Although the UFC has experienced a tremendous surge in popularity in recent years, fighters in the Heavyweight division have failed to generate the type of popularity and staying power experienced by many of the sport’s top athletes. This can be attributed to the “few and far between” approach by which important Heavyweight bouts are presented, but also to the divisions lack of a truly dominant champion.
Unfortunately for the sport’s biggest stars, the UFC’s Heavyweight division has failed to deliver the type of epic battles and seemingly immortal athletes that the company’s other divisions have produced. It has been argued that one truly becomes a champion once they have defended their belt, and in that sense, the champion of each weight class has proven his grit, with the exception of those in the Heavyweight division.
Jon Jones and Dominick Cruz have both defended their belts 2 times, with third bouts on the horizon. Similarly, both Frankie Edgar and Jose Aldo have defended their titles 3 times, with Edgar’s fourth coming up at UFC 144. Both fighters have experienced a surge in popularity after their last bouts against Gray Maynard and Chad Mendes, respectively. Arguably the sports 2 biggest stars, Anderson Silva and Georges St-Pierre, have managed to defend the championships through numerous battles, with 6 titles for GSP and 9 for Silva. It becomes apparent that the popularity of fighters, and subsequently the sport itself, is dependent on the cultivation of dominant champions, where defense of the title is just as, if not more important than winning it in the first place. Yet the Heavyweight championship belt has yet to be successfully defended since Brock Lesnar’s victory over Shane Carwin at UFC 116. With Lesnar’s defeat and subsequent retirement announcement at UFC 141 against Alistair Overeem, the UFC was left without its biggest pay-per-view draw, and most popular athlete.
The division has also suffered because of the lack of exposure fans have had to its fighters, due partly to injuries, but mainly to lack of memorable fights which have been displayed in the company’s other divisions. UFC on FOX, the company’s inaugural broadcast on the channel and the beginning of a new age in MMA, featured the much hyped championship bout in which Junior dos Santos dethroned Cain Velasquez in less than 4 minutes, while Ben Henderson’s bout with Clay Guida left fans in awe, with both fighters earning “Fight of the Night” honors. One month later, when Brock Lesnar made his return against former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem, fans were shocked, and dissapointed when Lesnar suffered a similarly quick defeat at UFC 141. These two bouts, which were among the most hyped u events of the year, resulted in less than 10 minutes of action While the case could be made that these decisive victories are the type of epic finishes to fights that fans crave for, it is also apparent that the fans would appreciate more action for their $49.95 ticket. However, recent developments make it clear that the Heavyweight division is about to experience the type of revival that the sport desperately needs.
The upcoming championship bout between #1 contender Alistair Overeem and current Heavyweight Champion Junior dos Santos will feature two of the company’s premiere strikers, in a bout that will be determined by whichever fighter is better able to impose his will and control the octagon. Also with Zuffa CEO Lorenzo Fertitta’s recent announcement of an upcoming bout between Frank Mir and Cain Velasquez will feature a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt against an elite wrestler. Both of these fighters strength’s are on the ground, with Velasquez’s ability to control opponents matched against the submissions of are known to break bones faster than his opponents can tap out.
These upcoming bouts, combined with the return of Fabricio Werdum create a whole slew of new talent to revamp UFC’s heavyweight division, which will surely yield some of the highest grossing events in the sport’s history. Even reigning Light-Heavyweight champion Jon Jones has expressed interest in transitioning to Heavyweight.