With Ben Rothwell out as a title contender in 2016, map out the next year in the Heavyweight Title picture given currently scheduled fights in the top end (Overeem-Arlovski, Werdum-Miocic, Velasquez-Browne). Who’s getting the next shot after Miocic, and who do you expect to emerge as a challenger after that?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Ben Rothwell’s decisive lost has the UFC breathing a little easier, as there are a couple other fighters they’d much rather promote as heavyweight challenger or champion. Alistair Overeem and Cain Velasquez are options 1 and 1A for the UFC at the moment, and they’re the two most obvious contenders with the layout of the heavyweight division. As touched on yesterday, Junior dos Santos needs a few less than likely dominoes to fall his way if he’s going to get a title shot any time soon. That leaves us with four fighters currently scheduled to fight each other as our most likely title challengers.
Overeem fights Andrei Arlovski in May and Velasquez takes the cage against Travis Browne in July. If we’re going with what the odds tell us, Overeem should dispatch of Arlovski and Velasquez should take care of business at UFC 200. This is the UFC’s preferred scenario, as the top two contenders are the two guys whom they’ve sought to push the most toward heavyweight gold. Overeem was one of the UFC’s most high profile acquisitions, being poached early from Strikeforce and fast-tracked to the top. His punishing striking and WWE physique make him very marketable. His path to the championship was initially derailed when he lost three out of four fights after finishing Brock Lesnar, but he’s back on track with three straight victories. Assuming he can avoid getting caught by Arlovski, four in a row should get him a fight against Fabricio Werdum or Stipe Micocic. His past victory against Werdum, albeit in a snoozer of a “fight,” sets up a natural storyline for promotions as well.
The UFC views Velazquez as key to continuing to win over the Latino demographic, and has spent what seems like the last ten years promoting fights between him and Werdum. His latest of many injuries finally set him up against a different opponent, but Dana White and Co would like nothing more than to see him back fighting for the strap. Just given the timing of bouts, it works out better for Overeem to challenge for the title next rather than Velasquez. The title is defended somewhat infrequently, and injuries can always change things as well. If they both keep winning, we could see a UFC dream match up of Overeem vs. Velasquez at the end of 2016 or the beginning of 2017.
Both Arlovski and Browne are natural candidates to fight for the belt if they win, but those aren’t likely propositions right now. If, however, they do, you can plug them into the timelines of Overeem and Velasquez respectively. Arlovski did beat Werdum in the past, and Browne has enough wins in a shallow division you can justify getting him a title fight with a win over former champion Velasquez. Outside of that, there isn’t many obvious candidate. Perhaps Derrick Lewis will continue to knock people silly and make a run for the title, but outside of that it’s mostly just older fighters whose ceilings don’t go quite as high as champion. That is of course, until Jon Jones makes the move from light heavyweight, at which point this division will really be worth talking about.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I think that if Alistair Overeem beats Andrei Arlovski he gets the next title shot. If Arlovski were to win, that opens the door for Cain Velasquez to get the next shot if he beats Travis Browne. That’s only if Velasquez is extremely impressive in victory over Browne, though. He needs to finish him in the first round in explosive fashion, otherwise Arlovski would fight Velasquez with the winner getting the next title shot. If Arlovski wins and Velasquez loses, I think we see Arlovski vs. Junior Dos Santos or Mark Hunt with the winner getting the next title shot. That’s a crazy scenario but the whole division is crazy. No one is out of it, everyone has a chance. It’s almost a free-for-all.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It doesn’t matter who wins between Werdum and Miocic, Overeem will get the title shot provided he can get past Arlovski. The UFC found out the hard way how little the fans care to see Velasquez when there was so little interest to see him get a title shot at UFC 196 and promptly replaced him with Stipe Miocic for UFC 198. Picking up one win over Travis Browne isn’t about to change the perception on Velasquez and the UFC has shown recently they are all about what sells at this point rather than the sporting side of what is right and wrong. Even if they were, Overeem would have four consecutive wins with a victory as opposed to the one Velasquez would be picking up over Browne. If Arlovski succeeds in pulling off the upset, Velasquez will get the shot.
If we want to look further ahead, let’s pretend things go as most of us expect them to with Overeem getting the next title shot and Velasquez pulling out the W over Browne. Nobody wants to see another Velasquez-dos Santos fight, so there is no way they will be paired up again regardless of how much the UFC likes booking rematches. The loser of Miocic-Werdum would face off with one or the other with Mark Hunt being a strong possibility for the other. Hunt may not be considered elite in the minds of many anymore, but he is the best of what is left in terms of possible matchups that would make sense. I also realize that dos Santos has faced and beaten all three of those options already, but name another contender that would make sense for him to face. That’s what I thought. Given dos Santos and Bigfoot Silva were the only people Velasquez faced over a four year stretch (no joke), there are still a lot of fights he could participate in that we have yet to see.
The wild card by the end of the year could be Derrick Lewis. Lewis has been fighting as often as he can and has looked better with each progressive appearance. He still isn’t the most skilled, but his raw power must be taken seriously by all of his opponents. There are already rumors he’ll face Roy Nelson next (a fine matchup) and if he can do that there is a very good chance that he’ll get a fight against a contender. Ruslan Magomedov might be worth keeping an eye on as well once he returns to the cage.
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