It took some time and liquidation, but the UFC’s heavyweight division is finally made up of beasts. It’s to the point that there’s a legitimate top pairing (Cain Velasquez versus Junior dos Santos) with a behemoth flexing in the wings (Alistair Overeem). The latter is worth his weight in asterisks alone.
Just those three names would have seemed like unfathomable depth back in Tim Sylvia’s day. Now there’s Daniel Cormier, who is still behind a partition for one more fight in Strikeforce, and Shane Carwin and Fabricio Werdum and Stefan Struve. There’s old warhorse Frank Mir hovering around, and young guns like Stipe Miocic. There’s Antonio Silva, and -- perhaps waiting by the phone right now as you read this, maybe wondering why the UFC hasn’t come calling -- there’s Josh Barnett.
At long last it’s a real division.
In short ... because we do. Because we did. Because it should have happened already. Because there was optimism that it could happen now. Because it never did. And because it never did, it won’t leave the imagination alone.
It was Dana White himself who fueled the flames of the matchup long after people had stopped thinking (and caring) about it. He went on the Underground forum and posed the question: “Is this the fight you guys want to see?”
The hard-cores raised their hands. The casuals? We know they’ll pay to see any “name.” So the antennae went up, and people began wondering if White was in the process of luring both backwoodsmen from their fishing holes.
A couple of months later, with the speculation simmering on a low blue flame that the fight could happen, White quashed the whole thing on Wednesday on the Dave and Mahoney Radio Show.
“There are so many new up-and-coming guys right now, which is very exciting,” he said. “’Bigfoot’ Silva looked good in his last fight so yes, the heavyweight division looks awesome. [Lesnar]'s done. He called me a couple of days ago. He’s never coming back. He just said he can wrestle, but he can't fight. He was contemplating coming back [but he's not]. Neither is Fedor. They're both retired."
So much for thawing out the Cold War.
When White reflirted with the idea of Lesnar/Emelianenko, the fight still looked like the biggest non-title fight in UFC history. That was the lure. Fedor, the terse Stary Oskol man, so private and reclined in his foundation that we never really knew him in the tabloid sense. Lesnar, the Alexandrian wrestler, who doesn’t necessarily like media or traveling or the fight game circus, yet who likes money enough to build up his tolerances.
One who packs a devastating punch; the other who doesn’t take punches well. One who hauls rocks and lumber in training, the other who enacts the running the bulls when the bell rings. Lesnar, the pro wrestler who’s impossible to separate the fictional parts from; Fedor the sportsman who is soberingly nonfiction.
Both guys have dropped from the ranks. Fedor was caught up to by fighters who punished his aggression; Lesnar by evolved fighters who punished his aggression, as well as diverticulitis. Yet the idea of pitting them was completely riveting. It was Fedor, who many would argue is the G.O.A.T., against Lesnar, who looks like he crawled out of Frank Frazetta’s imagination.
Coming out of retirement to fight each other.
It wasn’t just a megaclash between former champions, it was a megaclash between two of the more transcendent figures in the game.
And for that reason, it’s a little sad to hear it’s never (likely) going to happen. But it’s good to know it didn’t need to happen, too -- that there’s enough going on in the UFC’s heavyweight division to make the fight seem like gravy.
That’s how far we’ve come in the short time since Emelianenko and Lesnar were most relevant. So far that the idea of two or the world’s most glorified heavyweights never trading punches leaves us only with the slightest pang.