September 7, 2016

UFC Fight Night 93: Hamburg Event Highlights Heavyweight MMA's Long-Term Shortcomings

By Raphael Garcia

UFC Fight Night 93 featured a main event that brought together two former UFC Heavyweight Champions in Josh Barnett and Andrei Arlovski. Even though it’s Arlovski that wears the pit bull-esque mouth guard, both of these men could be considered “long in the tooth.” Looking at the UFC heavyweight division and the future of the weight class, one has to wonder what is needed for this division to return to prominence. The answer is an infusion of youth.

Barnett’s win was a throwback to the “Warmaster” of old, as he controlled and submitted Arlovski in the third round of their battle. This win pushed him to 3-2 since returning to the organization in 2013, and he is still a recognizable force. Arlovski, on the other hand, was enjoying a career resurgence of sorts before the three-fight losing streak that has pushed his current run to 4-3.

Even though both men have struggled at points in their return to the Octagon, one interesting thing to point out was that before they fought in Germany, they were both ranked in the Top 10 of the division by the UFC. Unlike the other divisions in the sport, heavyweight suffers from a dearth of new talent. Instead, the top ranks are shuffled among men that have remained stalwarts in the division for an extended period of time. The average age of the entire division is 34 years of age, which is starkly different from many of the other divisions within mixed martial arts.

Only two men in the UFC Top 15 are under the age of 30: Stefan Struve and Ruslan Magomedov, who are due to face each other at UFC 204. Whereas in other divisions within the sport younger fighters eventually begin to replace veterans as they enter their mid-to-late thirties, the heavyweight division is completely different due to the slower pace and style of these fights. This lends itself to allowing men such as Mark Hunt to remain viable threats even as they slow down at this point in their respective careers.

So while fighters such as Barnett, Junior dos Santos, and Cain Velasquez remain top threats to the title, fighters such as Magomedov have a much slower path up the rankings. (Struve would be considered a part of the youth push but he’s been in the UFC since 2009 and has suffered extensive damage from his fights.) It’s a challenge for the UFC to push men such as Luis Henrique, Adam Milstead, and Justin Ledet, as there aren’t enough “gatekeepers” to afford them the opportunity to push through and grab the attention of fans and media. So what remains is a division that continues to devour contenders before they can replace the fighters that have been clustered at the top for a long time.

UFC Fight Night 93 reminded the fight community that the heavyweight division is still here. As the division remains filled with men of yesteryear battling for another opportunity at the UFC crown, there are also younger fighters slowly making moves toward the top of the weight class. The question is whether they will ever reach that level of success if they eventually have to face the men that have dominated the division for years on end.

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UFC Fight Night 93: Arlovski vs. Barnett took place on September 3, 2016 at Barclaycard Arena in Hamburg, Germany.


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