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Fightweets: Who deserves the next shot at Fabricio Werdum's UFC heavyweight title?

Esther Lin photo

Remember back in late December, when Alistair Overeem announced himself as the clear-cut next in line for a heavyweight title shot after knocking out Junior dos Santos? That seem a whole lot longer than a month and a half ago, doesn't it?

Since then, we've had Stipe Miocic knock out Andrei Arlovski, Cain Velasquez get injured again, and Ben Rothwell submit Josh Barnett. So the question of who should fight champion Fabricio Werdum, who's also injured at the moment, is wide open.

I got more questions about the heavyweight title picture than anything else on a busy week, so let's start with that and hit up the rest from there.

(Oh, and this will be a Sage-Free Zone, since I already said everything I needed to say on that topic in last weekend's UFC on FOX 18 Aftermath).

Heavyweight hijinks

@johnny_davison: Do you see Ben Rothwell as a legit HW title contender, how does he stand against the top 3?

@Delux247365: Can Rothwell beat the faster, more well rounded Werdum?

@DDock76: With another heavyweight title fight called off, are we better off without Cain at the top of the division?

I'm going to lump all these questions together since the events over the past couple weeks have been dizzying and tie into one another.

There's really no clear-cut choice for the next shot at Werdum's championship. Each of the top three contenders -- Miocic, Rothwell, and Overeem, and maybe not in that exact order -- has something to recommend them and an angle which will sell.

Miocic, of course, spent all of about 24 hours or so thinking he had a title shot before Werdum pulled out of UFC 196. He's won five of six, knocked out Andrei Arlovski, and has three postfight bonuses in his last four fights.

Rothwell has won four fights in a row, the second-longest current active streak in the division to Werdum's six, with all four via finish, including a knockout of Overeem and last weekend's truly sensational submission finish of Barnett.

As for Overeem, you might recall that just a month and a half ago, everyone was screaming for him to get the title shot after he knocked out JDS. He's won three in a row since losing to Rothwell. He's also a free agent and if he plays his cards right, might be able to leverage a guaranteed title shot into his next contract. He's also 1-1 against Werdum, which means a fight between the two could be pushed as a trilogy.

So now you have three guys with solid cases. This could simply come down to a matter of timing. When can Werdum return? Will any of the other guys get antsy and not want to wait?

If I had to put money on it, even though Miocic and Rothwell might have somewhat better cases based on their recent records, Overeem seems to be the best fight for business. If the timing's right, Werdum-Overeem 3, with Miocic-Rothwell as the co-main (and a potential main event substitute if anything goes awry) seems as solid as any other permutation to me.

Either way: When was the last time the UFC had too many qualified contenders to choose from at 265? Some problems aren't bad to have.

As for your questions: 1. and 2. Yes, Rothwell is legit. I'd stop short of calling him a favorite against Werdum, I wouldn't be surprised if he defeated anyone in the top mix; and 3. That's not the phrasing I'd use. We'd be better off with Cain healthy and at his best, because at his best he's on the very short list of the greatest HWs ever. But given the track record, it's unlikely the UFC is going to put him back into a main event position any time soon.

Bellator Bendo

@RuckerYeah: What does Ben Henderson signing with Bellator mean for the sport? For his legacy?

Excuse me for taking a minute to pat myself on the back. But I took a ton of grief here and on Twitter back when Bellator made an offer to Gilbert Melendez (which UFC eventually matched) for suggesting that this showed that free agency had a potential to become a real thing in this sport, given Viacom had demonstrated commitment to the product and had a lot of money to spend. The people who called me an idiot for suggesting this seem to have lost the link to my Twitter page.

Anyway, if there was any doubt left that Viacom isn't just looking for old timers and will sign a still-prime fighter they feel can move ratings numbers and create interest, Henderson is it. Viacom isn't going to commit infinite resources to signing fighters for the sake of doing so, but they're going to take a hard look at each fighter who becomes available and see if an offer makes sense. If you're a fighter in the UFC, are losing money because of the Reebok deal, and, most importantly here, have the balls to fight out your contract and hope things work out in your final fights (which it did for Henderson, Overeem, and Aljamain Sterling, not so much for Matt Mitrione), then you've got options, something which hasn't been the case since Zuffa bought Strikeforce.

