The heavyweights in any combat sport have always held the highest level of interest and prestige. Perhaps it is the idea that the heavyweights are the biggest and strongest men competing, the kind you love to watch but would hate to face in real life. The UFC heavyweight division has been the most hyped but the least skilled division in the company. When Randy Couture came out of retirement to face the champion Tim Sylvia in 2008, the division was anemic.
Even now, according to the UFC website, there are 28 fighters in the heavyweight division as compared to 33 light heavyweights, 46 middleweights, 58 welterweights, 53 lightweights, 45 flyweights, and 41 bantamweights. Of the 28 heavyweights, very few have the skills to be popular with fans, much less compete for the championship.
Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovik has been a massive disappointment and Minotauro Nogueira was seriously injured and probably out of the sport for good after having his arm and shoulder damaged in his last fight. Fighters like Roy “Big Country” Nelson, Cheick Kongo and Stefan “Skyscraper” Struve have garnered attention but simply don’t have the skills to compete in the upper echelon of the division while up and coming fighters Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione both stumbled in their last fights. The list of exciting fighters to watch is actually dwindling which makes the upcoming fight between Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem at UFC 141 on December 30, 2011, a very important fight for the division.
Overeem brings new hope that there are quality heavyweights that have yet to make the transition into the UFC. If Overeem, the Strikeforce heavyweight champion, can do as well as some of the other Strikeforce crossovers such as Dan Henderson and Nick Diaz, it would suggest that there is room in the UFC for other talented fighters from other promotions. If he can beat Lesnar who is by far the biggest draw for the division, he would be propelled in both divisional standings and in the minds of the fans. He would also be the natural choice to face the UFC heavyweight champion Junior Dos Santos, which could be an epic battle, the kickboxer (Overeem) versus the boxer (Dos Santos). But Overeem has a history of avoiding big fights. He dropped out of the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix, stating that he didn’t feel he had enough time to recover from his last fight and train adequately for the next match.
Now, after signing with the UFC he claimed that he was offered a title shot but that would have forced him to sit out for at least six months. He opted instead to face Lesnar, but recently he skipped his drug test for the Nevada State Athletic Commission, claiming that he was going to visit his ailing mother, but stirring up rumors of steroid use. The question remaining is whether he is ready to face the former UFC champion – Lesnar says no.
Brock Lesnar is the archetype of the division. His huge frame and blonde flat top are iconic in the fighting world. If he can overcome his apparent lack of skills in the stand-up game he could be one of the most dominant MMA fighters in the heavyweight division for years to come. He’s a great spokesman for the sport and the division, articulate as a commentator and not afraid to speak his mind about his opponents. He’s very motivated to come out and win, going so far as to say about Overeem, “He’s in over his head. He doesn’t really understand the beast that he’s going to enter the Octagon with.” The question is, will the surgery from his diverticulitis affect his athleticism? His biggest strengths by far are his explosiveness, speed and world class wrestling. His jiu-jitsu has improved as well, but all of that matter little if he can’t avoid the dangerous kick-boxing of Overeem.
With striking surging to the forefront of dominant skills in the heavyweight division, the Lesnar vs. Overeem fight will also answer the question of whether a pure wrestler like Lesnar can continue to compete at the highest level of the sport. Both winner and loser will be facing hungry opponents such Frank Mir and Shane Carwin, both of whom want to take another run at the title and will most likely be matched against the loser of the Lesnar vs. Overeem bout, while the winner fights Dos Santos for the championship.
This post is contributed by Jeff Herbst. Jeff co-founded FightLaunch.com and has been an MMA junkie since the early days of the UFC. When he isn’t writing about MMA you can probably find him talking shop about baseball, he has an odd passion for wooden baseball bats.
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