Most of the time, there’s a pretty clear hierarchy in the UFC. In any given division, there’s a champion, there’s the next challenger, and there’s a few fighters in the elite tier competing for a shot at the title. The UFC heavyweight division seems to be missing an ingredient. It has a champion (Cain Velasquez), it has a challenger (Junior dos Santos)… but after those two fight, what’s next?
Here’s a list of SILVA’s ten best UFC heavyweights:
- Cain Velasquez – 56.49
- Matt Mitrione – 50.40
- Junior dos Santos – 48.61
- Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – 47.03
- Brock Lesnar – 38.39
- Frank Mir – 36.34
- Mike Russow – 35.83
- Stefan Struve – 35.34
- Brendan Schaub – 34.29
- Ben Rothwell – 32.87
As far as who the next title contender might be, let’s use the process of elimination. Obviously, Velasquez and dos Santos are already fighting for the title, so they’re out (although an immediate rematch is possible if it’s a particularly close fight). Nogueira has been off for a long time and needs to prove that he’s still capable of competing at a high level. Lesnar continues to battle diverticulitis. Russow, Struve, and Rothwell are absurd suggestions as far as a title shot is concerned.
That leaves Matt Mitrione, Frank Mir, and Brendan Schaub. Mitrione is the division’s hot commodity now that he’s 5-0, but he’s not really ready for a title shot yet; he’ll need to beat somebody better than Christian Morecraft to change that. So as far as I see it, there are really two options: Frank Mir and Brendan Schaub.
Mir most recently won a unanimous decision at UFC 130 against Roy Nelson in what was an awful fight. Mir was impressive in spurts, landing a number of hard strikes and even throwing Nelson to the ground, but for the most part, both fighters (especially Nelson) showcased poor cardio and had to struggle to get through the third round.
Schaub is scheduled to fight Nogueira at UFC 134 in Rio de Janeiro. If Schaub, whose most recent fight was a KO win over Mirko Cro Cop, emerges victorious against Nogueira, the logical next fight would be Schaub vs. Mir to determine the division’s top contender.
Of course, there may be a good source of potential heavyweight contenders currently competing in Strikeforce. Here are the top five heavyweights fighting there, as measured by SILVA:
- Fedor Emelianenko – 49.39
- Antonio Silva – 47.50
- Josh Barnett – 47.11
- Fabricio Werdum – 35.03
- Alistair Overeem – 33.19
Side note: where else are you going to see Alistair Overeem listed as the 5th best of those five fighters?
Now, all five of those fighters are participants in the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament; it’s not a stretch to think that the eventual winner could challenge for the UFC heavyweight title (unless it’s Sergei Kharitonov, which is unlikely). Of course, the idea of Josh Barnett being that challenger seems utterly absurd, given his history with Dana White and Zuffa.
My prediction: Brendan Schaub will beat Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira at UFC 134 (despite their respective SILVA scores) and be matched up against Frank Mir as a #1 contender bout. The winner of Matt Mitrione vs. Cheick Kongo at UFC 137 (probably Mitrione) will be one win away from a title shot. If this makes the UFC heavyweight division seem really thin… well, that’s because it is. In any case, I don’t see anybody beating Cain Velasquez anytime soon.