For years, it was universally agreed upon that the Zuffa-contracted heavyweights failed in comparison to their Pride counterparts. Fighters like Fedor, Cro Cop, Barnett, Nogueira, Coleman, Werdum, Kharitinov, Aleks, Herring, and Hunt competed in Japan (a.k.a. the Land of the Rising Sun, the birthplace of Kinniku Mantaro, or the Bukkake capital of the world). While UFC champions like Arlovski, Sylvia, and Mir were considered to be elite-level athletes, the stateside talent pool simply wasn’t as deep.
Now, after only a few years, the UFC’s heavyweight division is deeper than your grandmother’s woo-woo, and Dream — Pride’s illegitimate son who has shown some promise but can’t seem to live up to Daddy’s reputation — is stuck putting on the Super Hulk Tournament, featuring revered competitors like Hong Man Choi, Bob Sapp, and Jose Canseco.
If big names like Lesnar, Mir, Couture, Nogueira, Herring, and Kongo weren’t enough, Junior dos Santos upset Fabrico Werdum in his UFC debut last year and put the division on notice. Shane Carwin recently cemented himself as a contender by smashing his ham-fists into Gabe Gonzaga’s face en route to a TKO victory. If Cain Velasquez is able to do something similar to Kongo at UFC 99, he too will join the sport’s upper echelon.
If that wasn’t enough to start building a small tent in the pants of hardcore MMA fans across the globe, Cro Cop will officially be returning at the company’s Germany debut. Talented up-and-comers, like 11-1 Chicago native Michael Russow and 17-1 Minnesota Martial Arts Academy product Chris Tuchscherer, have been brought into the mix. The next season of The Ultimate Fighter will feature a cast consisting entirely of heavyweights, including former NFL player Rex Richards, as well as recent &feature=related”>Keyboard Cat victim Kimbo Slice. (Yeah, Kimbo’s actually going to be on TUF. I hope Junie Browning’s second cousin Butch gets brought in just to piss in Kimbo’s Fruit Loops. That would make for some quality family television.)
Sure, Fedor and Barnett are still fighting for Affliction (and it’s unclear whether either man will reach an agreement with Zuffa once Affliction calls it quits), Arlovski is about to make his first Strikfeforce appearance, Overeem is still beating ass in Japan, and Sylvia is testing the waters of boxing. But the absence of a few big names doesn’t mean the UFC’s heavyweight class isn’t deep. It is.