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Wednesday, December 21, 2011
UFC heavyweight division about to deepen

By Chuck Mindenhall

Cormier
Knock, knock: Daniel Cormier might be taking his act to the UFC in the very near future.
So, Strikeforce is running a clearance on its once vaunted roster of heavyweights, and everyone between 207-266 pounds must go. What a difference a year makes.

In January of this year, the eight big guns on Strikeforce’s heavyweight roster stood on a New York City stage and looked like the most imposing ingredients to a nonfictional tournament since the Pride days. Even the alternates -- guys like Daniel Cormier, who defied odds by sneaking in and making it to the finals, and the mutton-chopped Chad Griggs -- were lively enough understudies.

The subtext of the grand prix? That Strikeforce had more depth in the most glamorous weight class than the UFC. It wasn’t the elephant in the room -- these were eight elephants in a room.

Dana White snickered. By spring, Zuffa bought Strikeforce. By summer, Alistair Overeem was on his way to the UFC. By winter, the wrecking ball assembly that made up the grand prix is being rapidly consolidated with the UFC's roster.
Matt Mitrione
UFC heavyweights like Matt Mitrione either didn't develop quickly enough or, in some cases, didn't develop at all.

Zuffa is closing down the Strikeforce heavies to deepen the UFC’s. This, of course, is a good thing. The UFC’s heavyweight landscape will finally be on par with its other weight classes. How timely is that?

Not long ago (as in August), Brendan Schaub began to look like a top-flight heavyweight in the UFC. Not out of merit, but out of necessity. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, in the twilight of his career, shut things down. Then it was Matt Mitrione, before he was Jenga’d by Cheick Kongo. Even UFC newbie Stipe Miocic began to look like “promise,” well before he stepped in the Octagon. All this time we’ve been playing at the dearth.

But now reinforcements are arriving. Reigning Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem was first, and he’ll fight Brock Lesnar next week at UFC 141 in a title eliminator. Fabricio Werdum came next, and he’ll take on Roy Nelson at UFC 143. With the news of Strikeforce shutting its heavyweight division down in total, the carpet is rolling out for others now, too.

Lavar Johnson, who also fought in the WEC back in 2005 and 2006, has signed to fight Joey Beltran at UFC on FOX: "Davis vs. Evans." And MMA Weekly reported that Griggs -- who foiled overly idealistic plans for Bobby Lashley by obliterating him -- also signed a contract with the UFC, and will debut in the Octagon in 2012. Antonio Silva is expecting a call soon, and Sergei Kharitonov would like to join his training partner John Olav Einemo in the UFC.

Of all the grand prix participants, only a few will likely be left out -- Andrei Arlovski, the former UFC champion, who is on (what he hopes) a comeback trail; Brett Rogers, whose personal life is in shambles; and Fedor Emelienenko, whose management would like to skip the process and pencil in a date with Cain Velasquez.
Overeem/Werdum
Alistair Overeem, left, was the first heavyweight to come to the UFC's rescue.

Once Daniel Cormier and Josh Barnett finish up the afterthought-ish grand prix in March, one or each will make their way to the UFC. (There is still a bonus heavyweight fight for the winner, which is short on details right now). When that happens, which could be as early as April or May of 2012, matchmaking in the UFC’s heavyweight division becomes more fun. With the reemergence of Frank Mir, there are now five legit bigs at the top -- Junior dos Santos, Velasquez, Overeem, Lesnar and Mir. Shane Carwin will be back in mid-2012, as well. Cusp fighters like Roy Nelson, Kongo and Travis Browne are still there, and green-but-emerging guys like Schaub and Mitrione are hovering.

But when you stack Werdum, Bigfoot Silva, Barnett, Cormier, Kharitonov, Shane del Rosario and Griggs in there? This thing about finding out who the best heavyweight in the world is becomes legit.

At the beginning of 2011, the questions centered around what happens if there wasn’t a partition between Strikeforce and the UFC, if guys like Overeem fought in the UFC? The partition is coming down, and we’ll find out soon enough.