While either Frank Mir or Shane Carwin will claim the UFC interim heavyweight title next month and likely first dibs on champion Brock Lesnar, that doesn't mean either man would make the most compelling challenge.
With Mir, it's purely a business move with the aura of the rubber match for a fight that would draw bucket-loads. On Carwin's end, he was initially slated to joust with Lesnar back in November and there's already the built-in story of the pair's distaste for each other.
But for Cain Velasquez, it's about the mound of corpses left in his path and a body toll that even Lesnar should take notice of.
Before Saturday night, a lot of fans had written off Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira's TKO stoppage to Mir on the account of the Brazilian's prior hospitalization from a debilitating staph infection. Now the "Minotauro" bandwagon is left scratching their heads and searching for answers after the PRIDE legend was chewed up and split out in just 2:20 by the American Kickboxing Academy product.
It was a performance that solidified Velasquez as a genuine threat in the heavyweight division and shored up a number of holes that would have made fans reticent to proclaim him as heir apparent to the heavyweight throne. After being belted countlessly by Cheick Kongo, Velasquez's striking defense on Saturday was much tighter and more elusive.
Offensively, in an area many perceived Nogueira to hold the cards in, Velasquez picked apart the former champion with a well-versed standup game, throwing combinations and counters in appropriate fashion, while mixing in leg kicks thrown with precision and fluidity.
It's an area in which Velasquez has come a long way and in finally channeling the punching power?an area of much criticism for Cain in the past?to stop Nogueira dead in his tracks, his striking is a facet where he is leaps and bounds ahead of Carwin and Lesnar in at this moment.
It's no knock against either Lesnar or Carwin because at the heart of it, we're comparing prospects here. No one fighter has a wealth of experience over the other but the rate that Velasquez has evolved his game beyond the wrestling base is staggering.
We're yet to see Carwin make it past the 2:30 mark in a fight and despite a wrestling pedigree that is otherwise tame compared to prospect bunkmates, all we can really derive from his offense is that he has disgusting punching power. There's still so much about his game yet to be answered and on Lesnar's end, we've seen when he's unable to get things in his comfort zone on the ground, there are signs of frustration.
Against Randy Couture, Lesnar looked human and granted Couture's otherworldly Greco skills will do that to many a wrestler, Velasquez poses a speed threat and a signficant edge in the clinch that would give Lesnar nightmares.
That's not to say that if Lesnar could get Velasquez on the ground, his debilitating physique and arm length wouldn't permit him to wrangle the 27-year-old in as grotesque a fashion as he did Mir or Heath Herring, since the book of Cain fighting off his back is very much yet to be written.
But getting to that stage will be easier said than done against a fighter whose wrestling, in the application of mixed martial arts, isn't too far off from Lesnar's double leg-centric style.
Tack on the fact that there are all of a sudden several wildcard aspects looming around Lesnar in light of how he'll respond to a one-year layoff from a perceived career-threatening illness. Some outlets have said that it'll make Lesnar capable of harnessing more of his potential, but the rate that Velasquez has managed to stay active is a far more favorable bar.
It's evident that Lesnar and Velasquez have evolved faster than any UFC heavyweight in seemingly forever; Lesnar has, unfortunately, hit a road block in his development, while Velasquez has maintained a far more consistent gauge for improvement, and I think there is something to that when comparing fighters where experience is more or less a wash.
Mind you, Velasquez's pasting of Denis Stojnic was just one year ago. Since then he's fought Kongo, Ben Rothwell, and now Nogueira, all at a more reasonable and has shown marked strides in each fight. And this is guy with not even four years of training under his belt and is still getting better.
The same applies to Lesnar, but given the current disparity of the two on the feet, coupled with Velasquez possessing the tools with his wrestling and clinch work to hamper Lesnar's advantage over a Carwin or Mir, it's hard not to like what the future may hold for the Sun Devil alumnus.
In getting the chance to interview Rich Franklin at an auto show in Dallas just hours before UFC 110, I closed the interview by asking what his take on Nogueira/Velasquez would be. In summation, despite the wealth of respect for a guy like Nogueira, if he were a betting man, Franklin said the money would be on Velasquez.
And despite years of cheering for Lesnar in the WWE and wishing him the absolute best in his transition to MMA, I will echo Franklin's same sentiments should these two behemoths ever lock horns.
At the end of the day, we're just comparing prospects and more than a few have said Velasquez may emerge ahead of the pack when all is said and done. Last night was the first step in him distancing himself from said pack.