The last few weeks may have been the busiest in the history of the UFC’s heavyweight division. Yet even with nearly every fighter in the promotion’s top 10 in the news in some form or another since UFC 160, there’s still some work to be done in the UFC’s most dangerous division.

While reigning champion Cain Velasquez and top contender Junior dos Santos took care of business at UFC 160 to set up their inevitable rubber match for the title, UFC matchmaker Joe Silva has quietly molded the rest of the division into shape. Even though Velasquez and dos Santos have had a stranglehold on the division ever since Velasquez won the belt from Brock Lesnar in late 2010, the division has never had as many big names and former title contenders as it does right now.

Sometimes it may feel like the remainder of the division is fighting for third-place honors, but the level of talent in the UFC’s largest weight class has improved dramatically since the UFC shifted the remainder of Strikeforce’s heavyweight division under the its own banner over the last couple of years. This influx of talent has given Silva a lot to play with while sorting out the mess that is heavyweight title contention.

Without including dos Santos, who is the clear-cut No. 1 contender, the UFC still has over a half dozen fighters that could see themselves fighting for a heavyweight championship within the next 12 months. Luckily for fight fans, the majority of these fighters are booked to fight one another at some point this summer.

Match-ups like Alistair Overeem vs. Travis Browne and Josh Barnett vs. Frank Mir are bound to have a huge effect on the heavyweight title picture when they take place this August. Roy Nelson is suddenly becoming a dark-horse favorite to earn a title nod with a few more wins, and Daniel Cormier is currently stuck on the sidelines, despite being the second-ranked fighter in the division. Obviously, the heavyweight division is full of opportunities at the moment, and this summer should provide us with plenty of answers in regards to who is ready for the next shot at the title.

However, in the midst of all the heavyweight bouts being made, the upcoming match-up between top-10 heavyweights Fabricio Werdum and Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira has almost been forgotten. Although Werdum and Nogueira may not have been given the same attention as some of their heavyweight counterparts over the last few weeks, their UFC on Fuel TV 10 fight is nearly upon us. The winner of that fight has a chance to become a major contender for the next shot at the belt.

The match-up between Nogueira and Werdum has been set for months now, with the two coaching opposite each other in the second season of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil. Yet, the lack of hype for this fight is a bit surprising. Werdum is ranked in the top five of the division. After shellacking Nelson and Mike Russow in the first half of last year, Werdum seemed primed for a big-time fight in his next bout. However, the year-long layoff for “Vai Cavalo” has killed a lot of the momentum he gained after his return to the promotion last February. Even though a win for Werdum will likely lead to a No. 1 contender bout, his fight against Nogueira has largely flown under the radar.

There’s no obvious reason for why Werdum and Nogueira have been ignored in favor of the other top heavyweights, but it may be due to Nogueira’s noticeable decline over the last few years. Nogueira has long been considered one of the top heavyweights in the sport and his Hall-of-Fame-worthy resume should be enough to convince fans not to count him out, but his performances against Velasquez and Frank Mir have done a bit to hurt “Big Nog’s” legacy. These high-profile losses may be causing fans to assume Werdum is going to walk through an aging Nogueira next weekend, but Minotauro proved he still has plenty of tricks up his sleeve when he tapped out Dave Herman last October. An unlikely run towards a final title shot isn’t out of the question for “Big Nog.”.

No matter who wins the rematch between Werdum and Nogueira—Minotauro won a decision over Werdum in their Pride bout in 2006—the door is open for the winner to get a huge fight in their next appearance in the cage. With the rest of the top heavyweights all locked into bouts this summer, either Nogueira or Werdum is likely going to be thrown into the cage with Daniel Cormier, and a win over the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner would likely be enough to push either of these men into a title bout.

Despite the fact that this bout has flown under the radar for months now, the UFC on Fuel TV 10 main event could be the most crucial heavyweight bout of the summer. Whereas other top draws like Overeem, Mir and Barnett are coming off losses, the winner of the fight between Nogueira and Werdum will be on a multiple-fight winning streak and could find himself pushed towards the very top of the division while waiting for Velasquez or dos Santos.

Even with the heavyweight division’s rise in talent over the last few years, Werdum and Nogueira remain two of the most recognizable fighters in the title hunt at the moment, and a solid three- or four-fight winning streak for either man should be enough to earn them one last shot at UFC gold.

Photo: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Vince Carey
Staff Writer

Vince Carey has been writing about the sport of mixed martial arts since 2010. Although he is just 21 years old, the Omaha-based writer is looking to provide readers with interesting content on all things related to MMA.