Monday, October 31, 2011
Heavyweight contenders hard to come by
By Chuck Mindenhall
Off the mark: Matt Mitrione failed to hit his target of breaking into the heavyweight upper-echelon.
Before Matt Mitrione fought Cheick Kongo, there were directional advisories. Mitrione said he was going to come forward and put Kongo on his heels, even though Kongo is traditionally the one doing the advancing. Kongo warned that he would not be made to back peddle.
What we had was a potentially explosive impasse, where the two would collide in the middle of the cage and one would drop trailing a line of zzz’s. If only things had worked out that way.
It ended up being an anticlimactic co-main event -- instead of a coming-out party for Mitrione -- where both guys struggled to open up. It was the previously unbeaten Mitrione who ultimately went backwards with the loss, while Kongo came forward with the usual smoke and mirror suspicions. The thing that refused to budge in all of this was the UFC’s heavyweight division. It remains exactly as it was -- that is, bottom heavy.
This has been the way things go of late. Prospects like Mitrione can’t get over the last hurdles to heavyweight contention, and the gulf widens between the rarified top -- Cain Velasquez, Junior dos Santos, Brock Lesnar and Alistair Overeem -- and the rock-paper-scissors middle, which is everybody else. The everybody else boils down to the round robin being played between Roy Nelson, Frank Mir and the now-retired Mirko Filipovic. Shane Carwin was there, but he’s now shelved until 2012 after another surgery (and he’ll be 37 when he does come back, riding a two-fight losing streak).
Is Stipe Miocic a promising heavyweight, or just other pretender waiting to flop?
That’s why we’re raising our eyebrows at what Travis Browne might do and building Stipe Miocic into a Cleveland State chimera. There aren’t a lot of threats waiting in the wings behind those big four on Zuffa’s varsity roster. Strikeforce’s Josh Barnett and Daniel Cormier are out there, but they are off-limits currently (mostly), with Dana White now on fraternity terms with Showtime to negotiate a deal. Had Mitrione walked right through Kongo, we’d have at least that guy bleeping on the radar beneath the others, a sort of Donald Cerrone for the heavyweight class. An undeniable.
But Mitrione was the latest to lose his bearings, and there isn’t really another someone right now behind him.
As the heavyweight division showcases on network TV in a couple of weeks, with a huge bout between Dos Santos and Velasquez, we’ll be watching the undisputed best in the class. Then there’s Overeem and Lesnar, each of whom have their question marks. They are the definitive next best. After that, it’s a little murky. If Mir loses to Big Nog at UFC 140, it gets a little more murky. Whatever’s compelling beyond that is hard to find.
And it might stay that way until the Strikeforce guys are brought in, or Jon Jones cleans out the light heavyweight division, both of which could happen -- or be made to happen -- sooner than we think.