The UFC's signing of former Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem swelled the total number of ready-made heavyweight contenders to right around three. After Cain Velasquez, there’s Junior dos Santos, Brock Lesnar and The Reem. It doesn’t help that the last two have question marks; one for health reasons, the other for being a smoke and mirrors fighter (allegedly).
After those names? It’s a dark, dark hall. In fact, only Frank Mir’s candle flickers at the end of it, and even that seems dangerously close to blowing out.
That’s why it hurts when guys being groomed like Brendan Schaub fail to get by Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, or when Travis Browne registers a yeomen’s decision over Rob Broughton when a statement is needed, or when Dave Herman gets stricken from a card for coming up positive for illegal substances. Contenders are hard to come by in the heavyweight division right now.
Think about who’s out there -- Pat Barry, Cheick Kongo, Stefan Struve, Mike Russow, Shane Carwin, Roy Nelson, Big Nog. None of those guys are realistically close. Heath Herring is the most inactive fighter to ever exist on an active roster. Mark Hunt gets discussed for being salvaged from the garbage heap, but he’s not a threat to contend. Carwin was right there, but he’ll be 37 in January and has suffered two losses in a row. Who knows how much he has left. Ditto Nogueira, who has maybe two fights left in him. And that’s a generous maybe.
Which brings things around to Matt Mitrione. It points to the state of things that he looks like the lone buzz fighter coming up in the heavyweight division -- but the man has five total fights, with a casualty list that includes names like Kimbo Slice, Tim Hague and Joey Beltran. Besides, he’s the first to downplay himself as an actual contender.
Should he get by Kongo, Mitrione at least enters the picture frame. Should he lose? There’s going to be a major round robin between the top four guys in the division until reinforcements arrive.
Once the UFC begins bringing over more of the Strikeforce lot -- guys like Josh Barnett, Daniel Cormier, Antonio Silva -- it’ll deepen. But at the moment there aren’t a lot of heavyweights in the current pool making a big enough splash. In fact, Stipe Miocic looks a little like company gold right about now, which says it all for the prospects.