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By: Rich Hansen, MMATorch Guest Columnist
Despite my hiatus from this site, both writing and audio, I'm still keeping up with the sport and with the site. On top of that, I'm still in charge of compiling the monthly rankings. And since I'm going through the effort to compile the rankings, I still put together my own rankings in each division as well. So with no further adieu, I'll run down my ballot for each division, continuing today with the heavyweight ranks.
1.) Cain Velasquez: Had an injured Cain Velasquez not felt the pressure to fight in the main event of the first ever UFC on Fox event, the UFC would have an undefeated, unchallenged wrecking ball of a heavyweight champion. As it stands, Velasquez has avenged the early KO loss to Junior dos Santos not once, but twice. And both of those fights were among the most the most brutal slaughters in UFC history. To put this into perspective, no heavyweight in the world stands a chance against Junior dos Santos, and dos Santos' only chance against Velasquez would be to catch him with a lucky punch. Also among the most brutal slaughters in UFC are his two massacres of Antonio Silva, the same Silva who dominated Fedor Emelianenko. Velasquez signed with the UFC with a meager 2-0 record, because there was no one at that level who was willing to fight Velasquez. And honestly, if it weren't for the lure of the glory of the belt, I can't figure out why anyone takes a fight with him yet today.
Significant victories: Cheick Kongo, Ben Rothwell, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Silva (2x), Junior dos Santos (2x)
Notable loss: Junior dos Santos
2.) Junior dos Santos: One of the most dominant fighters in his respective division, but that division is the same division Cain Velasquez calls home. Whoops. If the man were an inch or two shorter, he might be able to cut to light heavyweight, and who knows how he'd fare against Jon Jones and the rest of that division. But as it stands, he's the highest rated gatekeeper in the world. He'll destroy any legit contenders put in front of him, which severely limits the number of fighters Joe Silva can reasonably feed to him.
Significant victories: Fabricio Werdum, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga, Roy Nelson, Shawn Carwin, Cain Velasquez, Frank Mir, Mark Hunt
Notable losses (and these are very notable): Cain Velasquez (2x)
3.) Fabricio Werdum: One of the great “What-Ifs” in MMA is this one - What if Werdum would have taken his fight with Junior dos Santos seriously? What if he would have shown up in shape? What if he wouldn't have thrown a fit due to not getting a title shot? But, he didn't take the fight seriously, he did show up to the fight horribly overweight, and JDS did KO him with one of the great uppercuts in the sport's young history. JDS wound up winning the UFC HW championship. Werdum got cut. That said, getting cut allowed Werdum to wind up in Strikeforce, and there he became the man who beat Fedor Emelianenko. And now he's back in the UFC, getting his title shot if he can just get past Travis Browne.
Significant victories: Gabriel Gonzaga (2x), Alistair Overeem, Alexander Emelianenko, Antonio Silva, Fedor Emelianenko, Roy Nelson, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Notable losses: Sergei Kharitonov, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Andrei Arlovski, Junior dos Santos, Alistair Overeem
4.) Travis Browne: If you're going to fight in a cage for a living, it's really hard to imagine a better year than Browne's 2013. He only had to fight for six minutes and some odd seconds, and in those six-plus minutes he KO'd three top shelf fighters. Gabriel Gonzaga ate some elbows, Alistair Overeem ate some hubris courtesy of Browne's foot, and Josh Barnett ate some elbows that were left over from the Gonzaga banquet. If Browne force feeds Werdum some limbs of doom, Cain Velasquez would be very wise to drill the hell out of his takedowns.
Significant victories: Stefan Struve, Gabriel Gonzaga, Alistair Overeem, Josh Barnett
Notable loss: Antonio Silva
And now we get to the chemistry experiments; Barnett, Silva, Overeem, all in a row. Fun with needles, wheeeeeeeeeee.
5.) Josh Barnett: A couple of my favorite MMA What-Ifs involve Josh Barnett. What if Josh Barnett hadn't pissed hot after the Randy Couture fight? Maybe he would've stayed in the UFC for the next decade and a half. Maybe Couture would have dropped to 205 earlier. Maybe Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz would never have been able to get past Couture. Who knows. The other What-If that I like is, of course, What If Barnett hadn't pissed hot right before his scheduled Affliction 3 fight with Fedor Emelianenko.?While the latter is more widely discussed, I like the former much better. Despite his former (?) affinity for testing positive for banned substances, I can't help but like Barnett. Sue me.
