Roy Nelson has often joked about wanting to fight Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in order to secure a title shot. Whether or not this would be true in Nelson’s case, the fact remains that in “Big Nog’s” UFC career, the Brazilian has amassed a 5-4 record, and each opponent who delivered one of those losses earned a subsequent title shot. Two of those losses were at the hands of Frank Mir and the other two were the result of current UFC champion Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum, the man who is supposed to fight for the belt next.

Earlier this week it was revealed that Velasquez would not be available to fight until sometime late next year. With such a lengthy recovery for Velasquez, questions about what to do with Werdum immediately followed. It was said that UFC President Dana White wanted Werdum to fight the winner of Josh Barnett and Travis Browne, who are set to compete at UFC 168 on Dec. 28 in what many have already considered a title-eliminator bout. Werdum seems to think waiting for the title shot is the smart move, but a lot can happen between now and fall of next year.

After Velasquez defeated Junior dos Santos in their rubber match, Werdum was listed as the next challenger for the belt, to no one’s surprise. It wasn’t because people believe he’s the best suited to dethrone the champ, but because he’s a big-name fighter on a three-fight winning streak coming off an impressive finish over another big-name fighter. In a division where everyone is a heavy hitter, even the jiu-jitsu guys, title shots have been earned with less.

To his credit, Werdum is a legitimate contender who has defeated very dangerous and significant opponents. However, he has also lost to two fellow top-10 fighters in the form of JDS and Alistair Overeem. The loss to dos Santos was over five years ago, and his fight with Overeem was an uneventful close decision. This is in contrast to one of his victims, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, who earned a title shot despite only having two straight wins and a previous loss to the title holder. The point here is not to address the legitimacy of contendership, but more so to highlight the fluid nature of it.

Part of what made the Velasquez-JDS rivalry so great was that it was between two young fighters who went on serious streaks to earn their shot at glory, and aside from losses to each other, they had unscathed records inside the Octagon. Such a contest is rare in any division, but is unheard of amongst heavyweights. With that chapter closed, at least for now, the door opens up to others waiting for their chance, especially if it doesn’t require a six-fight winning streak.

If three straight and a big win can get you a title shot, then the winner of Barnett-Browne will be on the short list to get there. JDS recently showed interest in fighting the winner of that bout, which would be a big fight in and of itself. If Barnett gets past Browne and then goes on to defeat a fellow former champion like dos Santos, it would be hard to not make him the No. 1 contender. He’s a former champion, a true legend of the sport, and he knows how to promote a fight as well as anybody. This fact should make Werdum nervous about playing the waiting game.

There are also other interesting bouts on the horizon. Overeem and Mir will square off at UFC 169 in February, and although neither is one fight away from a title shot due to their recent run of bad luck, we will no doubt see the winner in a big fight against another top-10 opponent. Also right around the corner is Gabriel Gonzaga’s fight with Stipe Miocic at UFC on Fox 10 in January. Miocic is a more recent addition to the top 10, whereas Gonzaga is a former title challenger who has gone 4-1 in his return to the UFC. A win for Miocic would see him higher up in the top 10, and a win for Gonzaga would undoubtedly return him to the top 10.

All of these are interesting matches, and the winner of any one of them would be a suitable opponent for Werdum, or Browne, or Barnett, depending on who it is of course. The reason why it depends is because we’ve already seen some of these fights, which is a problem the heavyweight division has that most other divisions do not. Out of the top 10, the only fighter to have not faced, or been scheduled to face, at least three opponents currently in the top 10 is Miocic. Even Gonzaga, who is not currently ranked in the top 10, has fought three men who are and is scheduled to face a fourth. No other division can make the same claim. That’s because the 265-pound weight class has always been more shallow. Not because the talent isn’t as good, but because good heavyweights are hard to come by. Those who can hang stick around, whereas those who can’t get left behind pretty quickly.

The problem here is a side effect of the division’s greatest blessing, in that most fights don’t go to a decision, leaving little justifiable reason for rematches. But then again, if you’re guaranteed a finish nine times out of 10, that’s a good problem to have. It is also partly responsible for the quick turnaround fighters seem to have getting back into contention after a loss. If a promoter has to decide between giving someone a title shot or having them do a rematch so they’re a more “legit” contender, well, you have to have title fights, right?

Would it be a problem if Werdum fought JDS again? Probably not, but then again…if Werdum lost, he would be sent to the back of the line, and JDS, with a win, would not be fighting for the title again anytime soon so long as Velasquez has it. Therefore, now you’re out a contender. Besides, wouldn’t it be more interesting to see dos Santos fight Overeem to see who has better striking? Rematches do happen on occasion in the UFC, but usually either a title is on the line or the two combatants previously fought in gold ol’ days of Pride FC. There are exceptions, such as Mir and Nogueira, but even that was a questionable one and seemed more forced than organic.

There’s a reason the title of “heavyweight champion of the world” is the most coveted in all of combat sports, and why fights where that title is on the line always bring in a huge crowd, be it in MMA, boxing or wrestling. For the UFC, it almost always results in a knockout or an all-out war, which still sometimes ends in a knockout or TKO. That’s what happens when 265-pound men wearing six-ounce gloves step into an eight-sided cage where they lock the door behind you. That’s also why fighters can lose title shots just as quickly as they earn them. By all means, a fighter has to do what is in their best interest. But for some reason, when a fighter chooses to play roulette and not fight, it seems to work out for someone else’s best interest. This is the fight game, after all. And that’s the bottom line.

Photo: Cain Velasquez (Dave Mandel/Sherdog)

About The Author

Justin Fuller
Associate Editor/Senior Writer

Justin Fuller is a writer, broadcaster, and political analyst. With a background in sports talk radio, he now runs his own podcast, "The Fuller Fight Factor LIVE."