This year is coming to a close, and 2016 was quite the eventful year, in both good ways and bad ways. This was true in the world of sports as well as the real world.
Cleveland got their first major sports championship in over 50 years when the Cavaliers won the NBA Championship. The Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time in over a hundred years. Conor McGregor became the first dual-champion in UFC history when he won the UFC Lightweight Championship to go along with his UFC Featherweight Championship. Those were among the great moments.
Depending on your viewpoint, the fact that several new UFC Champions were crowned in 2016 was also a good thing. I liked it quite a bit as it added even more drama to every title fight and made you want to watch even more.
I prefer to focus on the positive, so I won’t dwell too much on any of the negatives in 2016, but one negative that kept rearing its ugly head over and over was the inability of some fighters to stay healthy.
Some high-profile fighters had to pull out of big fights. UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier pulled out of a title fight against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson due to injury. Luke Rockhold pulled out of a fight against Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. Cain Velasquez pulled out of a fight in February 2016 against Fabricio Werdum.
Velasquez would go on to defeat Travis Browne later in the year, which set up another fight with Werdum at UFC 207. However, the Nevada State Athletic Commission has refused to grant Velasquez a license to fight, calling him “medically unfit.” Velasquez had back surgery scheduled for days after the fight and talked in an interview about how much pain he’s been in and how he manages it. This is extremely unfortunate for Velasquez fans as well as himself.
Here’s a guy who could have gone down as a Top 3 All-Time Heavyweight. There’s some who would argue that he’s at that level already. I don’t agree with that, but that’s just a personal opinion. What is a fact, though, is that this guy has had his career completely derailed by injuries. Whether that’s because of his training style, fight style, bad luck, genetics making his body predisposed to injuries, or a combination of all those, he hasn’t been able to reach his full potential.
Now, it’s fully possible that Velasquez is able to put together a long stretch of good health, and I hope he can. Not as a fighter, but just as a person in general. I’ve seen far too many athletes have their careers ended or shortened because of injury. This is especially true when you start talking about back surgery. Velasquez is only 34 years old, so I hope he can overcome this, but at the same time you can say that he’s already 34 and having back surgery and that doesn’t sound good.
I’m an optimist so I think Velasquez will return and win the UFC Heavyweight Title once more before his career is over. If he’s able to do that, then I think you would put him among the Top 3. Well, maybe Top 4. For the record, my own personal list of Greatest Heavyweights Ever are…
1. Fedor Emelianenko
2. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
3. Fabricio Werdum
I would be tempted to put Mirko Cro Cop on there as well, but that might be bias on my part, as I’ve always been a huge Cro Cop fan.
Anyway, if Velasquez is able to win the UFC Heavyweight Title again, I would have him at least tied with Werdum at number three. As you can see, I mainly favor longevity. So far, I would classify Velasquez as a streaking rocket that experienced engine trouble and had to call off any further missions. I would certainly put Velasquez in the conversation, but I don’t think he’s done enough for long enough to unseat any of the guys I mentioned. This is all relative, though, especially in the Heavyweight Division where things are very wide open. I don’t know if Velasquez can find good health, but all of us fight fans hope so. We’ll have to wait to see if that happens, but that wraps up 2016 for me. Happy Holidays to all.
NOW CHECK OUT LAST WEEK’S HYDEN’S TAKE: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly from Bellator 169 and UFC on FOX 22
Comments and suggestions can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow Frank on Twitter at @hydenfrank.