As for his legacy, I mean, I know Henderson has taken plenty of guff for going to so many decisions over the course of his career, but there's zero doubt he's a warrior who has never shied away from the toughest competition and is always looking to learn, grow, and accept new challenges. In the shark tank that is 155 pounds, he's fought Donald Cerrone (3X), Anthony Pettis (2X), Frankie Edgar (2X), Gilbert Melendez, Jim Miller, Clay Guida, Nate Diaz, Josh Thomson, and Rafael dos Anjos. Never mind whether he should have gotten the call in some of those fights, which is something out of his hands. That's an insane level of competition. He's never flinched. And when his path to the 155 title got blocked, he went up to welterweight and won two fights there.

Personally, I would have rather seen Henderson return to lightweight at Bellator, where a fight with Will Brooks would have been the most compelling matchup they could have put on. But that's easy for me to tell a 32-year-old who can't IV rehyrdrate anymore to cut weight. Whatever Bendo does from here, his spot as one of the all-time great lighter-weight fighters is already secure.

Return of GSP?

@Cbelcher6711: Do you see the greatest welterweight of all time ever coming back?

Tiki Ghosn? He hasn't fought since 2008 and he hasn't gotten the call from Bellator two years into their legends fights, so at this point ... oh wait. You meant Georges St-Pierre. I'm not claiming to have any insider knowledge on this one, but if I was going with my gut, I'd say yes. He wouldn't have come to Los Angeles to train with Freddie Roach, Firas Zahabi wouldn't be making noise about how good GSP has looked in training, and so on, if it wasn't being seriously considered. And there's absolutely zero chance UnderArmour would have put together a tweet welcoming him back, which was accidentally tweeted out, just for spits and giggles. GSP will be 35 in May and coming up on a "now or never" window if he's ever again going to be the GSP we remember or something close to it. We've seen enough smoke, there's got to be a fire somewhere out there.

Title shot for Hendricks?

@MikeJBknows: How impressive does Johny Hendricks have to look in a win to shoehorn himself into a title shot?

"Shoehorn?" Is that a crack at Hendricks' weight? Look, Hendricks had absolutely the right response to his UFC 192 weight-cutting catastrophe, when everyone (myself included) was seeing he needed to go to 185. He changed his diet, his routine, and he showed up for his UFC Fight Night 82 main event against Stephen Thompson in good shape and at 170, not evening needing the extra pound to hit the limit. So in terms of doing what he needed to do to prove his commitment, Hendricks was on point.

That said, the UFC isn't likely to rush him back into a title shot regardless what happens Saturday night. For one, they're going to want see Hendricks make weight multiple times before they give him another big push. For another, the line in front of Hendricks, who has one victory in nearly two years, includes a potential St-Pierre return, Carlos Condit, and Tyron Woodley, the man he was scheduled to fight before his weight cut went awry at UFC 192. Best-case scenario for Hendricks coming out of Saturday would be to get in position to get that fight with Woodley after all.

Cowboy up

@auggie85: When you heard Cowboy v. Cowboy, Were you hoping that the @ufc cloned @Cowboycerrone to fight himself?

Yes. Can you say "Greatest fight of all-time?" But seriously, just like Cerrone managed to roll his truck this week and apparently went straight from there to his workout, the UFC came out of the news that Tim Means had to withdraw from his Feb. 19 main event against Cerrone due to an apparent doping violation with a pretty solid backup. "Cowboy" Alex Oliveira doesn't just share Cerrone's nickname, he also shares his willingness to fight anyone, anywhere. Oliveira fought five times in 2015, compiling a 4-1 record. He has 11 finishes among his 13 wins.  Oliveira has earned this opportunity in the limelight and has the right dance partner. Should be a good one.

Cerrone at WW

@SergioMontana12: Do you think Cerrone will stay at 170 now?

Good question. Remember that just a couple years back, Cerrone toyed with the idea of dropping down to 145. If Cerrone is looking at making a serious run for another title, my gut feeling is the size difference will be a bit too much when he gets to the top guys at welterweight. If he's looking at pursuing a Rich Franklin-style "I'll just take the best and highest profile fights, regardless of the weight class or title implications" approach, which is something he's certainly earned at this point, then he'd be best served going wherever is needed at the time.

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