With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
This weekend, UFC brings 2011 to a close with a BIG fight. Literally.
Sorry, couldn't resist.
In all honesty, UFC 141: Lesnar vs. Overeem does indeed wrap up the UFC's year with a major fight, as the former UFC Heavyweight champion, and former undisputed poster-boy of the organization, the #4 ranked Brock Lesnar welcomes former Strikeforce/K-1/Dream champion Alistair Overeem (ranked #3) to the UFC. It's a great stylistic clash, made all the better by the big stakes, as the winner is next up for new champion Junior dos Santos. With Brock and The Reem getting ready to square off, this seemed like a good time to take a look at the UFC Heavyweight division and see what fights are coming up, and where the rest of the division stands.
Next in Line:
At the UFC on Fox 1 show, one of the big talking points was that the winner of that night's Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos Heavyweight championship fight would next defend the belt against the winner of this weekend's Lesnar vs. Overeem bout. Unless the winner at 141 gets injured, that should indeed happen. Lesnar is an established big draw for the UFC (though this weekend will test that drawing power), and making good on the scrapped Ultimate Fighter showdown with dos Santos would be great, while Overeem coming in, taking out Brock, and setting his sights on the champ would make for a fantastic story as well. Either way, I'm excited.
Key Match Ups:
A handful of good fights coming up soon will spotlight the UFC Heavyweights and set up the next, post-Lesnar/Reem challenger.
- #18 Mike Russow vs. Jon Olav Einemo (UFC on Fox 2) - Not a massive fight here; Einemo is 0-1 in the UFC (and coming back after his release earlier this year), while Russow has steadily moved up the ranks and also remains undefeated in the UFC. Expect the winner here to have a good fight next time out.
- #14 Roy Nelson vs. #5 Fabricio Werdum (UFC 143) - After Overeem, Werdum is next up in the wave of incoming Strikeforce fighters. He's in an odd position, as he had huge momentum for being the first man to truly defeat Fedor, but The Last Emperor's two subsequent loses, combined with Werdum's flop-heavy performance against Overeem, really slowed that momentum. He needs not just a win, but a big win, and Nelson is not an easy man to convincingly defeat. Roy seems to think he is just outside the title picture, but he's just one Cro Cop win removed from a 2 fight losing streak, so he still has some work to do. A win here would help though.
- #21 Stefan Struve vs. Dave Herman (UFC on Fuel 1) - Good fight here between two exciting fighters. Neither man is in title contention, and I'm not sure either one ever will be, but it's a good fight where the winner will be in the upper ranks of the division, at least for the moment.
- #22 Mark Hunt vs. #13 Cheick Kongo (UFC 144) - It boggles my mind that Mark Hunt is in the UFC Heavyweight title hunt in 2011, but here we are. He has two nice wins in a row, and now faces the division's best gatekeeper in Kongo. If Hunt wins, and make no mistake, this is a winnable fight for the Samoan, he could be one fight away from a title shot. Incredible.
- #9 Josh Barnett vs. #8 Daniel Cormier (Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix Final) - I include this here because Dana White has made it clear that the SF HW division is no more. We'll get this fight, one more, and then the remaining fighters will make their way to the UFC, so this tournament final will be big for the winner as he comes into the UFC. I expect all the Strikeforce fighters will have a lot to prove as they come in, with every loss really hurting them. But perhaps no Strikeforce fighter needs to win as badly as Josh Barnett, who has a notoriously adversarial history with Dana. A win here would help him make the move to the UFC. No date yet set for this fight.
More of the UFC Heavyweight division in the full entry.
In The Mix:
These Heavyweights have nothing set up just yet, but are absolutely in the title hunt, depending how that next fight plays out:
- #2 Cain Velasquez - The former champion is coming off the first loss of his career, as well as his first fight back after a shoulder injury that kept him sidelined for a year. How will he come back from both of those things? That's the big question, but if he comes back strong, he will be a definite threat to anyone who is champion.
- #6 Frank Mir - He's fresh off of snapping Minotauro's arm at UFC 140 in one of the most gruesome, but highlight reel worthy, submissions of the year. Mir has spent years clawing back towards the top since losing his UFC Heavyweight title to an out of the cage injury. He's close to that title now, but he's been here before and has not quite been able to get over that final hill. Is this the time?
- #7 Shane Carwin - Carwin has been dealing with back injuries for some time and has not been seen in the Octagon since UFC 131 last summer. He was so close to defeating Lesnar for the belt back at UFC 116, but as time goes by, you get the feeling that the 36 year old fighter may have seen his best shot at the belt slip away in that fight. We'll see if he can come back strong.
- #11 Antonio Silva - The Strikeforce Grand Prix semi-finalist was upset by Cormier last time out, but he beat down Fedor one fight before. There has been little talk of Bigfoot's possibilities in the UFC, but it will be interesting to see how things shake out for him when the Strikeforce division closes next year.
Others to Consider:
And finally, a few names that may not find themselves in the title picture right now, but should be mentioned:
- #10 Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - That arm break was nasty, and could spell the end of the road for many fighters. But Big Nog is no normal man. Still, can he come back yet again from serious injury, and if he does, can he halt the downward slope of his UFC career?
- #16 Sergei Kharitonov - Sergei was the other Strikeforce GP semi-finalist, but I suspect his UFC future is more tenuous that Silva's. I could easily see him being lost in the shuffle, and he'll have to work hard to keep in the UFC if he is indeed brought over.
- #17 Travis Browne - Dana White was very high on Browne, calling him "in the mix" at Heavyweight earlier this year. I didn't see it then, and I don't see it now, and his stinker with Rob Broughton at UFC 135 didn't help. But the UFC is high on him, so expect him to stay at the top.
- #20 Matt Mitrione - Mitrione had a tough setback in his loss to Cheick Kongo. His next fight will be key and demonstrate if the 5-1 relative newcomer to the sport can learn from that loss and come back stronger, or if Kongo is his ceiling.
- #25 Gabriel Gonzaga - Probably has no right to be on this list, but he's back in the UFC at UFC 142 (vs. Edinaldo Oliveira) and that makes me happy. He could easily slide right back into his role of smashing lesser competition and serving as a secondary gatekeeper alongside Kongo.