September 7, 2016

UFC Fight Night 93: Matchmaking Options For the UFC's Heavyweight Division

By Adam Martin

The UFC heavyweight division always has constant turnover at the top of the heap, and that certainly remains true following UFC Fight Night 93, which took place Saturday in Hamburg, Germany. In the card’s main event, former heavyweight champions Josh Barnett and Andrei Arlovski turned back the clock and delivered an exciting, thrilling headlining fight for the fans in attendance at Barclaycard Arena. The fight was back-and-forth for the majority of the first and second rounds, but eventually Barnett was able to get the fight to the floor and use his vaunted submission game, becoming the first man to submit Arlovski, taking him out with a third-round rear-naked choke.

The card overall wasn't very good, and there wasn't much competition for the post-fight bonuses, but it says something about Barnett's performance that he won both a share of Fight of the Night award (as did Arlovski) and a Performance of the Night award. Double-bonus nights are rare in the UFC, so kudos to Barnett for putting on a great show, and sending the fans in attendance home happy knowing that at least the main event delivered, because most of the undercard sure didn't.

Getting back to Barnett, his win over Arlovski was much-needed in a heavyweight division that is constantly changing, and it keeps him fully entrenched as a top-10 fighter in his division. Considering it's a division where many fighters have wins over fighters ranked higher than them but losses to fighters ranked lower, and vice versa, one big win can catapult a fighter into the top 5. The win over Arlovski won't put Barnett in the top 5 just yet, but he' wouldn’t be far off of it with another win against whoever he fights next.

As far as the rest of the heavyweight division goes, it's a bit of a mess right now, but I'm going to try and figure it out:

This upcoming weekend at UFC 203, UFC Heavyweight Champion Stipe Miocic goes for his first title defense against Alistair Overeem. The winner, obviously, will stay at the top of the heap in the division. But don't forget the co-main event also features a clash of top-10 fighters, as former champ Fabricio Werdum fights Travis Browne in a rematch. This is an important fight for both men, but especially for Werdum, as a second consecutive loss, especially at his age and considering he's already reached the top of the division, would eliminate him getting another title shot anytime soon. So he desperately needs to win if he wants to get another crack at the belt.

If I was UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, I would pair up the Miocic-Overeem winner with former champ Cain Velasquez at UFC 207 this New Year's Eve. As long as Velasquez is healthy, he absolutely deserves to fight for the title again, so knock on wood that he stays healthy.

As for the winner of Werdum-Browne, I would match up the winner with Junior dos Santos, and I would book it as the co-main event on the UFC 207 card, which would set up the next title fight for early 2017.

As far as Barnett goes, I would match him up with Mark Hunt (who will be coming off a No Contest to Brock Lesnar once the commission overturns the result due to Lesnar's failed USADA drug test) in a rematch of their PRIDE fight from ages ago. I think it would be an exciting fight that the fans would love, and I would try booking it as the five-round main event of a card in Japan, where both Barnett and Hunt are loved by the fans.

We shouldn't forget about Ben Rothwell, either. I would match Rothwell up with either the loser of Miocic-Overeem or the loser of Werdum-Browne. Whichever one wasn’t booked against Rothwell would be matched up with Derrick Lewis, who will be deserving of a step up in competition if he can get by Marcin Tybura at UFC Fight Night 97 in the Philippines (it's a fight the UFC wants him to win, so I'll assume he gets the victory).

Finally, I would match up the winner of Roy Nelson vs. Antonio Silva with the winner of Stefan Struve vs. Ruslan Magomedov. And I would give Francis Ngannou a date against Andrei Arlovski, as Ngannou deserves a step up at this point, and a win over big name like Arlovski would legitimize him.

So to sum things up:

Miocic-Overeem winner vs. Velasquez
Werdum-Browne winner vs. dos Santos
Barnett vs. Hunt
Miocic-Overeem loser vs. Rothwell
Werdum-Browne loser vs. Derrick Lewis
Nelson-Silva winner vs. Struve-Magomedov winner
Ngannou vs. Arlovski

That's the entirety of the top-15 fighters in the UFC's official rankings, plus the champion, all with their fights booked for the foreseeable future. Obviously an injury or two would change plans, but overall, this is a very nice mix of mostly fresh bouts with few rematches for the most part, and every fight proposed here is exciting, in my opinion.

With Joe Silva, the long-time UFC matchmaker, leaving the company at the end of the year, it will be interesting to see what sort of plans the new matchmaker has for the division, and it will be interesting to see if whatever matchups that person decides on look anything like the matchups I've proposed.

At the end of the day, the UFC heavyweight division is constantly changing, and one punch can change the entire complexion of the weight class. We'll see what happens this weekend at UFC 203, as that will set up the division's next bouts going forward, but whatever happens, hopefully the two heavyweight bouts on tap will be as exciting as Barnett vs. Arlovski was.


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

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