Outside the handful of elite competitors near the top of the division, heavyweight has long stood out as MMA's shallowest weight class. While lightweight and welterweight have always been packed with talent, there's simply always been a deficit of elite heavyweights. These days, however, the division is actually looking pretty good. We'll enter 2016 with several extremely compelling heavyweight contenders awaiting a shot at the winner of Fabricio Werdum and Cain Velasquez's February title rematch.
Just a few weeks ago, for example, we saw decorated veteran Alistair Overeem burst into legitimate, UFC title contention for the first time since 2012. He did so with a blistering knockout of former champion Junior Dos Santos at UFC on Fox 17—a feat made even more impressive by Dos Santos' possession of one of MMA's great chins. With the win, the former Strikeforce, Dream and K-1 titleholder now sits at a strong 3-0 in his last 3, in a division were prolonged win-streaks are a real rarity. And though he apparently plans to test his free agency, he now stands out as the most deserving fighter of a shot at the looming Werdum-Velasquez rematch.
Of course, there are a few heavyweights on the scene who might refute that claim—namely Stipe Miocic and Andrei Arlovski, who meet in the co-main event of UFC 195 this Saturday night. Like Overeem, Miocic and Arlovski have charged into contention with a series of lopsided wins. Miocic, for example, has recently pummelled Mark Hunt, Fabio Maldonado, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Roy Nelson, with a controversial decision loss to Dos Santos being the only hiccup in his last 5 outings. Arlovski, meanwhile, is currently enjoying the momentum of six-straight wins—a stretch that includes triumphs over men like Frank Mir, Travis Browne, Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, and Brendan Schaub. Needless to say, both are right in the thick of the heavyweight title picture.
Both men may still be a few steps behind Overeem. While Miocic's loss to Dos Santos, for example, was as close as they come, he's still technically 1-1 in his last 2—hardly a streak to write home about. And while Arlovski's win-streak is double the length of Overeem's, that streak is somewhat marred by the unsavory nature of his decision wins over Schaub and Mir, which many fans believe could have gone the other way. Really, for all the strengths of their respective streaks, neither Miocic or Arlovski has been able to outdo Overeem's knockout of Dos Santos. Then again, that could change when the two step onto the canvas this Saturday.
At the moment, the bout's betting odds have Miocic pegged as a slight favorite—he's hovering around -225—and really, it's easy to understand why. Arguably the division's most athletic competitor, Miocic has impressive boxing, excellent wrestling, and an iron chin to lean on when the going gets tough. He's got all the tools to win this one. Of course, an Arlovski win would not be shocking either. One of the division's fastest competitors, Arlovski has C-4 packed into both fists, and an experience level that can only be rivalled by a small few of his peers. Though his underdog status is certainly justified, he could absolutely come out on top this Saturday. Really, a win for either man would not be especially shocking.
Yet if Miocic and Arlovski hope to bypass Overeem for a shot at the winner of Werdum and Velasquez, they'll need to do more than win—they'll need to win well. That is to say, a repeat of Arlovski's tepid win over Mir, or even Miocic's forgettable defeat of Gonzaga will probably not do the trick. Instead, they'll need a finish—one that outshines Overeem's recent knockout of Dos Santos. And both men probably know it too, which means they'll come out guns blazing this Saturday.
Though we often complain about the shallow nature of the heavyweight division, things are currently quite crowded at the division's top, as several compelling competitors are racing, neck-and-neck, toward the next title shot. At UFC on Fox 17, Overeem made his statement. At UFC 195, Miocic and Arlovski will make theirs, hoping to sway the jury in their favor with a classic, heavyweight jaw-dropper. And of course, we can't forget that in just one month's time, at UFC on Fox 18, the streaking Ben Rothwell will look to make a statement of his own with a win over Josh Barnett.
Yes, really, in a division where all of the top-ranked fighters are enjoying comparable streaks, the title race is probably going to come down to who can win their next fight in the most impressive fashion. Calling for a title shot is only worth so much. Actions speak louder than words.