• The MMA landscape: The Heavyweights

  • Velasquez and Dos Santos 300x167 The MMA landscape: The HeavyweightsIt is widely accepted that the very best fighters on the planet when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts reside within the UFC. As such, you may as well start by looking at the UFC’s rankings themselves.

    Over the last few years these rankings have been introduced by the UFC, they are voted upon by the media and update after every fight card.

    In this feature, we will look to examine the current top five fighters across every UFC division. We will look at their strengths/weaknesses and discuss what is next for each. Finally, we will then look to throw a UK based fighter into the mix with a view to measuring how the UK fighters measure up against the elite.

    This week we start with the Heavyweight division.

    At a time when Boxing’s heavyweight division is pretty much non-existent, we find ourselves in a situation whereby there are a number of MMA fighters working towards a title shot. However, this may require patience given the Champion, Cain Velasquez’s injury looks set to keep him out until late 2014.

    The Champion – Cain Velasquez

    Strengths: He has long been called “Cardio” Cain and with good reason. There are few men over 205lbs that have the stamina to demolish another human being for 25 minutes straight. When that other human being happens to also be one of the best in the world, that achievement is amplified and just goes to show the incredible endurance that Cain Velasquez possesses.

    Outside of his Cardio, Cain also has great wrestling which as we have often seen, is probably the most dominant base for MMA in recent times. Whilst MMA may have started with Jiu-Jitsu as the dominant art, that mantle has been taken over by wrestling in the last five or so years, and Cain is definitely adept in this department.

    Weaknesses: Despite his ability to sustain an incredible pace for 25 minutes against the very best, Cain is not considered a heavy hitter which for a Heavyweight is a rare thing. However, this lack of power is offset by his enduring ability to land a barrage of punches which will ultimately take their toll and end the fight.

    What’s next: First off Cain faces a long road back to health from a shoulder injury. Whilst he is away the remaining heavyweights will all be jockeying for position to be next in line when he returns. It is not clear who he might face on his return given that it’s not necessarily about earning the shot but more so about being in the right place at the right time to be able to take advantage of any opportunities that arise.

    #1 Contender – Junior Dos Santos

    Strengths: Throughout his UFC career we have seen “Cigano” display incredible knockout power and this has served him well, earning him the UFC title from Cain Velasquez in November 2011. That knockout of Velasquez came just one minute and four seconds into the UFC’s first ever broadcast on Fox, most definitely a shorter night than was originally anticipated by all concerned. Additionally, they say you learn more as a fighter from a loss and whilst that may be a hard truth, in his recent fight with Velasquez we certainly learned that Dos Santos has the heart of a Champion and will keep going, even if his body is failing him.

    Weaknesses: It is perhaps easy to identify Junior’s weaknesses at the moment given his recent loss to Cain which saw him dominated from start to finish for a second time. On the whole, his main weakness would seemingly be his cardio in comparison to Velasquez.

    What’s next: We have now seen Junior’s title aspirations be put on hold for a long time given his losses to Cain and he finds himself in a similar position to Vitor Belfort after he lost to Anderson Silva.  Junior will likely need to put together a string of wins to get back into the title conversation.

    Soa Palelei, coming off a win against Pat Barry could be one option or perhaps someone like Brendan Schaub or Brandon Vera should the UFC need an opponent worth of main event status.  Any of these would be interesting matchups and would be a good starting point for “Cigano” on his way back towards the title.

    #2 – Fabricio Werdum

    Strength: There is no secret that Werdum is a Jiu-Jitsu master and is perhaps most well known for becoming the man to end Fedor Emelianenko’s incredible run. Though his submission victory over the greatest MMA fighter that ever lived was by no means a fluke, his two gold medals at the Abu Dhabi Combat Club Submission Wrestling World Championship are evidence enough of his considerable skill when it comes to grappling.

