The short-term future of the UFC heavyweight division is clear, with champion Cain Velasquez slated to defend his title against Junior dos Santos some time in the spring of 2011. But beyond that, the division is hard to figure out.
None of the UFC's other big-name heavyweights -- not Brock Lesnar or Shane Carwin or Frank Mir or Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira or Roy Nelson -- currently has a fight scheduled. So as we examine the state of the UFC's heavyweight division, we're looking at a division that's largely up in the air, without a lot of big fights on the schedule.
Next title fight:
Cain Velasquez vs. Junior dos Santos: I realize I'm in the minority here, but I think dos Santos has a distinct advantage over Velasquez in the stand-up department. We haven't seen enough of dos Santos on the ground to know how he'd do with a great wrestler like Velasquez, but I think this is a very competitive bout, and I'd probably slightly favor dos Santos.
Key fights to watch:
1. Stefan Struve vs. Sean McCorkle, UFC 124, December 11: McCorkle is 10-0 but hasn't been tested at all so far in his MMA career, and I have a feeling that the tall and lanky Struve is going to give McCorkle trouble standing up and eventually submit him on the ground. If I'm wrong, though, look out: A big win would firmly establish McCorkle as one of the sport's really promising heavyweights.
2. Matt Mitrione vs. Tim Hague, UFC Fight for the Troops 2, January 22: I have a hard time seeing Mitrione as a heavyweight title contender, but if he beats Hague he'd be 4-0 since finishing up his season of The Ultimate Fighter, and the UFC's heavyweight pool is shallow enough that he'd be ready to jump into the deep end.
Others in the title mix: I really have no idea who the Velasquez-dos Santos winner will fight next, but I hope we get to see some fights involving Lesnar, Carwin, Mir, Nogueira and Nelson soon to help us figure out the future of the division. Those guys need to be in the cage, not on the sideline.
Potential breakout fighter: What could really shake up the UFC's heavyweight division is if one of the Big Three in Strikeforce -- Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko and Alistair Overeem -- could break out of his contract and move into the Octagon. Of the three I think Overeem is the most likely to sign with the UFC, and if he does he'd inject a lot of energy into the division.
Predicted champion at end of 2011: Junior dos Santos
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