From Muhammad Ali to Mike Tyson, the public has been fascinated with the concept of big boys with big personalities.
The evolution of MMA’s heavyweight division is almost complete. The Strikeforce Grand Prix will soon come to an end, and the safe bet is that the winner will face the UFC heavyweight champion.
When the two organizations merge, that’s when the fun begins.
With the impending matchup of Cain Velasquez and Junior Dos Santos and the continuation of the Strikeforce Grand Prix, the division is entering its golden age. Where other divisions are ruled by near unbeatable champs, the talent pool in the division is the deepest and most competitive it has ever been.
The division’s intriguing mix of talent and personality is unmatched in the sport today.
Sure Jon Jones is a charismatic kid, and his feud with Rashad Evans is mildly entertaining, but outside of those guys who interests you at 205?
Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre’s respective dominance of their divisions have rendered their divisions a race for second.
The lightweight division is long on talent, but short on personality.
The featherweight and bantamweight divisions are still developing their identities after joining the UFC.
No shadow looms larger over the division than Brock Lesnar’s.
The surly and reclusive Minnesotan is the company’s top pay-per-view draw and is a truly polarizing figure. His continued battles with diverticulitis have made his fights few and far in between, heightening fan anticipation for his comeback.
Velasquez, whose father emigrated from Mexico and worked long hours picking lettuce to support his family, carries the hopes of the Hispanic community with him to all his fights.
Frank Mir may no longer be a title contender, but his smarmy putdowns of his opponents make fights with mundane opponents interesting. Roy Nelson’s success despite his pot belly and general dislike of physical fitness has made him a fan favorite. Former NFL players Brendan Schaub and Matt Mitrione have made an impact thanks to their elite athleticism and have given us a glimpse of what the division’s future may hold.
Strikeforce’s heavyweights may not be well known to the public, but that doesn’t make them any less compelling.
Alistair Overeem is the reigning champ, despite being rarely seen in North America. A former light heavyweight, Overeem has managed to get bigger and better as his career has progressed. Quick wins over Todd Duffee and Bret Rogers have given us a taste of “The Reem,” yet a certain mystique surrounds the man some consider the best heavyweight in the world.
Fabricio Werdum will forever be known as the man who ended the win streak of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko, while Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, in wins over Fedor and Andrei Arlovski, has both looked and played the part of a monster.
In a true overnight success story, Brett “The Grim” Rogers went from tire repairman to headlining a nationally televised fight card against Fedor.
The outspoken Josh Barnett, whose prodigious talent has been overshadowed by failed drug tests, will make his stateside return this Saturday to face Rogers.
There are other stories out there – Shane Carwin juggles a full-time engineering job with the status of an elite fighter. Stefan Struve is a physical marvel, Jeff Monson is an admitted proponent of anarchy and Lavar Johnson didn’t let a little thing like a drive-by shooting deter him from his goals in MMA. Even novelty fighters like Herschel Walker, Kimbo Slice and James Toney have captivated the public and drawn curious eyes to the sport.
The past stars of the division are ready to move on.
After two losses Fedor is fighting a 200-pound Dan Henderson, Minotauro Noguiera and Mirko CroCop are both fighting to revive their careers while Tim Sylvia and Andrei Arlovski are both slicing meat in a deli.
UFC 131’s main event captured the essence of the division.
The fight provided moments of extreme drama. You held your breath as Dos Santos and Carwin barely missed with knock out shots, and you winced in agony watching Carwin pressed up against the cage, absorbing blow after blow.
A badly beaten Carwin offered up a desperation punch that landed cleanly on Dos Santos in the third round, yet the likable Brazilian shook it off. The fight clearly belonged to Dos Santos and as he squared off with champion Cain Velasquez post-fight a sense of excitement surged through the MMA fan.
Meet the heavyweights – the new glamour division of mixed martial arts.
Pictured: Cain Velasquez