When looking at the card for The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3 finale, you’ll notice Fabio Maldonado is scheduled to face Stipe Miocic. No, that’s not a typo, Maldonado, the light heavyweight, will face the heavyweight Miocic.

Many people will point out how this fight only highlights the lack of depth inside the UFC’s heavyweight division. Count MMA writer Chad Dundas among them. It’s hard to argue against the points Dundas lays out. Among other observations, he notes that for every great heavyweight we’ve seen, there are at least two guys who are simply there to fill out a card.

He has a point.

The main reason for this problem is that guys who are the size of heavyweights and possess athletic ability are often able to find better means of income than cage fighting. After all, why fight for pennies on the dollar when you can get paid big bucks in other team sports, such as football?

Although I concede the division is shallow, I won’t concede that it’s always a bad thing. With fewer fighters in the division, the bouts now have additional meaning. How many times have we seen guys in other weight classes flounder around on the Facebook (or now, Fight Pass) and Fox Sports prelim portions of cards after wading through the sea of “mid-card level” talent? Take Matt Brown. The guy has rattled off seven consecutive victories, but he still isn’t getting a title shot. In the UFC heavyweight division, seven consecutive wins could almost guarantee a fighter Hall of Fame status.

The lack of depth also helps to cultivate a certain mystique around the heavyweight division in combat sports. Throughout time, the heavyweight division has always commanded the attention of fight fans. There’s just something special about seeing two guys who are larger than life throw down, whether it be in a boxing ring or inside a cage. The casual fan would rather see two established heavyweights fight than two prospects competing for UFC prelim supremacy. Heavyweight fights in combat sports should be treated as special attractions, not diluted down just to fill out a few UFC cards.

But outside of the argument of depth, or lack thereof, in the UFC’s heavyweight division, the big question heading into this fight is what Miocic stands to gain from beating Maldonado. Miocic is currently ranked at No. 7 in the official UFC rankings, and he has a two-fight winning streak to his credit. Although his two wins have come against perennial gatekeepers Gabriel Gonzaga and Roy Nelson, Miocic could find himself in title contention with a victory. That’s due in large part to the guys ahead of him suffering recent losses or, in the case of Alistair Overeem, failing to woo fans.

If Miocic can fight a smart game plan (read: not trade punches with Maldonado) he can add a highlight-reel performance to his resume. Yes, it would’ve been nice if we could have seen Miocic face Junior dos Santos, as originally planned, but that fight could serve to be a title eliminator depending on how Cain Velasquez’s title defense against Fabricio Werdum plays out. Every fighter needs a signature win—a highlight-reel finish/performance, if you will—to be considered for title contention. Casual fans aren’t going to know Maldonado is a light heavyweight. All they’re going to see is Miocic schooling a guy in the cage.

All of this hangs on the assumption that Maldonado doesn’t play the role of spoiler. The Brazilian brawler has rattled off three straight victories and rocked Glover Teixeira in their match-up. He has heavy hands and a granite chin to go with heart that could be considered unmatched across MMA. There aren’t too many people in the world, let alone the UFC, who would be willing to go through the punishment he’s taken in some of his fights. Also consider that Maldonado will be fighting in front of a raucous Brazilian crowd, and, as the saying goes, anything can happen in the fight game.

The game pieces have been moved in a manner for Miocic to succeed. To put it in the simplest of terms, Miocic has been handed a launching pad to heavyweight title contention on a silver platter. We’ve seen Miocic falter before—he lost to Stefan Struve in a pivotal heavyweight fight—so it will be interesting to see how he handles being the overwhelming favorite.

  • Real Talk

    Doesn’t he have something to gain in that he’s making a paycheck now as opposed to nothing, so he can support himself and his family?

  • Rome

    He has a paycheck with or without fighting, Miocic is also a part-time firefighter/paramedic in Valley View and Oakwood Village respectfully, while training full time.