Significant victories: Dan Severn, Semmy Schilt (2x), Randy Couture, Alexander Emelianenko, Mark Hunt, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Jeff Monson, Brett Rogers, Sergei Kharitonov, Frank Mir
Notable losses: Pedro Rizzo, Mirko Cro Cop (3x)Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Daniel Cormier, Travis Browne
Fun fact: Josh Barnett tested positive for banned substances for the first time after beating Bobby Hoffman at UFC 34 in November 2001, and was rewarded with a title shot four months later at UFC 36... where he once again tested positive. To the best of my knowledge, Barnett is the only fighter in UFC history to test positive two fights in a row. If you know of another case, please let me know.
6.) Antonio Silva: Yes, he beat Travis Browne, and not too long ago. But the method of victory was a wee-bit hinky, and I'm subjectively dismissing it. Be happy I'm keeping him above Overeem. And don't deny it, you and I both know Silva loses to Overeem seven out of ten times. Silva's very good, but he is what he is; proficient, huge, slow, and dangerous. Nothing wrong with that.
Significant victories: Andrei Arlovski, Fedor Emelianenko, Travis Browne, Alistair Overeem,
7.) Alistair Overeem: From the time Alistair Overeem was beating cans in Japan and winning the K-1 World Grand Prix 2010 Final through a few months after he retired Brock Lesnar, there was no one I enjoyed more than Alistair Overeem. My stoopid cynical self was actually willing to entertain the idea that he was the best heavyweight in the world, and CLEAN, too. What a fool I was. I felt as stoopid as Sally Van Pelt every November First. Overeem's dangerous, of course. But he's slow, predictable, and nearing the end of the line. Another great MMA What-If: What if Alistair wouldn't have been randomly tested by the NSAC that fateful day in 2012? Overeem two years ago had the chops to KO Cain Velasquez. Oh well.
Significant victories: Vitor Belfort, Igor Vovchanchyn (who in his day was much more hithan just the guy whose skull Mirko Crop kicked into orbit), Sergei Kharitonov, Vitor Belfort, Mark Hunt, Fabricio Werdum, Brock Lesnar, Frank Mir
Notable losses: Chuck Lidell, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (2x), Shogun Rua (2x), Fabricio Werdum, Ricardo Arona, Sergei Kharitonov, Antonio Silva, Travis Browne
8.) Stipe Miocic: You know why he was given Junior dos Santos for his next fight? Because dos Santos is the gatekeeper to championship contender status, and Miocic is not a champion contender. Doesn't have the talent. He's good enough to be top-five, not good enough to be champ, and that's true in the parallel universe where Cain Velasquez never took up the sport. Dos Santos can't be booked against legit championship contenders, because he isn't getting a title shot from a win, and said win will kill off a legit threat. Joe Silva sees what Stipe Miocic is, though: a hot fighter whose reputation far surpasses his abilities. A very good heavyweight athlete with fast and accurate hands and decent wrestling, Miocic is certainly one of the ten best in the world. That said, he's got nothing for JDS. Don't believe me, look at the big victories and who he lost to…
Significant victories: Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga
Notable loss: Stefan Struve
9.) Frank Mir: Mir's a legend. Done damn near everything in the sport. First guy to submit Nogueira. First guy to submit Nogueira. Hit the only toe-hold submission in UFC history. Won the UFC HW title. And the interim title later in his career. Beat Lesnar. Has only fought for the UFC since November 2011. Returned to fighting, and top form, after suffering a horrific motorcycle accident. And he's more cooked than thanksgiving dinner. After that other-worldly submission over Nogueira at UFC 140 in December 2011, he's lost to Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, and Alistair Overeem. They're all great, but Mir managed to look good for exactly twenty seconds total in those four fights. Much respect. Much done.
Significant victories: Tank Abbot (the toe hold is sweet), Tim Sylvia, Brock Lesnar, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (2x), Cheick Kongo, Mirko Cro Cop, Roy Nelson
Notable losses: Brandon Vera (losing to Brandon Vera is pretty damned notable), Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, Daniel Cormier, Josh Barnett, and Alistair Overeem
10.) Roy Nelson: A really talented guy who knows how to work the system, it's a shame he values his gimmick over his talent. Nothing irritates me more than Joe Rogan raving about his cardio, then telling me how his cardio is good for a big guy, then telling me how he needs to work on his cardio, then watching him gas out in every fight that goes past four minutes. Wasted talent doesn't make me happy. He's another MMA What-If for you (although it's even more hypothetical than most)… What if Roy Nelson actually gave a s***?
