You know the story of the UFC Heavyweight division. Champ Cain Velasquez is out for at least six months with a shoulder injury. Roy Nelson is out until he clears up his legal problems. Shane Carwin is recovering from surgery and is planning to return in May. Former champ Brock Lesnar has been laying low since he lost the title and no tentative return date has been set. Big Nog is recovering from hip surgery. And top contender Junior dos Santos, while currently healthy, is sitting on the sidelines and waiting.
With the UFC’s heavyweight roster plagued by inactivity, Strikeforce has announced an eight-man heavyweight grand prix, featuring fighters like Fedor Emelianenko, Alistair Overeem, Fabricio Werdum, Andrei Arlovski, and Josh Barnett. Given the situation of the UFC’s big men, this tournament could very well crown the new top heavyweight in the world. That is, if it actually happens without any serious problems.
So, what does the UFC do in this situation? They could always just sit Dos Santos out until Velasquez is healthy enough to fight. But with Strikeforce’s upcoming tournament, the UFC has to do something to not let their competitor establish a legitimate #1 heavyweight. Plus, Dos Santos doesn’t want to wait for Velasquez before fighting again, despite having already earned a title shot. On top of that, Velasquez’s return could very well take longer than the estimated six months.
It follows that the UFC should book Dos Santos in a fight against a top contender, with the winner fighting the returning champion. But who?
I’ll let you know after the jump.
Kid Nate at Bloody Elbow suggests that the right call is Junior Dos Santos against Brock Lesnar for an interim heavyweight title. The argument is essentially that the fight would be a huge sell for the UFC, with Lesnar being the company’s biggest draw and all. Moreover, a Lesnar-Velasquez rematch would probably be the biggest draw in company history, and a Dos Santos-Velasquez match if Dos Santos were to beat Lesnar would do huge numbers as well.
The problem with this is that this is a view based solely on what will draw in the short term, as opposed to what’s good for the UFC and its heavyweight division in the long term. That’s why Shane Carwin fighting Dos Santos for top contendership, and not an interim title, is what should happen.
Dos Santos versus Lesnar doesn’t work for two reasons. First, a win for Lesnar would mean that Cain Velasquez would follow-up his title victory over Lesnar with a title defense against … Lesnar. After the beating the former champ just took, absolutely no one, with the possible exceptions of Lesnar’s family members, is salivating over a possible rematch. And a second victory over the former WWE superstar does little for Velasquez at this point.
Second, a win for Dos Santos over Lesnar would be amazing for the Brazilian, but it would be absolutely detrimental to the former champ. Currently he’s the UFC’s biggest draw; suffering two losses in a row would eliminate a large portion of his marketability, which isn’t good for the company or the sport. The point is, there are other alternatives for Dos Santos to stay busy and build credibility against a high-level opponent that do not involve the destruction of the UFC’s top draw.
Enter Shane Carwin. Sure, he’s coming off a loss to Lesnar, but everyone who saw that fight knows The Engineer beat the hell out of the former champ before gassing out in the second, meaning he’s still seen as a credible threat to any fighter on the planet. A victory for Dos Santos builds his name and credibility up even further before a bout with Velasquez, which will go a long way in proving that the UFC champ is the best in the world. Plus, it will boost pay-per-view buys to some extent. A victory for Carwin essentially does the same thing. On top of that, fans have clamored for a Carwin-Velasquez bout ever since the two were coming up through the ranks.
And there’s no reason for an interim title because that’s only reserved for situations when a champion is out for an indefintie period of time. This means when the champion has an injury that will keep him out for an unknown period (Lesnar, Mir) or if the champion is in a contract dispute with the company that may or may not be resolved (Couture). Here, Velasquez will be ready in an estimated six months, maybe a little bit longer. Thus, no need for an interim title.
Carwin-Dos Santos or Lesnar-Dos Santos. Which is the right fight to book? Speak your mind in the comments.