Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, with a pro record of 17-4, has a chance to make a big statement against former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem at UFC 156 this Saturday night at the Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas. If Overeem wins, it is expected that he will be next in line for a heavyweight championship title shot at Cain Velasquez. However, this is one of those fights that isn’t necessarily of equal benefit to both contestants.

Bigfoot Silva is coming off a somewhat unexpected win over a favored Travis Browne, who came into the fight with a 13-0-1 record, having never been defeated. Unfortunately for Browne, early in the first round, he tore a hamstring, which took his game from “light on the feet” to “easy target” for the big Brazilian. At about three-and-a-half minutes into the fight, Silva absolutely dominated Browne against the cage with punishing blows, earning a knockout victory. This win took his UFC record to 1-1.

Although the win over Browne was a great one for Silva, he came into the fight on a two-fight losing streak. Granted, the two losses were to Strikeforce champ Daniel Cormier and a then between-belts UFC Champion Cain Velasquez.

Bigfoot, while being new to UFC action, is an eight-year veteran of professional MMA, holding prior wins over Andrei Arlovski, Mike Kyle and the once-mythological Fedor Emelianenko, so he is no stranger to world-class opponents. He is currently a member of the famed Black House MMA team and holds black belts in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, judo and karate. His skills and experience are there, but he still has something left to prove before getting a title shot at Velasquez.

Silva’s wins are almost exclusively by first- or second-round knockout or TKO. In fact, approximately 70 percent of his wins are by some form of knockout. He is aggressive in his attacks and his 6-foot-4 frame puts him in the lower mid-range height of heavyweight contenders. So, his size is average for his division and his style of finishes pretty much falls right in line with the other top heavyweights.

At this point, one has to look at what else is going on in the division, should Silva win, because there are some big match-ups on the horizon.

The undefeated Cormier looks set to get a title fight, should he beat Frank Mir in April. However, this is no easy task. Mir is looking to avenge his first loss in two years, which came to Junior dos Santos last May. Mir is also seemingly on his way to retirement, given that he has a family that he is focusing more on after a long, successful career. Mir is not the type of guy to lay down on his way out. He is very proud of himself and will be looking to let the fireworks fly against Cormier. If Cormier wins, and Silva beats Overeem, the champ will still be in line ahead of the Brazilian.

Even before the Cormier-Mir fight, there will be the March match-up between Stefan Struve and Mark Hunt. Both fighters are on UFC winning streaks.

In the last year and a half, the 24-year-old Struve did a ton of growing up, taking out Pat Barry, Dave Herman, Lavar Johnson and, most recently, Stipe Miocic. He has earned three “of the Night” honors in those four fights, with two submissions and two TKOs. The youngster is a big finisher looking to move up the ladder quickly. A win over Hunt could get him a title shot.

Hunt, on the other hand, is riding a two-year, three-fight winning streak, which includes early knockouts of Chris Tuchscherer and Cheick Kongo. He hasn’t quite faced the same level of competition as Struve has recently, but a win over Struve could easily put the New Zealander one fight away from a shot. Most likely, a win over Struve, depending on how it goes down, will not be enough to put Hunt next in line over Silva.

Another big match-up, currently slated for June, is the The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 2 coaches’ battle between Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo “Big Nog” Nogueira. Werdum is on a two-fight winning streak in his return to UFC action with victories over Roy Nelson and Mike Russow. The BJJ superstar is widely considered to be in the top five among heavyweights, and a win over Big Nog could easily make him next in line for a title shot, depending on how the other fights play out.

Nogueira is in a similar position as Hunt. Mostly due to history, plus the fact that he is only 4-3 in the last five years, he would probably have to fight at least one more time before getting a title shot. While the Nogueira brothers have always been some of the most durable fighters in all of MMA, time is not on Big Nog’s side. He will be 37 years old by his next fight, and if he had to fight one more time before getting a title shot, he could be well into his 38th year by the time that happened.

So, breaking down the division, things don’t look too bad for Silva, should he get the win against Overeem. But it seems like there are a couple of guys who haven’t been mentioned yet.

Roy “Big Country” Nelson, while not being included in most top-10 lists, is not to be counted out. No matter how out-of-shape he appears or how much he complains about his bosses, the guy has never been stopped in the UFC. In fact, he’s only been stopped once in 25 fights, and that happened about four-and-a-half years ago against Andrei Arlovski. On the other hand, in every other one of his victories in the UFC, Nelson has won by knockout over guys with last names like Schaub, Struve and Filipovic, to name a few. Big Country was supposed to face Shane Carwin in December, but Carwin had to pull out with an injury. Instead, Nelson took out Matt Mitrione on short notice. If Nelson got a shot at a big-name guy and delivered one of his signature knockouts, he could even be in line for a title shot.

Another name—the biggest of the conversation—is Junior dos Santos. Had dos Santos won a couple rounds in his second match against Velasquez, he could have gotten a rematch—a rubber match in effect—to settle the score. Unfortunately for him, the lopsided win by Velasquez seemed to prove what a lot of folks already thought: that the first meeting, when dos Santos won by a quick first-round knockout, was a fluke. Dos Santos is definitely in a position to get another title shot, but chances are that he will need to win another fight first.

For Silva, it all boils down to the fates of two other heavyweights. If Cormier and Struve were to lose, there is a chance that just because of timing, Silva could get the next shot at Velasquez. Since Velasquez came out fairly unscathed in his five-round dismantling of dos Santos, the UFC brass will most likely try to put something together for summertime, so as not to keep the belt in idle for too long. That rules out the winner of Werdum-Nogueira and is cutting it really close for the winner of Cormier-Mir. Struve could probably get a shot if he keeps on his path of winning, because he will have enough time to get ready for a shot at Velasquez.

After looking at the big picture, the Overeem-Silva fight seems more important than ever, and it could reshape the heavyweight division for at least the next year, if not longer. While it is known that a win over Silva will assure Overeem that next shot, Silva might be closer than originally thought to earning his own opportunity to fight for UFC gold. Plus, one has to know that Silva has a major grudge match in his sights.

In their last meeting at UFC 146 in May, Velasquez laid one of the biggest, bloodiest beatdowns in MMA history on the proud Brazilian. At the end of that fight, Silva looked like he got in a fight with a rabid chainsaw. His face was so badly beaten that he was hardly recognizable. No matter how proud of a fighter anyone is, that image is not one he wants on his resume, unless he delivered it. At this point, whether he would win or not, Silva needs that fight.

On the surface, Antonio Silva may look to be a long way from a UFC heavyweight title shot, but, if things go his way, it may happen sooner than people think.

Photo: Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (Ryan Loco/Heavy MMA)

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Dan Kuhl
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