Modern era of heavyweights now upon us

May, 25, 2012
5/25/12
12:26
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Mindenhall By Chuck Mindenhall
ESPN.com
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The flyweights debuted in the UFC in February, though the concept of high-octane little dudes had existed for a long time. Long before then, Tachi Palace Fights was the North American home to 125 pounders, and it always felt like the Central California town of Lemoore was in on a secret. Not anymore.

As for the heavyweights?

That’s the dinosaur division in the UFC. It goes back to MMA’s prehistoric times. It’s gone through periods, times of near dormancy. In the beginning, a heavyweight of 500 pounds was allowed entrance into the eight-sided cage, and he’d take on Gi-donning fighters the size of thimbles. In those days, there were talks of moats that thankfully never came to be.

In the middle times, when weight classes were better designated, a guy barely over the minimum weight of 206 pounds became king. Twelve pounds of it were heart, the same weight as the belt.

This was known as the Couture Era. It was revisited, but always short-lived.

Then came Brock Lesnar and the rift of perceptions. He was a circus, a bull, a collegiate wrestler, a bona-fide martial artist, a charlatan, a mercenary, a hermit and a comic book character with a sworded thorax all into one. He couldn’t take a punch; he had more heart than we knew. He was a novelty; he is a future hall of famer.

We still have no idea how to assess him.
[+] EnlargeJunior dos Santos
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesChampion Junior dos Santos and his peers offer a range of depth not seen before in the UFC.

That’s part of the reason that, as we arrive at UFC 146, there’s a feeling of something inaugural going on even though the division has always been. Something like the "Modern Era" of the UFC heavies is finally upon us.

This is the era of Junior dos Santos and his level-changing boxing quicks and heavy hands, and Cain Velasquez and his legit wrestling. This is Antonio Silva, and the resilient Frank Mir. It’s Alistair Overeem, so long as Lorenzo Fertitta stands behind him when his suspension is up. It’s Lavar Johnson and Stipe Miocic and beanstalk fighters like Stefan Struve and returning fighters like Shane Carwin.

It’s a lot of guys, rather than a few. And for once we are about to have a consolidated idea of where the heavyweight division stands. The division has gotten so hot that Chad Griggs had to get out of the kitchen. Soon Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett will enter the mix. Jon Jones will be there before we know it, but right now the division has newfound depth. And it’s deep enough that when MMA Fighting’s Ariel Helwani asked Dana White about Cormier’s future, White replied that he wouldn’t mind seeing Cormier as a light heavyweight.

When the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix champion looks like a spare piece to the company president, you know the division has arrived.
[+] EnlargeAndrei Arlovski
Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty ImagesRemember (or try not to) when Andrei Arlovski, right, and Tim Sylvia ruled the roost?

Saturday night’s fight card is historic in that way. Gone are the days of Andrei Arlovski and Tim Sylvia and a deck of middling hopefuls. Depending on how things play out in Las Vegas, the next title fight could be anything. It could be Velasquez/dos Santos II. It could be Mir/Velasquez, the fight that was supposed to happen anyway. It could be Bigfoot/JDS, or Cormier/JDS, or Mir/Cormier. This is the first time ever that not just one scenario makes sense, but they all do. Better yet, people would be excited to see any of those match-ups. In other words, UFC 146 in all its historical significance is hardly the culminating point.

For once, there is a broad horizon. This feels more like the beginning than the usual pitch. For once, heavyweights have something in common with the lightweights and the welterweights. The 265-pound division has the feeling of an ongoing story playing out, rather than one wrapping up.

The novelty isn’t an ageless wonder like Couture beating guys half his age and size, or a pro wrestler turned fighter who froths at the mouth and tramples people like it’s the running of the bulls. The novelty is that the division has the funny feeling of something complete.

And that can’t help but be anything other than exciting for fans of big boy MMA.

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