When this picture was taken it seemed self-evident that these were the two best in the world. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
We released the USA TODAY/SB Nation Consensus MMA Rankings today and that got me thinking about the relative standings of the top promotions' heavyweight divisions.
First point -- remember that all rankings are inherently subjective. The premise of the consensus rankings is that we'll never really be able to definitively rank the best MMA fighters. Rather the best we can do is accurately reflect the consensus opinion of the MMA community.
Heavyweight is a unique division in MMA. It's without a doubt the shallowest division. There just aren't that many super-athletic behemoths out there in the first place and most of the gifted big fellas opt for the NFL or NBA in the States. That means breaking into the top 25 isn't that tough. It also means there is an enormous drop-off in talent from the top of the division to the second tier and another, possibly even steeper drop-off, from the second tier to the third.
Having said all that, the division's rankings continue to be gummed up because of Fedor Emelianenko's refusal to go to the UFC in 2009. Had he moved to the UFC while he was still the undisputed #1 everything would be pretty simple -- at least at the top of the charts.
As it is we've got a UFC division that seemed to be bursting at the seams with fearsome warriors just a few months ago, but now looks significantly diminished. Cain Velasquez certainly looks like one of the best in the world, but his rotator cuff injury is very serious and there's no way of knowing if he'll return to form after recovering from surgery.
Brock Lesnar is another story entirely. He has recovered from a very serious medical condition and intestinal surgery brilliantly. Unfortunately he's also been exposed as a man who doesn't respond well to being hit in the face. Shane Carwin and Cain Velasquez both made Lesnar look anything but fearsome on the feet even if Carwin couldn't finish the job. If Lesnar loses to JDS in similar fashion his stock will plummet.
The UFC's old line heavyweights -- #9 Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mir and #20 Mirko "Cro Cop" Filopovic -- are diminishing fast. The newest wave of rising contenders -- #13 Brendan Schaub and #27 Matt Mitrione -- frankly just doesn't match up to the last crop -- Velasquez, Carwin, JDS, and Roy Nelson.
With Carwin and Cain out with injuries that leaves Brock and JDS carrying the torch for the UFC heavyweight division.
That gives Strikeforce with a huge opportunity to steal the grail and Scott Coker is doing everything he can with the Strikeforce GP. Any tournament that includes #3 Fedor Emelianenko, #4 Fabricio Werdum, #7 Alistair Overeem, #10 Antonio Silva, #11 Josh Barnett, #12 Brett Rogers, #17 Andrei Arlvoski and long-time top 10 fighter Sergei Kharitonov is going to produce a winner who will have to be taken seriously as a possible #1 in the world.
Unless the tournament is a complete fiasco of epic proportions I'm prepared to treat the winner as the best in the world.