Will There Ever Be a Dominant Champion in the UFC Heavyweight Division?
The current era under the UFC banner is one of dominant champions.
Of the nine weight classes currently operating in the organization, at least four of the titles have been in the possession of their respective champions for over two years, with the middleweight and welterweight crowns being held for five years or longer.
The UFC's 185-pound king, Anderson Silva, has destroyed the record books since claiming gold in 2006, putting together an astounding string of 10 successful title defenses. Shortly behind "The Spider" in the realm of consecutive defenses is 170-pound champion Georges St-Pierre, as the Tri-Star-trained fighter has collected eight straight victories with his title on the line and solidified himself as the greatest welterweight fighter of all time.
The championship runs of Silva and St-Pierre have not only served to definite their respective careers, but carved out the legacies of both fighters.
While Silva and St-Pierre are exceptional cases, Jose Aldo and Jon Jones have been displaying dominance in their own right. The 145-pound Brazilian phenom has defended his strap on four occasions under the UFC banner, making a grand total of six when his two defenses as the WEC champion are tallied in.
Jones became the youngest champion in UFC history when he defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128. This feat alone is a tremendous accomplishment, but when the 25-year-old's four successful defenses are factored in, it becomes easy to see why "Bones" is highly regarded as the future of mixed martial arts.
In the process of solidifying himself as the man to beat at 205 pounds, Jones also brought to an end a merry-go-round for the light heavyweight title. After defeating Lyoto Machida at UFC 140 in December of 2011, Jones became the first fighter since Chuck Liddell to successfully defend the strap more than once.
Nearly five years passed between from "The Iceman" losing his title to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 71 to Jones besting Rua to become champion in April of 2011. Over that stretch, five different fighters (Quinton Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua) held the title, but none were able to earn more than one successful defense— a song the heavyweight division knows all too well.
Where Jones brought a turbulent run of champions to an end in the 205-pound weight class, the chaos in the heavyweight division has never been subdued. Since Mark Coleman became the organization's first official heavyweight champion by defeating Dan Severn at UFC 12 in 1997, no title holder has been able to successfully defend the belt on two consecutive occasions.
In the 16 years which have passed since "The Hammer" defeated "The Beast," 15 different fighters have held either the legitimate title or an interim version of the heavyweight crown. And the situation becomes all the more compounded when the current state of the division is examined.
The Revolving Door of the Heavyweight Title
More so than any previous point in UFC history, the heavyweight division is stacked with high-profile talent, and the weight class is more competitive than it has ever been. With a collection of top-ranked fighters all battling for title opportunities, it would seem the trend of the title changing hands in rapid fashion would continue.
Nevertheless, current belt holder Cain Velasquez is getting ready to begin his second stint as champion when he squares off with Antonio "Big Foot" Silva next month at UFC 160, and the AKA-trained fighter will be looking to establish his dominance in the division.
The 30-year-old's initial run as champion was stopped after a big right hand from Junior dos Santos found its mark at UFC on Fox 1. But the former Arizona State University wrestling standout found redemption in impressive fashion when he pounded "Cigano" for five rounds in their rematch at UFC 155 last December.
The victory over Dos Santos proved a healthy Velasquez is an absolute beast, as he worked the former champion in every aspect for 25 minutes. Velasquez used his wrestling to repeatedly dump Dos Santos on the canvas, then relied on his legendary cardio to keep relentless pressure on the heavy-handed Brazilian.
The end result was a lopsided, unanimous-decision victory over a fighter who had barely been challenged throughout his first nine showings inside the Octagon. To sweeten the pot, not only did Velasquez reclaim the title "JDS" took from him a year earlier, but redeemed the only loss of his professional career at the same time.
While Velasquez's brutal beating of Dos Santos was certainly impressive, does it hold any bearing on whether or not the champion's second title reign will be any different than his first? Will Velasquez become the division's first dominant title holder, or is he simply taking his turn at holding the belt?
A Puncher's Chance
A commonly used saying in mixed martial arts is that "one punch can change a fight." While it might sound cliche, that doesn't make it any less true, and no weight class highlights this possibility better than the heavyweights.
It only took one well-placed hammer from Dos Santos to put Velasquez on the canvas during their first fight, and the Brazilian slugger is far from the only power puncher in the division. Alistair Overeem, Mark Hunt, Antonio Silva and Roy Nelson all have proven one-shot knockout ability.
Of course, the equation cannot be accurately assessed without taking into consideration the areas of Velasquez's game where he overshadows the rest of the fighters in the division. But for the sake of the "one punch changes everything" theory, several of the division's best fighters have the ability to become champion with one bomb.
It also needs to be said that catching a power shot from a knockout artist like Dos Santos doesn't mean Velasquez is without a chin. Despite there being multiple exchanges that left Velasquez wobbled during a bout earlier in his career against Cheick Kongo, there is no solid evidence which points to the champion being unable to take a punch. But at the same time, therein lies the issue at hand.
With the power and size the elite heavyweights are bringing to the table, one clean shot can end a fight abruptly, and it happens with regular frequency in the heavyweight division.
The possibility of a knockout will always be a factor in any heavyweight tilt, and perhaps this makes the heavyweight division's lack of having a dominant champion somewhat unfair by comparison. Velasquez has all the physical and mental skills necessary to make a long run as champion, but one punch could neutralize an entire set of attributes in a quick and violent turn.
This is a reality the heavyweight fighters have come to embrace, and a problem with which the lighter weight class doesn't have to deal. While knockouts can and do happen at every weight class, the severity to which the potential of a big shot landing affects a heavyweight bout is far more than what any of the lighter weight classes experience.
Then again, the hovering potential of a brutal knockout coming at any time is a large part of the heavyweight appeal. It is a difficult stretch to get a grasp on the unpredictable, and a fighter's failure to do so more than likely plays a large role as to why 16 years have passed without a dominant champion holding court in the UFC heavyweight division.
Whether Velasquez will be the man who breaks the cycle remains to be seen, but he'll certainly do everything in his power to keep his championship reign alive and carve out his place in the history books.
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