One thing that every MMA fan now seems to be aware of is that the UFC Heavyweight Championship has been a hot potato over the last few years. Can Cain Velasquez change that trend and provide some stability at the top of the heavyweight division?
What many people do not realize about the frequent title changes at heavyweight is that it isn’t just a trend that has existed over the last few years. No one in UFC history has defended the belt more than twice consecutively. Before a third title defense could be successfully made, every heavyweight champion has either lost, retired, been suspended, injured, or left the organization altogether. The last few years especially have been a mess of injuries, contract disputes, and interim titles.
All that aside, the fact remains that staying on top of this particular division for even three title defenses would put someone in a class by himself. Can Velasquez be the first to do just that, or will he simply be remembered for being the first Mexican UFC heavyweight champ, or the guy to unseat Brock as the world’s top heavyweight?
Let’s look at the fights Velasquez will have to win in order to pull it off. This will give us a good idea of what to expect from the young, undefeated champion.
First Defense- Junior dos Santos
Now, obviously, nobody that the heavyweight champ fights in the current UFC heavyweight division is going to be a pushover. It’s certainly not like the old days, when Justin Eilers, Paul Buentello and Jeff Monson were getting title shots. However, when you look at the top of the division, dos Santos is definitely not the most intimidating matchup.
Now, dos Santos is a young fighter who is quickly improving, and he may have better standup technique than Velasquez does, along with explosiveness, power and athleticism to spare. However, I still see this as a favorable matchup for Velasquez. He can surely take dos Santos down, and dos Santos’ jiu-jitsu is not likely going to be enough to threaten Velasquez once he has achieved a dominant position. This is a fight that Velasquez should win.
Second Defense- Brock Lesnar/Shane Carwin
I’m being presumptuous here, but in my defense, that’s kind of my job. I think that one of these two will be fast-tracked to a title shot, if for no other reason than because there is a considerable drop-off from the top three fighters in the weight class to the rest of the group. Furthermore, I can’t imagine Lesnar in particular being forced to win more than one fight to get back in the title picture, especially since he’s one of only a couple of UFC heavyweights to ever defend the title twice- his admittedly short reign is still incredibly lengthy by UFC heavyweight standards.
Now, the wild card here is how long it takes Lesnar to get back in the cage. Dana White expects the turnaround to be quick, but if Lesnar sticks with his original plan of taking a little time off and waits to fight until late spring or early summer, Carwin could easily sneak into another title shot with a win over Roy Nelson at UFC 125. Again, if Lesnar is momentarily out of the picture, I just don’t see who is going to leapfrog Carwin for a shot.
The fact is that while Velasquez does match up well stylistically with either fighter (this is obvious, now), they are still extremely dangerous opponents. While Velasquez has the more refined standup technique by far, either Lesnar or Carwin can rattle an opponent’s cage with even a glancing blow, and their wrestling is in the same elite level as that of Velasquez.
This second defense would be the real determinant (in my view) as to how long Velasquez can reign as champ. If Lesnar can come back stronger than before and with a better game plan, or if Carwin can bully Velasquez while not running out of gas, Velasquez will have a tough fight on his hands. Of course, Cain has shown that he can beat Lesnar, which in turn shows that he could best Carwin.
Third Defense- ???
Now, it’s hard to forecast who will be challenging for the title this far down the line. It could very well be whoever doesn’t get the second shot out of Lesnar and Carwin, which is the most difficult scenario for Velasquez, of course. Of course, if one of them is side-tracked by a loss or injury, it could be any number of fighters facing Velasquez for his third defense.
However, Velasquez matches up very well with the mid-tier heavyweights that are just outside of title contention as of right now. Velasquez can generally out-strike those that can threaten him on the mat (remember the Nogueira fight?), while he can take any of the division’s better strikers down. There are a couple of fighters that could possibly be interesting fights for Velasquez, though they would have to put together some surprising performances to challenge him for the title anytime soon.
The first is Frank Mir. Mir has been extremely inconsistent, but hear me out. In the standup, Mir is technically very sound, and has power, to boot. Forget his stall-fest with Cro Cop (if you haven’t already)- Mir has a good number of combinations that he uses well and can give Velasquez trouble standing, though he isn’t a runaway favorite in an “ultimate boxing” match. Meanwhile, a takedown by Velasquez puts him where Mir at least used to be most dangerous- Mir’s guard. Although Mir has shown that he has a hard time operating when he’s being pounded on by an aggressive wrestler (and who wouldn’t?), there’s always that chance that he can pull off a vintage Mir submission, particularly against a relatively new fighter to MMA like Velasquez.
Another interesting matchup would be Roy Nelson. I’m not saying this because of Nelson’s jiu-jitsu, because Nelson is mostly dangerous from the top, when he can improve position and control his opponents en route to submitting them or landing some shots for a stoppage. However, while standing, Nelson has a great chin and can land some powerful shots if given the chance. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve got Velasquez in a fight against Nelson, but Nelson could certainly make things more interesting than fans may expect.
Overall, Velasquez has a solid chance to do what other UFC heavyweights have failed to do. Really, it depends on whether he can repeat his brilliant performance versus Lesnar, or replicate the performance against a similar fighter in Carwin. If neither of those two can wrestle the title from Cain, we may be in for a long-overdue lengthy heavyweight reign.