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By: Eric Hobaugh, MMATorch Contributor
The top ten heavyweight fighters today are by far the best set of heavyweights in the history of the sport. Conversely, they also represent by far the weakest division of fighters in the sport today. When looking at this crop of fighters, I think it is important to remember how far this division has come in the past several years.
It wasn't that long ago that Wesley "Cabbage" Correira was considered one of the best fighters at heavyweight. I am not saying he was not a good fighter (I cannot name a fighter who could take a better punch), but only remembering the guy was one of the best of his era. It is hard to put him into a historical perspective. It's tough to imagine him fighting in the UFC today and being successful, though he is still fighting today on the regional circuit and his last fight was a win in March of this year at the RWE event in Hawaii.
Another way of putting a historical slant to this is to pose this question: At any other time in the sport, could the top ten from other eras compete with the current roster of UFC heavyweights? The answer is a resounding NO. Yes, the sport is relatively new one, but I am confident in that statement. The game has evolved so much and so quickly that there are UFC heavyweights in the top twenty today that would have been champs back in the day.
I will be analyzing the UFC's official top ten heavyweight fighters. I think this is a bit funny for the UFC to have an "official" top ten because historically they make fights that they think will sell with little regard of the fighters standing in the rankings. The best and most recent example of this is UFC 159. Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen for the light heavyweight title? How is it possible for the UFC to have a title fight with a fighter who is not even in the division? While I am getting a little side tracked from my main story, it is an interesting question as to why the UFC has a top ten division.
Regardless, here are their top ten fighters:
10 - Travis Browne
Browne has a good ground game and his stand up and kickboxing are ever improving. At six feet seven inches he normally has a size advantage, but does not usually do a good job fighting tall. He could do a better job with his jab and his leg kicks to keep opponents away, but has not fought the perfect fight yet. He is a good fighter, but will never fight for a UFC title.
9 - Mark Hunt
How can you not root for Mark Hunt? Even casual fans remember him in Pride and know how powerful his hands can be. Hunt is a former K-1 champ and he has the most power in the weight class. He possesses the best chin in all of MMA and his status as the underdog in most every fight is well documented. He is a fun guy to root for and to write about. Will he ever fight for a UFC title? I hope so, but I sincerely doubt it.
8 - Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Nogueira is certainly one of the best fighters ever. He is the only heavyweight to be a Pride and UFC champion. Even though his UFC title was an interim title, who cares? He is a well deserving Hall of Fame fighter who should be invited in tomorrow. I also think that Big Nog's best days are very much behind him. He has one of the best ground games in the weight class and his boxing is crisp and accurate. He will never fight for another title and he should consider retiring and taking his place among the best retired fighters to ever strap on the gloves.
7 - Frank Mir
Mir is a two time UFC Champion who will no doubt be in the Hall of Fame when he retires. His ground game is without a doubt the best at heavyweight. His list of achievements and records is long and impressive. He has shown moments of greatness and moments of terrible weakness in all areas of his game. Mir has had trouble with good wrestlers and strikers, he could never quite figure either out. He has lost two in a row and I feel like at the end of his career. Can he work his way back into title contention? He absolutely can. Will he? He absolutely will not.
6 - Roy Nelson
Nelson is an interesting guy in and out of the Octagon. He looks like a competitive eating champ instead of a championship caliber MMA fighter. He is the former IFL champ and did well when he competed in in 2003 at the Abu Dhabi Submission Wrestling World Championships. His chin is legendary and is a legit threat with his BJJ and stand up. He is a guy that is easy to root for and one that has given Dana White and Zuffa trouble on may occasions. He could very well be a fight or two away from a title shot because the lack of depth in the division. He could also very well win the heavyweight strap because he has one punch knockout power in both of his hands.
5 - Alistair Overeem
Overeem is such a contradiction. He looks like a professional body builder or a male model. He is also one of the best stand-up heavyweight fighters in the history of the sport. His testing positive for banned substances was well documented, and the positive test for many confirmed what they had suspected for years. He won a K-1 championship back in 2010 and has devastating kicks, but in his last fight with Bigfoot Silva he was knocked out. Towards the end of that fight he was in my mind taunting Silva by holding his hands down by his waist. Most fans loved to watch him back in his Pride and Dream days because he has exciting fights, and he has been a top fighter for so long people forget that he is only 32 years old. He will probably win his way into a title shot in the UFC eventually if he can to test clean for the next three years.
4 - Antonio Silva
Antonio Bigfoot Silva carved his name into history as the third person to beat Fedor Emelianenko back in 2011 while he was fighting for Strikeforce. His wins are impressive with names like Fedor, Reem, Travis Browne, and Andrei Arlovski. His losses to Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier are more telling. He can fight competitively against the second tier fighters, but against the best fighters in the world he comes up short. He is scheduled to fight Velasquez at this month’s UFC 160. The first time they fought he was knocked out by Velasquez in the first round, and I think the second fight will end much like the first one. He is a good fighter, but he will never be a UFC Champion.
3 -Fabricio Werdum
Werdum is famous for being the first person to beat Fedor after a ten year run undefeated streak. He is a big heavyweight, but not a huge one. His striking is above average and his BJJ is at a very high level. He is very capable of fighting for and winning a UFC title. With Wins against Andrei Arlovski, Gabriel Gonzaga, Brandon Vera, Antônio Silva, Roy Nelson, and Fedor, he has beaten some of the best fighters in the sport. At 35 he seems to be in his prime and if he is going to earn a title shot it will need to be in late 2013 or early 2014. He has the skills to win a title, but I am not sure he will.
2 - Daniel Cormier
Of all the fighters on this list Cormier has the biggest upside. He is an Olympic caliber wrestler with big power is his striking and his take downs. I think his potential is unlimited if he continues to improve. It is unfortunate that he is a training partner and coach for Cain Velasquez. I think that match-up would be amazing. I also think should be able to drop to 205 he could win a title there as well. If he can learn to use his kicks he should win a title in 2014.
1 - Junior dos Santos
JDS is the ultimate good guy and he has a huge fan base. What’s not to like? He is a good looking kid who seems to treat opponents, training partners, fans, and the UFC with respect. He is good for the sport and even though he lost to Velasquez, he can and will come back and wear UFC gold again. He is too good to be held back from another title shot. He ran through Cro-Cop, Fabricio Werdum, Roy Nelson, Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez, and Frank Mir just to name a few. When he fought Cain he lost in every aspect of the fight, and it will be interesting how he does in his first fight back at UFC 160 against Mark Hunt. I see an eventual third showdown between JDS and Velasquez later this year or early next.
Current Champ: Cain Velasquez
Cain Velasquez seems to be a throw-back fighter. He has a great wrestling base and his coaches and training partners say he is the hardest trained fighter in the gym. Minus the tattoos he looks like a heavyweight boxing champ from the 1940's. In interviews he seems like a genuinely good guy who will not talk smack and always mentions how much he respects his opponents. If he can continue to improve and work as hard as he has been he can remain at the top for a long, long time.
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[Cain Velasquez art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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