Significant victories: Brendan Schaub, Stefan Struve, Mirko Cro Cop, Cheick Kongo (Nelson is clearly the king of the HW division fighters ranked 11 – 20)
Notable losses: Ben Rothwell, Andrei Arlovski, Jeff Monson, Junior dos Santos, Frank Mir, Fabricio Werdum, Stipe Miocic, Daniel Cormier)
11.) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira: Win or lose, I really hope his fight with Nelson is the man's swan song. Nothing left to prove, and I fear nothing left to offer. One of the three or four greatest heavyweights of all time, his time is behind him. Rather than writing more, just look at the names below, with reverence.
Significant victories: Gary Goodridge, Mark Coleman, Heath Herring (3x), Bob Sapp (back when that was a thing to be proud of. GO WATCH THAT FIGHT), Semmy Schilt, Dan Henderson, Mirko Cro Cop (GO WATCH THAT FIGHT), Sergei Kharitonov, Fabricio Werdum, Josh Barnett, Tim Sylvia, Randy Couture
Notable losses: Dan Henderson, Fedor Emelianenko (2x, 1 NC), Josh Barnett, Frank Mir (2x), Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum
12.) Brendan Schaub: Schaub gets a bad rap. Sure, he's at about his ceiling, but he's fun to watch. Schaub's an underrated grappler with good athleticism and fast hands. In a thin division, that's enough to be notable.
Significant victories: Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop
Notable losses: Roy Nelson, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Ben Rothwell – And if you're asking why Nogueira is a notable loss for Schaub but Schaub isn't a significant victory for Nogueira, please take up a new hobby.
13.) Vitaly Minakov: Mina-Who? Bella-whatnow? Yes, Vitaly Minakov is a top-15 fighter in the world. Sorry, a top-15 heavyweight fighter. Big difference. Beating Cheick Kongo in the manner he did shows you where his ceiling is. It's right about... here. Minakov's a decent enough athlete to go along with his impeccable sambo record, but man, Friday night vs. Kongo was seriously Facts of Life Girls ugly. He needed a much more emphatic win over Kongo to help legitimize both himself as well as Bellator's HW division
Significant victories: Um, maybe Alexander Volkov? Oh, and Cheick Kongo, although that one's best forgotten.
Notable losses: Ain't got none. Don't want none.
14.) Gabriel Gonzaga: I told you heavyweight is thin. Gonzaga's proficient at everything that doesn't involve standing up after being punched in the head, but is just missing those intangibles that would tie all those skills together.
Significant victories: Mirko Cro Cop, Ben Rothwell (admit it, you think of Gonzaga, you think this list would be longer. Nope.)
Notable losses: Fabricio Werdum (2x), Randy Couture, Shane Carwin, Junior dos Santos, Brendan Schaub, Travis Browne, Stipe Miocic
15.) Mark Hunt: It's a damn shame he didn't get to fight Roy Nelson before Junior dos Santos proved that even Mark Hunt's chin is vulnerable to the perfect shot. And who knows what his war with Johnny Testosterone did to his chin, too. You all know the tale of Mark Hunt's career; he won the K-1 World Grand Prix Championship in 2001, and then transferred to MMA in 2004. Shortly after upsetting Wanderlei Silva and Mirko Cro Cop on successive New Year Eve events for PRIDE he lost five in a row in Japan, dropping his MMA record to a horrid 5-6. He forced Dana White to honor the remaining fights on his PRIDE contract after they bought PRIDE, and he promptly went out and got submitted by Sean McCorkle in barely a minute. Rather than quit fighting, he went on an inspiring four-fight win streak. Great story, but easily the most overrated fighter in UFC history. And do I really think he's the 15th best HW in the world? No. I just like being able to write his tale. Great story, mediocre fighter.
Significant victories: Wanderlei Silva, Mirko Cro Cop, Ben Rothwell, Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve
Notable losses (and to be fair, this list contains a freaking who's who of PRIDE): Josh Barnett, Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Melvin Manhoef, Gegard Mousasi, Junior dos Santos
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