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UFC 121 Analysis: Has the Era of the Colossal Heavyweight Ended?

Is the era of mammoth heavyweight fighters like Brock Lesnar over?
Is the era of mammoth heavyweight fighters like Brock Lesnar over?

It's a question that was on the minds of many fans following Cain Velasquez's utter destruction of Brock Lesnar last night at UFC 121. For the many fans who didn't have a clue as to what Cain Velasquez brought to the table in the lead-up to the bout, they now have some sort of clue as to how technical prowess can overcome sheer brute force, even in a division that was thought to be on lock down by the larger fighters at the apex of the division. 

Now the question becomes whether or not those mammoth heavyweights who cut down to the 265 pound limit are actually a dying breed. Will Brock Lesnar overcome his defeat and reclaim the title after a successful run against potential contenders? Did we overstate the fact that the mega-heavyweight was going to be a long-standing era that dominates the landscape of the UFC heavyweight division for a very long time? Some of these questions can be answered, and we can make some educated guesses as to what may be in store for the heavyweight division's future.

Has the era of the colossal heavyweight ended? I certainly think that the perception that fighters who mimic the size and athleticism of Brock Lesnar will dominate the division for years to come has been shattered. Cain Velasquez, sitting at 244 pounds for this fight, is by no means in the group of large heavyweights in the division, but his wrestling credentials and accurate striking ability proved to be the perfect formula to stop Lesnar. Lesnar's bull charge to begin the fight didn't break Velasquez, and even when Cain was put on his back -- he was able to quickly regain his feet and wreck Lesnar with shots.

One fight and one outcome in favor of the more technically sound fighter isn't the only proof however. The aging process is also a factor in determining how long an era will last, and the lack of incoming talent is a huge problem that has mostly been ignored. To give you a sense of what I'm talking about, the big six in the division vary in age from 35 to 28 with the two top fighters in Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos sitting in their youthful prime at 28 and 26 years of age. Carwin (35), Nelson (34), Lesnar (33), and Mir (31) are the upper limit of the division in terms of age, and while 31 to 33 doesn't seem old -- it is on the edge of the age in which athletes of this caliber begin to slow down.

It's a possibility that these older athletes follow in the footsteps of a fighter like Randy Couture, but the reality is that it's a rarity, especially in a sport like mixed martial arts that challenges your body to the limit. 


Once these heavyweights begin to fade away and retire from the sport, the prospects who are now the new class of heavyweights is very thin. Right now, Cole Konrad seems to be the only true super heavyweight outside of the UFC who has the wrestling credentials to be a challenge near the top. Daniel Cormier should also be included on that list, although he would sit in the same weight range as Velasquez and dos Santos. Fortunately, the division seems to be moving back into a more technical form instead of huge heavyweights steamrolling opponents with power. That would certainly work for Cormier.

talked about this very problem here at back in July, going so far as to say that there would have to be some pretty lucky circumstances to occur for the worldwide talent pool to thin:

I suppose the broader issue is whether or not the heavyweight division will see some sort of regression to mediocrity, something boxing has done with the absence of quality talent. To be perfectly honest, if enormous heavyweights begin to exit the sport without quality replacements -- it could be a blessing in disguise for the UFC and any other major promotion. I think the technical aspect of the sport would become more apparent with lighter heavyweights, and I think it would encourage more cruiserweights to stick around at heavyweight versus dropping down to light heavyweight to avoid being murdered by giants who mimic Brock Lesnar.

Of course, that blessing in disguise relies on some pretty lucky circumstances to occur, and I highly doubt those circumstances actually play out. Top heavyweight NCAA wrestlers would have to avoid the sport completely, and with the success of Brock Lesnar -- they'd be stupid not to try their luck at becoming a huge star in the UFC.

It would seem that there really isn't any signs that those athletes are making the transition, and as we talked about previously -- it's possible that sports like the NFL have more to offer for those types of athletes. Perhaps lucky was the wrong choice or word, and maybe reality is a better one. 

In the end, all of these factors are hard to ignore. Unless we see a huge influx in the next year of massive heavyweight talent, this era won't maintain its legs. And in reality, the era will probably never have a prolonged reign in the UFC... ever, mainly due to the fact that it's just plain hard to find behemoth heavyweights like Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin

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