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Is the state of MMA’s heavyweight division lacking in quality?

By Zach Arnold | October 6, 2011

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I’ve been going through various pre-UFC 136 interviews, looking for something entertaining or informative (regarding fight strategy and technique). The well is dry, sad to say. You can’t expect much discussion of MMA technical fight analysis from participants until after their fight is over with…

So, we’re left with a few topics surfacing outside of this weekend’s show. I could have ripped into Dana White about UFC Japan 2012 but that’s like shooting fish in a barrel. Let’s move onto a more interesting topic – the heavyweight picture in the UFC. November & December features two of the most high-profile heavyweight fights in the history of the sport with Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem vs. Brock Lesnar. Outside of those individuals (alongside with Josh Barnett & Daniel Cormier), the current heavyweight picture is lackluster in comparison to other weight classes.

On his Tuesday radio show, Jordan Breen was asked about whether or not we would be stuck with a Velasquez/JDS trilogy feud due to them being head-and-shoulders above the rest of the heavyweights in MMA.

“Well, first of all, I think the major part is it’s not just other sports competing for athletes it’s that the athletes that other sports compete for are heavyweights. Football teams aren’t looking for dudes Jose Aldo’s size. Basketball teams aren’t looking for Ian McCall, you know? There’s no reason for them. So, it’s heavyweights by-and-large being taken by the other major sports, so that’s part of it.

“But I also think one maybe… I think in some ways, let’s not mince words, heavyweight’s a horrible division especially compared to MMA’s great divisions but I actually think in some ways it’s not as bad as people think. And the reason I say that is, take the Brett Rogers/Eddie Sanchez fight as an example… I think what ends up happening is a vicious cycle where most divisions guys are being released from the UFC are falling from grace and promotions go, hey, we can get this guy on the come back track, we can use him for two or three fights, people will buy tickets, whatever. We see tons and tons of this on the regional circuit and the ability to do it well tends to be one of the things that sets good regional promotions from fly-by-nights or failures. Unfortunately, one thing that happens is heavyweights also get released but heavyweights are at a premium. So, if the heavyweight’s released from the UFC, something’s up. Either that guy’s no good or he has serious issues, like a Todd Duffee. If there’s just a guy who’s like a talented heavyweight and maybe lost one or two fights, the UFC’s not cutting that guy. He’s sticking around. (Pat Barry.)

“So, I think what ends up happening is the guys who get jettisoned from the UFC or Strikeforce or whatever prominent position they’re in, there’s this assumed parity that, ‘oh yeah, you know, having Eddie Sanchez and Brett Rogers fight is the same thing, it comes from the same place as having Matt Horwich & Jake Rosholt.’ And maybe it comes from the same place, but we’re talking about different qualifies and caliber of athletes. So, I think one thing that ends up happening is that these heavyweights who have a bit of a name or have some exposure, they get cut because they’re no good and then unlike other divisions where if you’re picking up UFC castoff Lightweights, hell, maybe you can put together a Fight of the Year over 25 minutes and have it on HDNet, maybe that’s a thing you can do. You will never do it with heavyweights, not in a million years. Not using guys like Sanchez and Rogers than have been cut from the UFC.

“So, I think that’s a thing that also happens. I think the heavyweight division ends up looking worse because a lot of the guys that get recycled are guys that we just know aren’t good.”

Given that Showtime is about to make a decision regarding Strikeforce and where the network stands regarding their future in the MMA business, it seems pretty clear that we will get an infusion of heavyweight talent in 2012.

“The one thing I would say is that it only ever takes one of two guys. It only takes one other Cain (Velasquez) or one other JDS to put on a new spin. If we’re saying, oh, there’s only two great heavyweights in MMA right now and they’re JDS and Cain Velasquez, I think that is a fine stance to take but what if another Cain Velasquez comes along? Then we’re talking about three guys, one more and we’re talking about four guys and then you start to have a bit more of a division. So, one thing that I think gets underrated in MMA is how quickly one or two guys can really offer a new breath of life to a division.

