By Dwight Wakabayashi
Antonio (Bigfoot) Silva played major spoiler this past weekend at UFC 156, scoring a stunning knockout against the consensus No. 1 contender at heavyweight Alistair Overeem. Silva shocked many in the MMA world with a beautifully delivered combination of punches that sent the Dutch behemoth crumpling to the canvas in devastating fashion. The loss was a huge blow to Overeem’s place in the pecking order of the division, not to mention his mystique as a near unbeatable fighter.
Overeem was all but locked in as the next challenger to Cain Velasquez and the heavyweight title before Silva put a wrench in the plan and what was a pretty clear picture for the heavyweight division in 2013, has now become quite up in the air. At the UFC 156 post-fight press conference, UFC president Dana White admitted that the Overeem loss alters the lanscape of the heavyweight division quite a bit. The best laid plans are never a sure thing in the fight game, and things can change in the blink of a punch. Silva himself taught everyone that lesson back in February 2011 when he upset the heavily favored Fedor Emelianenko in the semi-finals of the Strikeforce heavyweight tournament.
Silva is gaining quite a reputation as a giant killer, and has now halted the much anticipated title clash between Velasquez and Overeem that was pencilled in for later this year. Silva knocked Overeem out of that spot, but got smashed himself by Velasquez just last May and it’s unlikely he would get a rematch this soon. Although, considering how Silva handled Overeem White didn’t completely rule it out. Exactly who gets the next title shot and how the heavyweight picture plays out for the remainder of the year is now in limbo.
Former champion Junior dos Santos just lost his title in December and called for an immediate rematch on MMAJunkie.com Radio following the loss. There is no doubt that JDS will feel he is even more deserving of an immediate rematch now that Overeem is out of the picture.
A quick look at the division sees the stars somewhat out of whack due to the Silva win, with all worthy challengers tied up for the foreseeable future. The situation may call for some quick thinking and shifting by UFC matchmakers. Dos Santos and Silva are most deserving of the next title shot but some fans may not be excited to see either of those fights again this soon.
Aside from dos Santos, the next in line at heavyweight according to the new UFC fighter rankings is Brazilian Fabricio Werdum. Although he is just coming off a win over the low-ranked Mike Russow, Werdum might be the most worthy and deserving challenger who doesn’t have a fight locked in yet on the horizon. The problem there is that Werdum is a coach for the second season of TUF Brazil opposite Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, with a rematch between the two set to happen at the conclusion of the show in June. If Werdum does indeed get that opportunity, that takes him out of the picture as an option as well. The UFC could change their plans and set up Velasquez-Werdum as the only viable title fight the fans would want to see.
Meanwhile, highly-ranked Daniel Cormier and Frank Mir are set to face each other at UFC on FOX: Henderson vs. Melendez in April. Had Overeem won last weekend, Velasquez most likely would have defended against him in the spring, shortly after Cormier-Mir, which would align a fight for the winners later in the year, although Velasquez has stated that he will not fight his friend and teammate Cormier. Now, it seems there is no worthy, available challenger for the UFC to schedule for Cain this summer other than JDS or Silva.
If the UFC and Velasquez are content to wait a little longer for his next fight then they have less to worry about. Cormier and Mir can settle things in April and the UFC can schedule Dos Santos vs. Silva sometime in the spring as well and set up a heavyweight “semi-final” with the most dominant winner getting the next shot.
The problem comes if Velasquez doesn’t want to wait much past the summer and wants to fight soon to keep himself sharp. It’s a good guess that the challenger would not be too keen on a short turnaround for a title fight. I am not one to endorse or encourage giving title shots out of turn, but the UFC is in a tough spot here and may not have a choice if they want to keep Velasquez happy. Failing all else, the UFC needs to make every effort to bring in Josh Barnett for his one shot in the UFC. Barnett belongs in the mix competing with the best heavyweights in the world and may not be averse to stepping right in to fight Velasquez for the title. It would be a very interesting fight between Velasquez’ deadly top game and Barnett’s submission experience.
The UFC may not have a choice if they want to keep the heavyweight champion active.
Dwight Wakabayashi is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report UFC and regular contributor to Sportsnet.ca’s UFC section. Follow him on Twitter @wakafightermma.