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hat a difference a year makes, especially to the UFC heavyweight division. Just a year ago, it was thought by many that the UFC heavyweight division was the least interesting of the weight classes. In fact, the moment that Tim Sylvia defeated Andrei Arlovski for the UFC heavyweight title in April 2006, it became the UFC’s most boring division. In fact, 2 minutes and 43 seconds into that fight Arlovski went down and with it, the excitement left.
July of last year saw a rematch with Sylvia facing Arlovski again, but unlike their first two bouts this one would go the distance. It was the longest 25 minutes of my MMA watching life. Neither fighter engaged, neither landed big shots or attempted big take downs. Something had to be done, the hard core UFC fans did not want to see Arlovski Sylvia 4, and there were no other real challengers.
Something has happened since then, barely 9 months have passed and one title defense later sees the UFC’s heavyweight division as the best in the sport. The first event was the signing of Pride standout heavyweight Mirko “Cro Cop”. Mirko’s incredible striking and strong take down defense earned him recognition as one of the 5 best heavyweights in the world. It was assumed by many, including myself, that Mirko was brought in as a hired gun to end Tim Sylvia’s reign of terror and restore honor to the UFC heavyweight ranks.
Mirko may never get that chance, at least not with Tim Sylvia at the helm. As it turns out 43 year old Randy “The Natural” Couture decided to come out of retirement and challenge for the heavyweight title. While I’m not a huge Tim Sylvia fan, I did not give Randy much of a chance because of Tim’s enormous size and reach advantage, not to mention that he’s 12 or 13 years younger than Randy. Randy proved me wrong by dominating a 5 round fight. The excitement was back and Randy Couture was back on top!
UFC president Dana White was apparently not satisfied with just having a few good heavyweight fighters though, recently he’s signed Brazilian submission masters Antonio Rodrigo Nogeura and Fabricio Werdum to UFC contracts. It is unknown when “Big Nog” will get his first fight in the UFC, but we do know that Werdum is to fight former heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski on April 21, 2007 at UFC 70 “Nations Collide”. Oh, did I forget to mention the perennial heavyweight contender Heath Herring? While Heath hasn’t looked spectacular in his first two UFC outings, he was always near the top when he fought in Japan’s Pride organization.
So, here’s how the UFC Heavyweight division stacks up as I see it:
1 Randy Couture – UFC Heavyweight Champion
2 Mirko Cro Cop – #1 contender (will get a title shot if he wins at UFC 70 against Gabriel Gonzaga)
3 Antonio Rodrigo Nogeura – #2 contender, no fights set yet.
4 Andrei Arlovski, Tim Sylvia, Fabricio Werdum are all tied for this spot as I see it.
5 Gabriel Gonzaga – if he beats Cro Cop at UFC 70 he will get a title shot.
It’s also been rumored that a win at UFC 70 by Andrei Arlovski will get him another title shot later this year.
2007 is a banner year for UFC heavyweight fans. I for one am enjoying the it.
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