“And on top of that, I mean there’s talented guys that we’ve seen before that aren’t necessarily focused on MMA. Like Justin Wren is a good up-and-coming heavyweight who eventually will be in the UFC and win fights but for now he’s doing a mission for God and focusing on those things, so that’s not his priority and focus. So I do think it’s going to get better, I don’t think we’ll be stuck in a holding pattern where it’s Velasquez and Cigano fighting one another over and over. But… it’s not… the idea of heavyweight being the punching bag division is never going to change because of MMA’s real successes is being able to take athletes that are great athletes but don’t necessarily fit into other sports. That’s why you get great fighters at 155, at 170. These guys don’t have a lot of athletic opportunities in too many other places, so they gravitate towards MMA. So, I mean, those divisions always are going to be the real heart of MMA and heavyweight’s always going to kind to suck but I think the way we think about the MMA division probably could be changed if like regional promoters weren’t so willing to just put on trash guys who happen to have a bit of a name.

“I mean, Andrei Arlovski’s a good example… At one point in time it would have made sense to use Andrei Arlovski when he wanted to stand and knock guys out. He doesn’t want to do that any more. I mean, that fight with Ray Lopez was disgraceful and the Travis Fulton fight is going to be a joke and it’s going to be depressing to watch… and yet those are the kinds that fights that we’re treated to over and over again.”

Outside of the four guys mentioned earlier for upcoming big UFC fights, how would rank the heavyweight division 5-10?

Topics: Media, MMA, UFC, Zach Arnold | 21 Comments » | Permalink | Trackback |

21 Responses to “Is the state of MMA’s heavyweight division lacking in quality?”

  1. 45 Huddle says:

    Historically (Pre-2006), the Division has really been filled with bloated Light Heavyweights. From Randy Couture, to Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, to Fedor Emelianenko, and many others…. the vast majority of the champions in the UFC and PRIDE are not even Heavyweight’s by today’s standards.

    So the real Heavyweight Division…. One filled with mostly true Heavyweights, has only been around for a few years. That has to be kept in mind when discussing the division.

    And even today, I would say at least 20% of the UFC Heavyweight Division is still bloated Light Heavyweights. To find an athlete in really good shape who doesn’t play in the NFL or NBA who can’t make 205 pounds is actually more rare then people think.

    MMA fights in general usually run the gamut from exciting to boring. Heavyweight does not fit in. The fights are either awesome (Barry vs. Kongo) or horrible. There seems to be little in-between area.

    Strikeforce fighters coming over will help a little bit, but that’s short term. The talent just isn’t there long term. That could change in 10 years as at least a few more younger kids look at MMA as an option.

  2. 45 Huddle says:

    Here are the Top 20 Heavyweights in Zuffa…. I just did the guys signed to UFC and then the guys signed to Strikeforce. This isn’t a ranking Top 20….

    1) Cain Velasquez
    2) Junior Dos Santos
    3) Brock Lesnar
    4) Alistair Overeem
    5) Shane Carwin
    6) Frank Mir
    7) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
    8) Cheick Kongo
    9) Roy Nelson
    10) Brendan Schaub
    11) Travis Browne
    12) Stefan Struve
    13) Matt Mitrione
    14) Mike Russow
    15) Jon Madsen
    16) Sergei Kharitonov
    17) Daniel Cormier
    18) Antonio Silva
    19) Josh Barnett
    20) Fabricio Werdum

    And by the way, there is almost nothing after this list. It’s the Chad Griggs and Mark Hunts of the world. The only prospect outside of that list is Dave Herman but he is rumored to have the work ethic of a 500 pound man. Madsen, Russow, Cormier, & Nelson should all be fighting at Light Heavyweight.

