By Zach Arnold | October 6, 2011
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?