Once the premier division in the UFC, the heavyweight division has fallen on hard times as of late. Quite frankly, it’s been that way for some time.
A couple of years ago, the division showed promise with the import of the Strikeforce roster delivering fighters like Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier and the infamous Alistair Overeem. A year or two later, only one of the aforementioned names is still relevant in the division (Barnett). With Cain Velasquez still holding the title, Cormier has moved to greener pastures in the light heavyweight division while Overeem has dropped his last two fights.
With two of the big-name heavyweights out of the picture, the UFC is now has to look at lesser-known fighters to bring salvation back to the division.
A resurgent Fabricio Werdum will be the first individual to get a crack at the heavyweight strap. He has finished his last two fights and is riding a three-fight win streak. He is dangerous when it comes to submissions, and his stand-up has improved. He has the tools defeat Velasquez if his mind is in the right place.
Barnett, the most well-known of the new possible contenders, is a former UFC heavyweight champion. At 36 years of age, his time to ascend to the top is limited. Lucky for him, he may be one or two wins away from a chance to challenge for the title given the current state of the division.
After Werdum and Barnett, the waters began to get murky for the division. With names like Antonio Silva and Overeem basically marked off the list of possible contenders, the next interesting individual who could possibly challenge for a title is Travis Browne.
Hapa is set to due battle with Barnett on December 28. It is possible that the winner could get a crack at the title, pending performance. Browne’s true contender status is questionable. Many believe Browne should have a second loss on his record after he was hurt badly in his fight with Overeem, yet the ref continued to allow him to absorb punishment. Ultimately, Browne landed a strike on Overeem to win the fight.
There is no questioning Browne’s athleticism. He is one of the quickest and flashiest fighters in the division. With that being said, he would stand no chance against a healthy Velasquez.
Stipe Miocic is another interesting fighter in the division. Another one-loss fighter in the heavyweight division, Miocic is a crisp and technical fighter. He showed his intelligence when defeated Roy Nelson in his last outing. Miocic hasn’t fought the caliber of competition as Browne, but he is just as poised to make a run at the title following a couple more wins.
In terms of champion composure and personality, I would give Miocic the advantage. I would also take him winning a fight against Velasquez before I would Browne just because he is a smart fighter.
Fighters like Brendan Schaub, Mark Hunt, Gabriel Gonzaga and even Todd Duffee may even have a shot at making a run for the title if the shape of the heavyweight division doesn’t take a turn for the better.
The chances of any fighter other than Junior dos Santos defeating Velasquez is slim to none, but the division needs someone to at least challenge the champ and make the division interesting again. If they don’t, the lightweight or welterweight division may become the new glamour division in the UFC — if that hasn’t already happened.