    There are some guys with huge holes in there game for being Top 20 in the sport. K-1 potentially going away isn’t such a bad thing. More younger fighters who would have gone into kickboxing might at least think about MMA.

    Just as a comparison, Here is a Top 20 Zuffa Welterweights… Which is there most stacked division. Once again, this is more names on a list then an actual ranking…

    1) Georges St. Pierre
    2) Jon Fitch
    3) BJ Penn
    4) Josh Koscheck
    5) Jake Ellenberger
    6) Carlos Condit
    7) Jake Shields
    8) Diego Sanchez
    9) Nick Diaz
    10) Thiago Alves
    11) Martin Kampmann
    12) Anthony Johnson
    13) Johnny Hendricks
    14) Rick Story
    15) Dong Hyun Kim
    16) John Hathaway
    17) Rory MacDonald
    18) Paulo Thiago
    19) Chris Brennaman
    20) Brian Ebersole

    And I didn’t even have to touch the Strikeforce roster to get that list. Now that is a list of real fighters….

    • Chuck says:

      Chris Brenneman? You mean Charlie, right?

      I understand you decided to only include UFC and SF heavyweights, but there are two guys in Bellator that could be considered (well, one considered top twenty, the other in the pipeline to get there). Cole Konrad and Blagoi Ivanov. Konrad is about top twenty I say, and I would definitely consider Ivanov a good prospect. The dude really needs to improve his stamina, but everything else is there.

      • 45 Huddle says:

        I watched Konrad/Buentello live. He barely got past him. The same Buentello who looked horrible against Struve. He is certainly not Top 20.

        The only guy who is Top 20 outside of Zuffa right now is Fedor Emelianenko…. And he is between 11 and 20 somewhere in there….

    • Chromium says:

      1) You’d put Tyron Woodley and Paul Daley below Brian Ebersole? I mean, nothing against Ebersole, but still…

      2) Jon Madsen aint been signed anywhere in months. He was quietly released following the Russow fight. Considering we haven’t heard anything about why from him or the UFC, chances are he tested positive for suspicious levels of something that would indicate PEDs, and some athletic commissions don’t always release that information to the public when that happens if the guy lost.

      3) What order were the SF guys supposed to be in there in? Alphabetical order in Cyrillic?

      • 45 Huddle says:

        No, I wouldn’t put Ebersole over Daley. I just wanted to show how strong the UFC’s division was…

        And I didn’t know Madsen was released…

    • Kalle says:

      Cormier is something of a special case in that he can’t fight at 205 because that might cause his kidneys to collapse. He’s still better than most heavyweights out there.

  3. edub says:

    I’ll do a HW top ten:

    1. Cain
    2. JDS
    3. Overeem
    4. Werdum
    5. Lesnar
    6. Carwin
    7. Mir
    8. Cormier
    9. Big Nog
    10.Big Foot

    • Chuck says:

      I pretty much agree with that list. Except I would probably bump Antonio Silva off and replace him with Josh Barnett. If you were to do a top fifteen then Big Foot would absolutely be number eleven (twelve at worst).

      • edub says:

        Yea I went back and forth on that. The massive Barnett love online for beating up Rogers and Kharitonov gets under my skin though, so I decided for Big Foot over him. Barnett probably is a little bit more deserving right now though (but its close).

  4. Chuck says:

    I have to take something Jordan Breen said to task…….how was Arlovski’s performance “disgraceful”? Sure it wasn’t vintage Arlovski, but Arlovski did what he had to do to win. He didn’t do anything flashy, he wasn’t reckless, he didn’t trade willy-nilly, he wasn’t really tagged with anything, didn’t get caught with anything otherwise, etc.

    Breen has to realize (I know he knows this) but Arlovski is coming off a FOUR fight losing streak, with three of those losses being KAYOS where he basically got knocked unconscious. Of course he wasn’t going to do something reckless. Too bad it was against a ham-n’-egger who obviously isn’t good on the ground (very end of the 1st round notwithstanding).

