For what seemed to be an eternity, the UFC heavyweight division was a three-way dance between Cain Velasquez, Junior Dos Santos, and occasionally, Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva (who fought Velasquez twice, though just once for the heavyweight title). That changed with Fabricio Werdum’s shocking dismantling of Velasquez at UFC 188 in June, but in reality, it simply replaced one name for another. While Werdum was finally recognized as the best of the best in the business (something he arguably held claim to after becoming the first man to defeat Fedor Emelianenko in a decade back in 2010), he had simply jumped to the top as Bigfoot had fallen from contender talk.

That’s not a knock on Werdum, mind you. He has the ability to be a very successful champion, and his late-career resurgence has been impressive. It’s just that the UFC’s heavyweight division still looked like a three-way dance.

That has changed over the past several months, however. At long last.

Andrei Arlovski’s return to the top has been much discussed, and with a victory over Frank Mir in his last outing, he is now 4-0 in his current UFC run. With the announcement this week that he’ll face Stipe Miocic at UFC 195, it feels like a true number one contender’s match. The winner of that bout could instantly step into a title shot and no one could say it wasn’t earned. Both men are legit contenders, and whoever loses will realistically be back to the top with just a couple of wins.

Then there’s the aforementioned JDS squaring off against Alistair Overeem. Overeem’s early UFC run was dogged by scandal and failure, and he certainly didn’t do himself any favors by dodging a drug test prior to the Brock Lesnar fight, which was mired in controversy stemming from the hulking Dutch fighter’s questionable ethics. When he eventually popped for elevated testosterone, was suspended, and then lost two straight in devastating fashion, it seemed like the Overeem experiment in the UFC was over.

A win over Frank Mir bought him a stay of execution, however his next loss to Ben Rothwell served as a reality check. Yet again he bounced back, with a pair of wins over Stefan Struve and Roy Nelson. Should he overcome Dos Santos in December, Overeem will have made a case for a title shot of his own, especially if Arlovski vs. Miocic ends in injury or controversy.

Speaking of Frank Mir, after a two fight win streak, his setback agaisnt Arlovski — a slow, plodding decision loss — is far from the end, and another couple of wins would see him right back in the thick of things, given his status as a former champion.

Last but not least, the man who lost out on Miocic’s recent injury, and booking against Arlovski, Big Ben Rothwell. Rothwell has a trio of wins, including his knockout of Overeem and submission of Matt Mitrione. He’s essentially a win or two away if only because the men before him have name value, which is what the UFC recognizes more than anything, but a couple of key losses from those ahead of him in the division, and all of a sudden Rothwell is a contender with just another win.

The heavyweight division is easy to dismiss as being shallow in comparison to the talent-rich waters down at lightweight and welterweight, but the reality is, this is probably the most interesting the division has been in years.

If only the UFC would stop booking immediate rematches, or rematches coming off a single win, for downed champions. That’s exactly the reason no one wants to see Velasquez vs. JDS 4, or even Werdum vs. Velasquez 2 at this point. God help you, UFC, if you ever give us Velasquez vs. Bigfoot 3. For now, however, there’s a glimmer of hope.

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.