After UFC 99 Dana White responded to Mirko Cro Cops victory over Mostapha Al Turk and Cain Velasquez’s victory over highly ranked Cheick Kongo by stating that the Heavyweight Division is very deep or stacked (compared to a few years ago). With Andrei Arlovski’s loss to Brett Rogers and Tim Sylvia’s equally quick loss to Ray Mercer many UFC (Dana White MMA fans) might agree with the Dark Lord of the Sith that the UFC’s Heavyweight division is very deep at this point, this despite not having two of the highest ranked Heavyweights in Fedor Emelianenko and Josh Barnett in their ranks. With up and coming fighters like Velasquez and Shane Carwin plus a veteran roster of Couture, Mir, Nogueira, and of course the biggest name Brock Lesnar (who may not be a veteran but has a title). But is this a case of the “cream rising to the top” or that green film that covers say mayonnaise when it gets bad? Even if you do not compare the UFC’s Heavyweight division to others in the organization, is it indeed deep?
According to the UFC’s website they list a total of twenty-four fighters in their Heavyweight division and out of these two sport undefeated records and twelve more sporting three or less losses. Now if you look at the UFC’s Light-Heavyweight division (what many people say is the deepest) just to base records and number of fighters there area total of thirty-eight fighters. Three of these fighters sport undefeated records and there are seventeen fighters with three losses or less. So in terms of having fighters with strong records on paper the Heavyweight division seems to be able to hold that claim fairly well. Furthermore, two of these fighters with three or less losses (Mir and Lesnar) will meet to unite the championship at UFC 100, with an undefeated Shane Carwin more than likely to get a title shot in the near future. Add a rising Velasquez, hopefully a revitalized and recovered Ryan Bader, Junior Dos Santos, to the veterans and the UFC would appear to have a good number of “rookies” to throw into matches with veterans to offer a number of title contention match ups in the future. Dana appears to be a prophet!
But in reality the Heavyweight division has more holes and unanswered questions than answers and stability. It would appear that Dana was basing his assumption on the losses of Sylvia and Arlovski than what actually has transpired in the octagon recently. While he has been riding the Lesnar as the future of the UFC and the chance of him becoming a dominant champion, the recent wins in the division have done little to promote a “deep and competitive division.” At UFC 99 two highly ranked heavyweights fought in Velasquez and Kongo, with two others with suspect records also fighting in Cro Cop and Al Turk. Neither of these matches answered anything in terms of fighters and how good they really are. Velasquez defeated Kongo by exposing something that everyone thought was a weakness in his game which was wrestling and ground skills. Kongo was being touted as having an improved wrestling game after he defeated Cro Cop by taking him to the ground. But he never beat anyone who was a wrestler of Velasquez’s caliber and it showed that night. Velasquez for his part did display a tough chin and great wrestling, but he also showed no Ju Jitsu skills and a lack of power and ability to finish Kongo once he got him on the ground.
As far as Cro Cop and Al Turk goes, both came into the UFC with a level of hype that neither has lived up to. Eye poke aside Al Turk has been TKO’d in both of his fights, albeit by top level strikers, both in the first round. But Cro Cop is two and two in his UFC career losing to Kongo by decision after being taken to the ground by the Frenchman and of course being KO’d by one of the most devastating kicks in MMA history by Gabriel Gonzaga, who also has been lack luster in his UFC career except for that one moment. These two fighters who are both reasons Dana was making that statement are seen as up and comers who will vie for the heavyweight belt some day, but in reality perfectly illustrate what is lacking in the division, basically well rounded fighters who can defeat people who might be slightly overrated. Velasquez did nothing more than anyone expected neither did Cro Cop, their opponents had only one chance to win and that was to get the fight to go in a way they wanted (in Kongo’s case standing and Al Turk’s to the ground).
If one looks at the division it is really a game of match ups and styles, with very few fighters being able to offer a well rounded fight game plan like a GSP, Florian, Penn, Anderson Silva, or Machida. Looking forward to the Mir vs. Lesnar fight the idea that Mir will win is based that he will submit Lesnar again because Lesnar has no Ju Jitsu skills. Lesnar path to victory is to take Mir to the ground and pound him out. Any threat of a stand up battle seems minimal, although both have KO’d people in the past, it would appear that this will not happen. Further down the road you have Couture vs. Nogueira which again will be a ground game match up more than likely. But both these match ups lead to new questions can anyone of the “up and coming fighters” or veterans beat these guys? It would appear the answer would be no, except for Couture because of his age. If Velasquez were to fight Mir the way he fought Kongo he would more than likely be submitted if he could take him to the ground. Brock’s size would negate his wrestling and his power would probably crumble Cain in the stand up game. Cro Cop does not seem to be able to deal with anyone with a ground game so the likely hood that he would beat any of these guys without a “lucky” shot is also very long in the odds. Carwin is the wild card of this group because he has not really faced anyone who is considered a dominating fighter (Gonzaga is a second tier fighter at best), but it would appear that his abilities are not on the level of these top tier guys right now.
So in the UFC Heavyweight Division it would appear that you have two dominant fighters in Mir and Lesnar, each with opposing styles, to fighters right below them in Couture and Nogueira both who are being said to be at the end of their careers and only one of which may be able to make a run at the title in Nogueira. Below them are a bunch of fighters who while holding decent records on paper seem to offer little in the way of being able to answer the questions about their skills in other areas. If Velasquez cannot take out Kongo on the ground what chance does he have against getting a Lesnar or Couture to the ground or against Mir or Nogueira once there? Can Cro Cop keep a fight standing against any of them? Can Carwin actually beat one of these guys in any one area? After that the rest of the division seems to be lacking in title contenders, unless Ryan Bader makes a complete recovery, and even he has more questions than answers. Unlike other divisions there does not seem to be the need to have a tournament or some sort of ironing out of the heavyweight title contenders because aside from the top four anyone else seems to be mere speculation. So unless Fedor and/or Barnett signs in the UFC and adds more competition to the mix to the division, it would appear that Dana is wrong in saying that the division is stacked or deep. This may appear to be nit picking, but when compared to a few years ago when Arlovski, Sylvia, and Couture held the belts there seems to be little difference in the level of fighters in the Heavyweight division.