    Weaknesses: When the UFC decided not to keep Werdum following his loss to an unheralded Brazilian called Junior Dos Santos, his weakness was clearly his striking ability at that time. During his time away from the UFC, he has refined his striking ability to the point whereby he is now able to mix it on the feet.

    As we have seen with Demian Maia, when you become a master at something as intricate as Jiu-Jitsu, it often means that you have the capacity to become great at anything you set your mind to. Whilst Werdum is still on a learning curve, it is definitely a weakness he is all too aware of.

    What’s next: This one is easy as it has been announced that Werdum is slated to fight Travis Browne for the right to fight for the title when Cain is fit and ready to go. This fight has been scheduled for April 19th and may or may not be the main event for that UFC on Fox card, a sign that the UFC wants to give both men sufficient exposure to increase Pay Per View buys when the time does come for the winner to meet Velasquez.

    #3 – Travis Browne

    Strengths: Browne has developed considerably in recent years to become a real force in the Heavyweight division thanks to a combination of size, power and determination. We have seen him get flattened by Overeem, in a position where many referees might have stepped in but Browne justified the decision to allow it to continue by regaining his composure and his feet before landing a front kick to end the fight, in the process showing both his heart and his power.

    Weakness: So far in his UFC career, we have not had a chance to see Travis Browne display any real wrestling/grappling prowess which is always a make or break moment for any striking based fighter. During his successful UFC spell, we have seen him finish his opponents on the feet so that his wrestling and ground game have never been examined by someone in the upper echelons of the division.

    What’s next: As noted above, Travis is set to face off against Fabricio Werdum. This fight should surely see his ground game thoroughly tested like never before and if he were to come through against Werdum, he would undoubtedly deserve to have the next shot at the belt.

    #4 – Daniel Cormier

    Strength: Again, this one really doesn’t need discussing. Cormier entered MMA as an Olympic wrestler having placed 4th in the 2004 games in Athens. Cormier made his debut in 2009 at a Strikeforce challengers event and has not looked back since, going a perfect 13-0  with his wrestling playing a major role, especially in the early going.

    Weaknesses: In the heavyweight division, Cormier is always going to be undersized when it comes to the giants of the division but despite this, he has managed to do just fine thus far. However, Cormier has cited this size differential as one of the reasons behind his decision to switch to Light Heavyweight, hoping that in future he will be looking across at his opponent and not directly up.

    What’s next: As noted above, Cormier is currently undergoing a transition down to Light Heavyweight but he will not get an easy fight to start his run at the title in that division. He is scheduled to face Rashad Evans at UFC 170 on February 22nd which will provide an early indication of his placing in the 205lbs division.

    The UK’s Best – Phil De Fries

    Strengths: Phil is well known for his grappling capabilities and in the past has perhaps been over reliant upon this inside the cage.  We saw in his most recent fight against former Strikeforce champion Brett Rogers just what Phil can do when the fight hits the floor, sinking in the rear naked choke in no time at all.

    Weaknesses: During his run in the UFC, his weakness in the standup game was exaggerated somewhat by the knockout losses to Todd Duffee and Matt Mitrione. Truth be told, in a division of men weighing in over 220lbs you are bound to get caught and with that much weight behind a punch it is easy to get knocked out.

    To say Phil’s standup is a massive weakness would be unfair, we have seen some solid striking from him against Rogers in his recent fight most notably from the clinch and in the latter part of his fight with Oli Thompson where he dropped the former UK strongman with a right hand. Improvement is required to excel at the highest level but not to the extent that some may envisage.

    What’s next: Fresh off the back of his big win over Rogers, he will no doubt be looking for one or two more big name fighters outside of the UFC.  If he gets his wish and he comes through those unscathed then we should be looking for a return to the UFC in late 2014 or early 2015. A good opponent for De Fries could be Karol Bedorf, the current KSW Heavyweight champion, who seems to be awaiting an opponent for the KSW card on the 22nd of March.

    About The Author – Greg Byron

    Greg started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.

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