    Once Arlovski gets back to fighting better opponents we’ll see if we get the old Andrei back. Ray Lopez was just a bad opponent who didn’t really make a fight. He totally fought like a typical journeyman (he fought to not lose, not so much to win).

    • edub says:

      I agree with this. One of the problems I have had with Arlovski when he has been on his losing streak is his refusal to mix in his ground game. It was always underrated so I for one welcome the site of him using his Sambo more.

    • “Once Arlovski gets back to fighting better opponents—“

      I’m cutting you off and finishing your sentece with:

      —he’ll get knocked out.

      A chin doesn’t come back. Once it’s gone it’s gone. You can grapple til the cows come home, but you’re only going to get so far. I mean, I don’t have the heart to tell him that, but you know.

  5. I have my own rankings, which with $1 and change will get you a cup of coffee, and it looks like this:

    1 CAIN VELASQUEZ (UFC Heavyweight Champion)
    5 JOSH BARNETT (Strikeforce)
    DANIEL CORMIER (Strikeforce)
    FABRICIO WERDUM (Strikeforce)
    ANTONIO “BIGFOOT” SILVA (Strikeforce)

    • (hit submit too soon, whoops!)

      Top to bottom that’s not bad for Heavyweight. At all. I agree that it’s the weakest division in MMA, but put in perspective, it’s the best parity the division’s ever had. I mean, let’s not forget how bad it was in ’02 and ’03. You had maybe three good heavyweight fighters, tops, and they were all busy not fighting each other in Japan.

      The point about competing with other sports for other heavyweights is dead on and something I don’t think a lot of people have thought about. It’s also, IMO, the very reason why you don’t see very many decent American heavyweights in boxing anymore. It’s also why I think as MMA gets more overseas exposure and attracts more interest in the next few years, you’re going to see more international fighters competing.

      Bottom line is that heavyweight’s always going to be slim pickins, but it’s not as if we’re in some terrible place where Tim Sylvia reigns supreme. Right?

      Also, re: an above comment taking someone to task for not ranking Cole Konrad. I have him just on the cusp and nearly put him at 10. But man, you can’t blame someone for not ranking a Bellator Heavyweight, because who the Hell knows? Like they’ve said, a good Heavyweight isn’t easy to find, and how on Earth do you know a great Heavyweight if they haven’t fought other good heavyweights?

  6. Chuck says:

    Off topic, but Dana White officially announced on his Twitter (where else?) that the main event for UFC 140 on December 10th will be Jon Jones against Lyoto Machida.

    • 45 Huddle says:

      Some people are complaining that Machida didn’t earn the title shot. But he is a recent champion and style wise this is the very toughest opponent for Jon Jones. I like it.

      I think it also shows a change in how Dana White is booking main events. This time last year, he would have waited for both Evans & Jones to be healthy and done that fight. With all of the injuries we have seen this year, hopefully Zuffa has finally learned there lesson about waiting on challengers.

      If the champion is healthy, get him fighting as often as possible.

      People are feeling bad for Rashad Evans, but he has been injured twice this year. Of course he is going to get passed over for a title shot when he is always on the shelf.

      • Chuck says:

        It is a good fight on paper. And wasn’t Phil Davis supposed to get a title shot a while ago? I know one of them (I think Davis) got injured but what of it since then?

  7. Chromium says:

    I guess I’ll do my own list:

    1) Velasquez
    2) JDS
    3) Overeem
    4) Lesnar
    5) Carwin
    6) Werdum
    7) Mir
    8) Barnett
    9) Cormier
    10) Big Foot
    11) Big Nog
    12) Fedor/Schaub/Nelson/Kongo?

    A lot of these rankings are pretty interchangeable though (5-9 certainly could be juggled around).

  8. Dave says:

    You guys know that 45’s list was not in order of best, but it was just a list off the top of his head of the best Heavyweights under contract, right?


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