Duane Finley examines five candidates for heavyweight title fight
The announcement of a main event title fight at UFC 146 between champion Junior dos Santos and the heavy-hitting Alistair Overeem had the MMA world champing at the bit. A matchup between two of the sport’s most powerful strikers immediately became one of the year’s most anticipated bouts, and with the UFC heavyweight division experiencing a newfound level of excitement, everything appeared to be moving in the right direction.
That was until the former Strikeforce/Dream/K-1 champion failed a surprise drug test administered by the Nevada State Athletic Commission following a press conference to promote UFC 146. The results showed Overeem to have an extremely high level of testosterone in his body, a level far exceeding the allowed ratio, and the news instantly put the fight with dos Santos on the rocks.
While the final decision ultimately rests in the hands of the athletic commission, it appears unlikely Overeem will be licensed to fight on May 26. Despite the hovering cloud of the failed test, the Dutch juggernaut has gone ahead with his license application and will go before the commission for a scheduled hearing on April 24. It will be at this hearing where Overeem’s fate will be decided, and with speculation running wild as to who would replace him should the commission refuse to license him, Heavy MMA takes a look at potential replacements to face dos Santos in the main event at in Las Vegas.
When the news hit the media outlets regarding Overeem’s failed test, Mir appeared to be sliding into the main event before the chair had a chance to get cold. Not only did the court of public opinion seem to be favoring Mir, but the former two-time heavyweight champion took initiative and had his management issue a statement regarding his willingness to replace Overeem in the fight. But just as quickly as Mir became the most probable replacement, the idea was iced when UFC president Dana White tweeted to an inquiring fan that Mir would still be fighting Cain Velasquez at UFC 146. Things have been known to change in this sport before the proverbial ink dries, but for the time being it appears Mir would not be the one to step in for Overeem should he need replacing on the card.
Social media can be an incredibly powerful tool, and Mark Hunt is currently in the midst of such an experience. Before the situation with Overeem arose, the “Super Samoan” did not even have a Twitter account. But thanks to a Twitter campaign (#RallyforMarkHunt) pleading with White to allow Hunt to fight dos Santos, his presence online is now in full effect. The former K-1 champion is scheduled to face Stefan Struve on the pay-per-view portion of the card, therefore making a bout change the only hurdle in the matter. But when looking at Hunt’s placement in the divisional hierarchy, allowing him to leapfrog his way to the top wouldn’t make much sense. The UFC is not in the habit of playing with divisional pictures and the “Step 1 leads to Step 2” approach has served them well over the years. While a fight between dos Santos and Hunt would certainly be fun to watch, the UFC’s recent focus and increased promotion of its heavyweight division makes the likeliness of this fight actually happening seem to be a long shot.
When you examine the resumes of the fighters currently slinging 4-ounce bombs, you would be hard pressed to find anything to top what Dan Henderson has done in his career. “Hendo” has carried championship gold in several major organizations and accomplished such feats while floating between weight classes. He has always carried an “anytime, anywhere” mentality and the current circumstances happening in the light heavyweight and middleweight divisions may create the perfect storm for Henderson to slide into the bout with dos Santos. Henderson’s win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in 2011’s Fight of the Year positioned him on the doorstep of a title fight at 205 pounds, but with champion Jon Jones facing off with Rashad Evans at UFC 145, Henderson will have to wait on the sidelines for his title shot to materialize. A similar situation is happening at middleweight as Anderson Silva and Chael Sonnen have to sort out their issues before the door could be opened for Henderson. The clock is ticking on his career and the chance to fight dos Santos may provide the perfect opportunity. To make the scenario more intriguing, Henderson recently went public on his Twitter account stating he would accept the fight with the heavyweight champion should it be offered.
It has been over three years since Werdum ran into a little-known competitor making his promotional debut at UFC 90. After a thunderous uppercut not only knocked him out of his senses, but ultimately cost him his job with the UFC, Werdum hasn’t forgotten the name Junior Dos Santos. Since that fateful night, Werdum has won four out of five outings, including a career-making upset victory over a fighter once thought to be invincible in Fedor Emelianenko. Despite being ousted from the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix by Overeem, Werdum looked impressive against Roy Nelson in his return bout with the UFC. He is currently slated to face Mike Russow at UFC 147 in Brazil, but the opportunity to fight for championship gold and avenge his previous loss would most likely be enough to entice Werdum into stepping into the fight at UFC 146.
Although Velasquez has only suffered one defeat in his professional career, the scenario of him replacing Overeem seems to be the least likely. The former champion was bested by dos Santos in Novemeber, and while the UFC doesn’t shy away from immediate rematches, the fashion in which he was defeated put some distance between Velasquez and the heavyweight throne. The AKA-trained fighter was coming off a long injury layoff when he took the dos Santos fight, and since that time, has worked diligently to get back to the form that made him champion in the first place. Mir is undoubtedly a tough opponent, but it is a fight Velasquez’s camp has deemed to be the right move at the current time. When you add in the previously mentioned Tweet from White stating Mir would still be fighting Velasquez, the chances appear to be slim to none Velasquez would be tapped to face dos Santos at UFC 146.