The biggest heavyweight fight in UFC history between Junior dos Santos and Cain Velasquez lasted a minute and four seconds. It was so brief that the coveted casual fan that tuned in to FOX that night was left with these four lonely words -- wait, so that’s it?
On the other hand, the biggest heavyweight grand prix in history has stretched on for 15 long, meandering months. When it started, Strikeforce was still a rival of the UFC’s. Fedor Emelianenko was still formidable. Antonio Silva was constructed from body parts unknown. Fabricio Werdum was still a castoff, and Brett Rogers was free of legal isues. Josh Barnett had single handedly shut down Affliction, and Andrei Arlovski was still believable in fangs. You might remember that The Reem wasn’t yet viral, and Sergei Kharitonov was still unspellable.
It was a different era when the tournament started. In fact, Daniel Cormier, who is in the grand prix final against Barnett, was the eleventh man in the field of eight. How, exactly, did we get here?
Just about all the elite Zuffa heavyweights (and Roy Nelson) will be making appearances in a seven-day span in May. The roads to spring 2012 have been very different, but between May 19-26, everybody will finally get on the same page. Schedules will sync up for matchmaking, guys who have been cordoned off from each other will be at liberty to poke their fingers in whoever’s chest they please, and the division will become one massive melting pot.
It starts with Strikeforce’s heavyweight swan song in San Jose, Calif.; and ends with the UFC’s big man extravaganza in Las Vegas. On May 19, Cormier-Barnett goes down at long, long last, before one or both head to the UFC. On May 26, Frank Mir against Velasquez, Nelson versus Antonio Silva, Alistair Overeem in a title fight with Junior dos Santos. Seven of those names belong in ESPN.com’s top 10 Power Rankings.
That’s a lot of firepower. Forget about the biggest fight or biggest grand prix in heavyweight history -- this will be the biggest single week of consolidating big men we’ve ever seen. And a week after that, we’ll be in a state of musical opponents, matching up winners with winners and losers with losers, and pitting re-emerging bodies like Shane Carwin and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira with each other.
What does it really mean, though? That we’ll finally have a division that captivates the imagination like the others, with a little more matchmaking wiggle room and a lot more overall possibility. It’s a relaunch of something, only this time something whole. Now the best heavyweights in the world are gathering under one roof. And as everybody knows, heavyweights have always carried a little extra clout in the minds of fight fans. The bigger the man, the more likely people are to stop what they’re doing to watch. It’s what happens when guys like Alistair Overeem walk around weighing two Ian McCall’s.
And Zuffa is smart to roll out this broadened division en masse like this.
If you’re going to reimagine something, do it big.