MMA Heavyweight Rankings | What's Next?

Written by Mark Weber at Dec 31, 2012 - 06:05PM ET in News
What better way to start the new year than showcase MMA's heavyweight rankings and each fighter's title shot prospects heading into 2013?
Saturday night, Cain Velasquez reclaimed the UFC Heavyweight championship after a dominant decision victory over Junior Dos Santos.

So what does this mean for the rest of the division and who is next in line for a crack at the title heading into the new year?

While there have been no official announcements, there are definitely a couple of key factors to pay attention to in this new year to get a clear understanding of who could be next in-line for a shot at UFC's Heavyweight Title.

Here are some of the key players and storylines to keep an eye on.

Top 5 likely opponents in 2013:

#1: Alistair Overeem:
  • Record: 36-11-(1):
  • Last Fight: UFC 141: Brock Lesnar Won, TKO 1 (Kicks and punches)
  • Next Fight: UFC 156: Antonio Silva

Alistair had previously secured a title shot at UFC 146 against now former champion Junior Dos Santos; However, Overeem failed the random drug test and was suspended for a full year. He has a court hearing scheduled for 2013 and if all goes well, he will face Antonio Silva at UFC 156.

The highly-touted Overeem is likely in prime position to score first crack at the new heavyweight champion should he defeat Silva. The former Strikeforce and Dream Heavyweight champion entered UFC in 2011 with a dominating victory over former champion Brock Lesnar a year ago.

#2: Daniel Cormier:
  • Record: 10-0
  • Last Fight: Josh Barnett, Won, UD 5 
  • Next Fight: Strikeforce: Jan 12, 2013: Dion Staring

Cormier is one of the more interesting fighters in the sport. The former two-time Olympian for the US Wrestling squad burst on to the MMA scene when he filled in for Overeem in the Strikeforce Gran Prix. Cormier ultimately dominated Antonio SIlva in the semifinals and unleashed the  most dominant performance of his career in the finals where he defeated former UFC champion Josh Barnett.

Interestingly, Cormier and Velasquez are teammates and training partners at American Kickboxing Academy based out of San Jose, California.

Will they ever fight each other?

Your guess is as good as just about anybody else's given the loyalty many training partners have for one another in this sport. Regardless, Cormier may be the best possible choice and, keep in mind, UFC President Dana White is no fan of "friendships" in MMA.

#3: Fabricio Werdum:
  • Record: 16-5-1
  • Last Fight: UFC 147: Mike Russow, Won, TKO 1 (punches)
  • Next Fight: TUF Brazil 2 Finale: Antonio Rodirigo Nogueira

Oddly, of all the scenarios listed Werdum is the only fighter who has been officially promised a title shot with a victory. However, as many fans know by now, UFC's announcements should sometimes be taken with a 'grain of salt' as the organization has gone a different route numerous times before. Also, the first two choices (above) are much more logical as Werdum and "Big Nog's" bout won't likely take place until June or later.

Regardless of the credentials and popularity of the fighters above, Werdum is a serious contender and is in prime position for an opportunity at the champion. Werdum is a longtime veteran of the sport and has fought in several organizations including PRIDE FC, Strikeforce, and of course  UFC. He holds impressive victories over Fedor Emelianenko, Roy Nelson, and Alistair Overreem.

#4: Junior Dos Santos:
  • Record: 15-2
  • Last Fight: UFC 155: Cain Velasquez, Lost UD 5 
  • Next Fight: TBA
It's not likely that Dos Santos will get an immediate rematch as Cain Velasquez was too dominant to generate the public demand necessary for a prompt third match. But Dos Santos is still the only man to force Cain to taste defeat. Now with the series split, maybe if "El Cigano" can turn in an early dominating performance against a top contender, a rematch with Velasquez would make more sense in late 2013.

While a title shot in 2013 is still somewhat remote, JDS is too good to simply be ignored - even with an embarrassing loss.

#5: Josh Barnett
  • Record: 31-6
  • Last Fight: Daniel Cormier, Lost UD 5
  • Next Fight: Strikeforce: Jan 12, 2013: Nandor Guelmino

Of all the scenarios, this one is the least likely. Josh Barnett could get a crack at the champion in a perfect world. How would that world become perfect for the "War Master?" Well, for one thing Alistair Overeem would either have to lose to "Bigfoot" SIlva at UFC 156 or fail his drug test. And the latter would not be surprising, unfortunately.  

Second, Cormier would have to opt not to fight Cain out of friendship, Werdum would have to lose to Big Nog and Josh would need an impressive victory in UFC. Keep in mind, Josh was once UFC Heavyweight champion until his multiple failed drug tests forced him to relinquish his belt which subsequently resulted in his dismissal from UFC. 

It's almost like a really tight playoff race in baseball where the Twins need a million different things to happen to sneak in. It's not likely Barnett will get a heavyweight title shot but it's still possible.

It should be a fun 2013 for the UFC's Heavyweight division. Anything is possible but it's almost a lock that one of these fighters will have the next crack at Cain Velasquez, the UFC Heavyweight Champion, in 2013.

Main image provided by Sherdog, Dave Mandel

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