What fights are next for Stipe Miocic and Fabricio Werdum given the result of Saturday’s UFC 198 main event, and why?
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
The heavyweight division in the UFC has been bereft of a marketable star since Cain Velasquez pounded Brock Lesnar’s face en route to the title at UFC 121 in 2010. The lack of a dominating figure, and infrequency with which the title has been defended, has left the promotion’s biggest division one of its least interesting. While the surprising upset of Fabricio Werdum by Stipe Miocic doesn’t do anything to change that short term, it does set up some more interesting fights than the unnecessary rematches we were headed toward if Werdum had retained.
Werdum has gone on the record saying he wants a rematch (I can’t think of the last fighter who didn’t say that after losing the belt), but there’s no reason for it. Werdum wasn’t a dominant champ who defended his title a bunch of times. His match against Miocic wasn’t close or particularly good. At 38, Werdum might not have a lot of time to work his way back to a title shot, but that’s just where he is now. As far as Miocic goes, picking his next opponent is pretty easy. Alistair Overeem is the #2 ranked contender, and riding a four fight winning streak. His last two opponents were also top ranked in the division, and both former UFC Heavyweight Champions. Overeem finished them off both by knockout. A fight between Cleveland’s finest and the Reem has the potential to be a high level striking affair between two competitors that pack a lot of power. It also works out great from a timing perspective. The winner also sets up an intriguing bout against Cain Velasquez, should he defeat Travis Browne at UFC 200.
Werdum’s opponent isn’t quite as clear, but there’s a few good options for him. While the UFC doesn’t usually match fighters coming off of losses against fighters coming off of wins, the lack of depth in this division makes it a lot easier to do. Having Werdum square off against Junior dos Santos makes great sense at the moment. A win against JDS could conceivably get Werdum back to a shot at the belt, and would get him very close if it did not. Likewise, a win for dos Santos could position him for another crack at the title, one that seemed almost unfathomable a short time ago. If the UFC doesn’t want to go with dos Santos, Andrei Arlovski, Ben Rothwell, and Josh Barnett are all worthy candidates coming off of losses.
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
In a just world, Miocic is fighting Alistair Overeem in late summer or early fall. Realistically, Cain Velasquez is getting the shot over Overeem if he defeats Travis Browne at UFC 200. The UFC hasn’t suddenly stopped wanting to break into Latin America, so they have no motivation to not give Velasquez the shot that he was supposed to have in February against Fabricio Werdum. If Browne pulls off the upset against the former champ, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Browne get the shot over Overeem, too. Consider it a parting gift to Ronda Rousey for bumping the company’s valuation up by a few billion dollars just in time for them to sell the company. Gifting a title shot to Rousey’s Bryan Caraway fits right in with Zuffa’s modus operandi when it comes to rewarding Friends of Dana.
Is it possible that the UFC goes against their own financial best interest and gives Overeem ths shot? Sure. Who know; maybe it was even written into his new contract. But remember this: if Browne gets the next title shot, he does hold an impressive round 1 KO victory over Overeem. And don’t think that reasoning won’t be used to prop up the decision if it goes down in that manner.
As to Werdum, how about Andrei Arlovski? The rematch can’t be as awful as the original, can it? How about Ben Rothwell, giving Rothwell the fight he so desperately wanted (up until about 11 PM Kenosha time on May 14). How about Stefan Struve, in the rare loser vs. winner matchup. Let’s not forget that Struve has a KO over the new champion, and who better to gate-keep than the guy Miocic just knocked out. Lord knows that Zuffa would love to see a younger heavyweight contender emerge from the pack.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
It’s possible that Werdum gets an immediate rematch in the wide-open heavyweight division, but it’s not all that likely. The most likely scenario sees Alistair Overeem getting the title shot against Miocic and Werdum fighting Cain Velasquez with the winner getting the title shot after that. The UFC could throw Junior Dos Santos into the mix as well, especially if Velasquez continues to suffer injury woes.
DAYNE FOX, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
I just hope that Miocic proves to be a fighting champion, something that we can’t exactly label Werdum (waiting eleven months before his first attempt at a defense) or Velasquez (don’t get me started). A battle with Alistair Overeem is the one that everyone seems ready to see and I totally agree with that sentiment. Overeem has moved past his slow start in the company to become a bonafide title contender just as the UFC had always envisioned. Miocic couldn’t have advertised his power in a better way than he did in KOing the former champion as he was running backwards, and it is no secret that Overeem is amongst the hardest hitters in the sport. Not just the era or his division… ever. Anyone else think the chances of an awesome highlight reel between these two is more than just a little bit salivating?
I’ll bet that Werdum will be a bit more active now that he no longer possesses his belt which leads me to believe that he won’t want to wait around for Junior dos Santos to heal up from surgery despite that being the most marketable fight for him at the moment. That leaves only one other fight that makes sense in my mind and that is Ben Rothwell. Rothwell is like Werdum in that he is looking for an immediate opportunity to get back on track. Rothwell represents on of the old guard whom Werdum has never fought making it the right time for them to put it together before riding off into the sunset.
[Photo (c) Mark J. Rebilas via USA Today Sports]
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