UFC champ Cain Velasquez emerged from UFC 121 as a star in the making. He utterly demolished Brock Lesnar and seemed to be clicking with the huge Hispanic demographic that the UFC is desperate to penetrate. But now he's out with a torn rotator cuff. Initial reports from his coaching staff estimated his time out at six months or so. But Dr. Johnny Benjamin is less sanguine:
Velasquez's trainer, Javier Mendez, told MMAjunkie.com the fighter has a 90 percent tear. For such an injury, a minimally invasive technique such as arthroscopic repair may not be an option for a high-caliber athlete who has a massive shoulder. Therefore, Velasquez probably will require an open surgery with a much larger incision and surgical field. And generally speaking, larger surgery equals longer recovery.
The recovery will be long - likely, in all honestly, a year. But the recovery is not my primary concern. My concerns lie with the overall strength and flexibility of his shoulder after the rehab. Also, will his repair, even after it has fully healed, stand up to the grind of training and the physicality of MMA competition?
Benjamin doesn't have the answer but his informed opinion should be a red alert to the UFC brass that they need a back up plan in the heavyweight division post-haste.
Dave Meltzer identifies their best option:
Brock Lesnar vs. Junior Dos Santos would be the biggest possible match, since Lesnar is the sport's biggest pay-per-view draw. As of a few weeks ago, Lesnar and Dana White had not spoken since Lesnar lost the title. White noted in a text message to Yahoo! Sports on Tuesday that nothing has changed regarding Lesnar's situation.
The former champion has an autobiography coming out on April 19 and would most likely be out promoting the book throughout the month. That means if he doesn't fight on a March 19 show that is already almost full, he may also not be available until July at the earliest.
"I'd love to see Dos Santos fight Lesnar," said Mendes. "I hope that happens."
A win by Dos Santos over Lesnar will make him come across as to the public as a bigger threat to Velasquez, meaning stronger pay-per-view numbers. A win by Lesnar would be in a sense a best case possible scenario for Velasquez. Lesnar challenging Velasquez for the title would likely be the second biggest pay-per-view event in UFC history.
Meltzer is right to ID Lesnar vs JDS as the best possible match but I think he's missing the one extra twist needed to take it over the top: an interim title at stake.
The UFC has had so many interim heavyweight champs in recent years -- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira while Randy Couture was holding out, Shane Carwin while Lesnar was ill -- that they've watered it down pretty bad. But given the possibility of the heavyweight title going more than a year without being defended, they need to move.
The biggest risk of a Lesnar vs Dos Santos bout is that JDS will pummel Lesnar even worse than Cain Velasquez did and poof the biggest draw in UFC history is gone. Even Lesnar's vaunted mystique couldn't survive a third straight bout where he looked like he can't handle getting punched in the face. Shane Carwin gave Lesnar a huge scare at UFC 116 before gassing and being submitted in the second round. Cain made Lesnar look utterly silly and sad.
It's amazing how the UFC's heavyweight division has gone from stacked to starving in only a few months. A year ago fans were worried about Brock Lesnar's health, but rising stars Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, Roy Nelson, Todd Duffee and Brendan Schaub combined with veteran stars Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Randy Couture and Mirko Filopovic, aka Cro Cop had fans anticipating big things from the division. Not just big things, but epic things.
With Strikeforce putting together a stacked heavyweight tournament featuring Fedor Emelianenko, Fabricio Werdum and Alistair Overem, the UFC has its work cut out to maintain its brief reign as the top heavyweight division in the sport.
Strikeforce has also developed some prospects that the UFC would love to have right about now -- Daniel Cormier, Shane Del Rosario, Lavar Johnson. Even Bellator's utterly uncharismatic Cole Konrad might be a welcome addition to the UFC this year.