By now, you’ve likely seen the news, as reported by Ariel Helwani on Twitter, that Alistair Overeem has tested positive for elevated levels of testosterone following a random test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission. Barring anything dramatic occurring, it appears Overeem will be forced off the UFC 146 fight card and Junior dos Santos will have to defend his title against a different opponent.
So who should that be?
I see a lot of people lobbying for Mark Hunt, and I can only imagine they’re doing so with their tongue firmly planted in their cheek. As fun as it’s been to watch Hunt succeed in his last three UFC fights (given the odds against him), he needs to do a lot more before he deserves a UFC title fight.
So for this feature, I’m only going to consider fighters in the top 15 in SILVA scores in the heavyweight division. Here is that list:
First, let’s use process of elimination to narrow this list down. As much as I would love to see SILVA favorite Daniel Cormier get a title shot (and I do think Cormier is a future champion), I can’t see him getting removed from the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament finals against Josh Barnett. Cole Konrad is not part of the organization, and Brock Lesnar is retired (and now back in the WWE).
I can’t defend Mike Russow being rated #4 in SILVA at heavyweight; I don’t think he’s nearly that good. In any event, there’s no way he’s getting the title shot against dos Santos. I don’t see the UFC giving Cain Velasquez a rematch this soon, given how quickly he lost to dos Santos at UFC on Fox in November. Chad Griggs is probably less likely to get the title shot than Russow is, and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira is coming off a loss to Frank Mir.
That leaves the following plausible choices:
Antonio Silva: Silva seems to always be just one notch below elite status in the heavyweight division. He has some impressive wins on his record, but he also has losses to Fabricio Werdum and Daniel Cormier. Silva is slated to take on Roy Nelson at UFC 146, which makes about zero sense to me, as Silva is the far superior fighter in my opinion. Still, with the loss to Werdum in particular, it’s hard to see Silva being the UFC’s first choice.
Frank Mir: Mir has looked extremely unimpressive in his last few fights. Against Mirko Cro Cop at UFC 119, Mir engaged in an ugly battle spent mostly in the clinch. Against Roy Nelson in his following fight, there was a lot more of the same. And in his last fight, against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Mir ate a steady diet of punches, getting clobbered until he capitalized on Nogueira’s aggression to submit him with a kimura. Mir may be on a winning streak, but if he struggles against guys like Nogueira, Nelson, and Cro Cop, how could he be expected to be competitive against Junior dos Santos?
Fabricio Werdum: His only loss in five fights was against Alistair Overeem, and if you look at Fight Metric, you’ll see that Werdum actually landed more strikes than Overeem did in that fight. With wins over Fedor Emelianenko and Antonio Silva, Werdum has one of the strongest overall cases to be given a title shot. The problem: Werdum’s 81-second KO loss to dos Santos back at UFC 90.
Fedor Emelianenko: The definite dark horse here, as Fedor’s camp has been talking a lot recently about wanting to get back into the UFC. As much as I’d like to see Fedor given a chance to fight in the UFC, he did have a recent three-fight losing streak, and his only wins since then were against Jeff Monson and Satoshi Ishii. Fedor needs to beat somebody better than those guys before he deserves a title shot against the likes of Junior dos Santos.
Stipe Miocic: It’s simply way too early to throw Miocic in there.
Travis Browne: Browne’s UFC career thus far: wins over Rob Broughton, Stefan Struve, and James McSweeney, and a draw against Cheick Kongo. That’s just not enough.
As you can see, there is no perfect solution. Every possible challenger the UFC can find to face Junior dos Santos is flawed in some way. I would personally like to see Fabricio Werdum given the chance to fight for the title, despite his loss to dos Santos at UFC 90, since he’s looked very impressive in recent fights, and a case can be made that he should have been awarded the decision victory over Alistair Overeem. I anticipate, however, that the title shot will be given to Frank Mir; as ugly as his fights have been recently, he is on a winning streak, and he is a name that UFC fans know and recognize. If one thing is for certain, it’s that nobody can really fill the void created by Alistair Overeem and his failed drug test.