The past few years can’t have been easy for Junior Dos Santos. After losing to Cain Velasquez for a second and terribly emphatic time in October of 2013, the talented striker has been locked in heavyweight limbo as the division’s clear-cut second best. He’s been stuck in the mud as the guy who’s good, but not quite good enough to beat the champ.
He has got to be smiling now.
Last weekend, against all odds, an underdog Fabricio Werdum wrested the heavyweight belt from the waist of Cain Velasquez. In turn, he opened the door for another Dos Santos title shot. You see, while it would have taken a miracle for the Brazilian bomber to earn another dance with Velasquez, he has soundly defeated Werdum in the past, and as such already has a solid claim to a shot at this new champ.
The thing is, Dos Santos isn’t the only man with that kind of claim. Elsewhere on the savage heavyweight savannah, several other fearsome predators lurk, and they’re all ravenous for a shot at the title. Stipe Miocic believes he should be the next man in line. The resurgent Andrei Arlovski also seems to have earned the opportunity. And then there’s the ever-violent Dos Santos.
So, who deserves the next shot at Fabricio Werdum’s title the most? Well, that’s a difficult to discern.
Let’s start with Dos Santos. As we mentioned earlier, he knocked Werdum senseless in 2008, which provides the grounds for an interesting rematch storyline given Werdum’s new position atop the mountain. Furthermore, Dos Santos recently defeated fellow contender Miocic, reasserting himself status as one of the best heavyweights on earth. But here’s the problem. If he were to steal the belt from Werdum, well, then what? It’s already been proven that, despite Dos Santos’s extraordinary talent, he is the beta to Velasquez’s alpha. If he wins the belt, then we’ve got a pretty unconvincing champ, and we’d have to give Velasquez another shot. Then, if Velasquez won, we’d suddenly have to give Werdum a rematch, due to the severity with which he just won their encounter. To clarify, in giving Dos Santos the next shot at Werdum, we open the floodgates for a confusing heavyweight vortex, which could, in theory, result in three men swapping the belt until they all fade into obsolescence. We all want to see exciting, new contenders get their shots at the belt so this is not exactly an ideal situation.
Then there’s Miocic, the surging, 13-2 Croatian-American fresh off a downright pummeling of Mark Hunt. As impressive as his win over Hunt was, however, in his second most recent bout, Miocic was defeated by Dos Santos. Yes, the fight was close, but a loss is a loss. And because a loss is a loss, Miocic sits at a rather unimpressive 1-1 in his last 2. This kind of record does not a title shot make. So, it’s not hard to understand why some believe Miocic has a little bit more work do before he gets his big chance.
So, how about Arlovski? He’s also defeated Werdum in the past, and is currently enjoying a solid, five-fight win-streak. Considering his nearly career ending, four-fight skid a few years back, it’s a hard thing to reconcile, but the veteran Arlovski might just have the most claim of anyone to a shot at the new heavyweight champ. The problem is that no matter how great Arlovski has looked lately, it’s difficult to envision him capturing the imagination of the fans as a contender. Even in his current form, does he have what it takes to topple the streaking Werdum? The odds for this hypothetical bout would certainly say “no.” Besides, Arlovski has got an intriguing Ben Rothwell call-out to respond to.
Heavyweight is a division of peaks and valleys. At times, it’s as shallow as a bathtub. At other times, it receives unpredictable torrents of talent, and re-emerges as one of the most exciting weight classes in MMA. Thankfully for us fans, we’re currently in the latter phase—and really, that’s something worth celebrating.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter who’s next, whether its Dos Santos, Arlovski, Miocic—even a Velasquez rematch. The important thing is that suddenly there are three—arguably four or five—deserving contenders for the heavyweight throne, and if we’re lucky, they’ll all get their chances to steal the seat. The exciting thing to see will be who emerges from the chaos as king.