February 22, 2017

UFC: Mapping Out the Heavyweight Division

By Adam Martin

The heavyweight division is currently one of the most exciting weight classes in the UFC, with a number of fighters coming off of impressive wins chasing the title belt currently held by Stipe Miocic. Last month, I wrote a piece where I discussed some of the matchups I wanted to see made. The UFC threw a wrench into my suggested plans by booking some of the fighters I mentioned into other matchups instead, but that's OK since there are now other fighters available for booking.

So if I were UFC matchmakers Mick Maynard and Sean Shelby, this is what I would do:

First off, we already know Miocic is rematching Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 for the heavyweight title. This is the fight I would have booked as well, as it makes all sorts of sense. First off, JDS already beat Miocic in one of 2014's best fights, and Miocic will now have the opportunity to avenge the loss as a champion. This is the perfect heavyweight main event for the Dallas pay-per-view (everything is bigger in Texas!) and I think it was a no-brainer for the UFC to book it, as Miocic needs an opponent and JDS is deserving of a title shot coming off of a win over Ben Rothwell in his last fight.

The UFC also booked Rothwell against Fabricio Werdum as the co-main event. Personally I had other plans in mind for Rothwell, but I'm fine with this matchup because it serves as insurance in case either Miocic or JDS gets hurt -- in that case, Werdum can step into the main event slot -- and also because it's a really good fight between two top-five heavyweights. I personally would have been fine with Werdum getting a title shot coming off of his win over Travis Browne, but it's clear the UFC is punishing him for refusing to fight as a short-notice replacement at UFC 207 after Cain Velasquez got injured. So for Werdum this is the next-best thing, and a win over Rothwell would likely garner him that title shot he wants anyways.

I had actually proposed Rothwell fight Francis Ngannou, but after the UFC gave Rothwell to Werdum, clearly that's not going to happen. So now the UFC has to figure out what to do with Ngannou. A lot of people want to see him face Derrick Lewis, but I would rather see those two head down separate paths, as I will explain below. Ngannou called out Cain Velasquez after his last win over Andrei Arlovski, and while I originally thought it was too big of a step up, the more I think about it, the more this fight makes sense. Velasquez, as good as he is, cannot stay healthy, but if he is healthy he's arguably the top heavyweight on the planet. With a win over Ngannou, Velasquez could step right back into a title fight, but if Ngannou wins, that legitimizes him and would obviously earn him a title shot. As good as Velasquez is, Ngannou is also very good, and at this point of time he would actually have a good chance to win this fight.

That next brings us to Lewis, who is now on a six-fight win streak after knocking out Travis Browne this past weekend at UFC Fight Night 105. Lewis has the longest win streak in the division, but he is still behind those top guys in the division and needs a top-five win to truly put himself into the title mix. Lewis called out Mark Hunt, and I think it makes sense for Lewis to fight the winner of UFC 209's Hunt vs. Alistair Overeem fight next. Whether it's Hunt or Overeem, either would make for a great fight for the fans, and either would be a massive win for Lewis. If Lewis has his eyes dead set on Hunt, however, then that's a great fight to make win or lose, and then if Velasquez isn't healthy enough to compete this summer, the UFC could give Overeem that fight against Ngannou instead. It's a win-win situation regardless.

After this elite tier of heavyweights, you have Josh Barnett (suspended), Andrei Arlovski (four straight losses), Stefan Struve (injured), and Roy Nelson (gatekeeper). These guys are all great to have around in case of injuries to the top eight or nine guys, but otherwise shouldn't be part of the top, elite group of heavyweights.

So to sum up, these are the fights that make sense to me:

Miocic vs. Dos Santos
Rothwell vs. Werdum
Ngannou vs. Velasquez (or Overeem, depending on Velasquez' health)
Lewis vs. Hunt or Overeem

The UFC heavyweight division is the best it's ever been, and the matchmakers have a great problem on their hands here. Let's see what matchups they come up with next.

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