At UFC 188 this past Saturday night, interim UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum submitted Cain Velasquez with a third round guillotine choke to unify the belts and become the undisputed UFC Heavyweight Champion of the world. Since October of 2010, only Velasquez and Junior dos Santos have held the championship.
With Werdum now sitting atop the division, a slew of fresh match-ups are available, and a weight class that’s been dominated by two men for nearly the past five years is looking more exciting and less predictable than ever. With that in mind, who should challenge Fabricio Werdum for the heavyweight title?
In the eyes of the LWOS MMA team, there are four men with a case to be made: Velasquez, dos Santos, Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski. Below, LWOS MMA writers Travis Mounphosay, Trent Dozier, Daniel Marino and Stephen Rivers argue in favor of the man they think to be most deserving of that coveted title shot.
The Case for Cain Velasquez, by Travis Mounphosay:
Velasquez should be the first to challenge Werdum for the belt without any questions being asked. Who else is as dangerous and has a better résumé than Velasquez in the heavyweight division? Not even Werdum himself has a résumé as impressive. The only big name on Werdum’s list? The not-so-one-hundred-percent Velasquez he just submitted.
Velasquez has pummeled the likes of Brock Lesnar, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva twice and former champion Junior dos Santos twice. He has absolutely dominated dos Santos, who once brutally knocked out Werdum, for over forty total minutes.
Before this fight, Velasquez had not fought in almost two years. Seeing his performance this past Saturday, the myth of “ring rust” might be something that is actually true. If you tell yourself that there was nothing off with Velasquez at UFC 188, then you’re lying to yourself. That wasn’t the Velasquez we all know. Where was the Velasquez who is a cardio God that night? Where was the Velasquez that went non-stop for five rounds against dos Santos? Where was the Velasquez that finished Lesnar and Bigfoot in the first round without any difficulty? He wasn’t present in the Werdum fight.
We all know that if Velasquez showed up the way we expected him to, Werdum would have been in for a much rougher night. Werdum was even tired after the first round; could you imagine what Velasquez could have done to him if he was at his true potential? The fans, and Velasquez himself, need to see the former king redeem himself from his UFC 188 performance right away.
The Case for Junior dos Santos, by Trent Dozier:
The next heavyweight title shot should undoubtedly go to dos Santos. The former champ boasts a ridiculous 11-2 record inside the octagon, with his only losses coming to Velasquez. Not only is dos Santos’ résumé littered with Knockout of the Night-winning performances and Fight of the Night honors, but he’s already defeated a number of former champions and title challengers.
Two dos Santos wins stick out more than all the rest though, which cement his top contender status in my eyes. First, in his most recent fight, he defeated Miocic in a five round main event that was awarded Fight of the Night. Some people made the case that Miocic won that bout, but all three judges gave it to dos Santos. Was it a close fight? Impossible to deny that it was. Did Miocic win? No.
The second, and most important, dos Santos win that sticks out is his UFC debut fight. Back at UFC 90 in 2008, dos Santos debuted in the UFC with a thunderous Knockout of the Night when he obliterated current champ Werdum with an uppercut. The loss sent Werdum packing from the UFC for around three years. Werdum is now the king of the heavyweights, and for his first defense, the best fight for the fans would be one against dos Santos. It gives Werdum a chance to erase that embarrassing loss from his record, and it gives dos Santos a chance to regain the gold that he believes should still be his.
The Case for Stipe Miocic, by Daniel Marino:
This one’s an easy sell for me, and it’s got a pretty simple theme: fresh match-ups. The thing with having a dominant champ like Velasquez is that it causes some repetitiveness. It certainty didn’t help when Velasquez had to miss almost two years due to injury, coming off five consecutive matches with the same two opponents. Like I said in my last piece on Velasquez, the heavyweight division was getting a little stale.
So how do you fix that problem? Simply match the newly minted champ with Miocic. While 32-years-old, Miocic is still relatively fresh in MMA in an exciting way. He only has 15 professional fights to his name, 13 of which have seen him come out the victor. But in those 15 fights, he’s been in there with some of the best heavyweights the UFC has to offer.
Since his disappointing loss to Stefan Struve, Miocic has upset Roy Nelson, beat down Gabriel Gonzaga, and thumped Fabio Maldonado back to the light heavyweight division in less than 40 seconds. And I know what you’re thinking: ‘Didn’t he lose to dos Santos in his next fight?’
Yes, in what is already my favorite heavyweight fight of all time, Miocic came out on the wrong side of the scorecards against dos Santos. It was a back and forth, five round battle, the kind where you can’t help but think that the judges won’t have it wrong regardless of who they give it to. The kind that you don’t expect from heavyweights. For the record, yours truly had it scored 48-47 for Miocic. So yeah, that was definitely one of those losses where the fighter’s stock actually rises, especially considering it could have gone either way and was against one of the greatest heavyweights of this generation.
In his next match, Miocic battered fan favorite Mark Hunt in an impressive performance that was overshadowed by the fact that it was hard to watch such a one sided beat down in the octagon. In the end, I think we’re all a little tired of seeing every heavyweight title match contain either dos Santos or Velasquez. It’s time for some fresh match-ups. It’s time for a new face of the division. On Saturday night, we saw another fantastic revival of a career capped off with a UFC title win. Maybe it’s time we witness the emergence of a new championship level heavyweight.
The Case for Andrei Arlovski, by Stephen Rivers:
Lets get talk of the other three contenders out of the way. Cain Velasquez did nothing to suggest an immediate rematch is in order, and has held the division up for the past five years with his injury problems. Win streak: 0.
Stipe Miocic’s most notable performance is a loss to dos Santos. He beat up Hunt when Hunt looked dreadful. Win streak: 1.
Junior Dos Santos was smashed twice by the guy Werdum just won the title from, and looked far from his best when he returned against Miocic. Win streak: 1.
Now, take a look at Andrei Arlovski. When many wrote him off following a four fight losing streak in 2011, he simply worked harder to rebuild. When few expected him to make it back to the UFC, he found a way to get there. When he was the betting underdog against a former title challenger in “Bigfoot” Silva, he starched him. When most expected him to lose to Travis Browne, Arlovski picked him apart for four-and-a-half minutes before leaving him slumped lifelessly against the cage.
That last performance was the most exciting the heavyweight division has seen in years. Arlovski is a better fighter now than he was ten years ago. He understands his limitations, he knows how to finish, and he remains one of the best strikers in the division.
Did I mention that he also holds a win over Werdum in 2007? That is a significant part of why you should want this fight too, because what Werdum did to Velasquez catapulted him into the “greatest of all time” debate. With wins over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Fedor Emelianenko to add to that, a rematch with Arlovski would be significant. It gives Werdum the chance to scrub one of the losses that is haunting him from his résumé, by beating the best version of Andrei Arlovski we have ever seen.