
If Lesnar does defeat both Velasquez and Carwin however, the prospects of someone new breaking into the upper-echelon of the division doesn't look too good. Here's the current schedule of heavyweight battles that we know about:
Randy Couture vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Tim Hague vs. Todd Duffee
Justin McCully vs. Mike Russow
Gabriel Gonzaga vs. Chris Tuchscherer
Rumored: Mir vs. Kongo
The most obvious choices would be Randy Couture/Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, and potentially Junior Dos Santos if he defeats Mirko Cro Cop. Mir will likely take on someone like Herring or Kongo, and Velasquez will probably wait out the outcome of the Lesnar/Carwin showdown unless the UFC actually lets him take on Mir.
The dilemna from my point of view is creating a bout that would actually test Lesnar. Maybe I'm being a bit pessimistic about this, but Nogueira doesn't seem like the type of fighter that would last long at all in trying to grapple with Lesnar. Couture was able to do some things that we haven't seen before, and I'd be interested in seeing that fight happen again... but I'm still skeptical. Dos Santos has some solid stand-up, but Lesnar's size once again is a huge factor in that showdown.
Who else is left? A Mir rematch is possible for a rubber match, but he's stated that he'd probably want to add 20-30 lbs. of muscle before fighting him again. All of the other bouts in the division seem like back-and-forth battles in which none of those fighters would break away from the pack. I've always thought Gonzaga has the skill-set to present problems for Lesnar, but can he actually string together the wins to get to that position again?
Carwin and Velasquez would be sitting right below Lesnar at the top after their title shots, so there would be some interesting contender bouts and match-ups to draw new fighters into the contender mix. But the fact remains that there aren't a whole lot of options that present legitimate dangers to Lesnar, and he continues to improve with time. The UFC acquiring a guy like Gilbert Yvel is more of an entertainment value acquisition vs. an actual shot at contendership, so are there really any other possibilities?
It should be an interesting end of the year for the division, but we may very well come into 2010 with another UFC division that has a dominating champion that is perceived as "unbeatable" for a long time.