UFC 213: Six heavyweights have it all to play for

This Saturday (July 8) is all about the UFC women’s bantamweight title fight between Amanda Nunes and Valentina Shevchenko and the UFC interim middleweight title fight between Yoel Romero and Robert Whittaker. This much is clear. But outside and circling these two title contests at UFC 213 are a number of heavyweight fights that may, given the precarious state of the heavyweight division, soon have title implications.

It is, frankly, that kind of division. One night and one fight can either make or break a heavyweight. Put it all together at a time when it matters and, who knows, you could be right in line for Stipe Miocic and his UFC heavyweight gold. Conversely, get it wrong and you could land on a snake and be back down at the start of the board.

Such is the nature of the weight class, all it takes is one punch. All it will ever take is one punch. That’s why the division, despite its fluctuating quality level, will forever be a point of intrigue for fans of fight sports. Pure and straightforward, it doesn’t take much to understand a heavyweight fight, nor does it require much in the way of patience to sit through one. They’re usually short, more often than not dramatic, and, if UFC 213 is anything to go by, remain a vital part of any major MMA pay-per-view card.

Two weeks after Fedor Emelianenko, 40, and Matt Mitrione, 38, threw down and both sat down for Bellator at Madison Square Garden New York, UFC 213 will play host to three heavyweight bouts involving five big men ranked inside the UFC’s top fifteen.

For starters, Fabricio Werdum, former champion and current number one contender, goes up against Alistair Overeem, ranked three and a man who has both won (2011) and lost (2006) against Werdum in previous fights. This fight definitely comes with potential title ramifications. Werdum, in particular, has been gunning for a return match with Miocic ever since losing his belt to him in May 2016. Win this and it would seem Werdum is there or thereabouts, but Overeem, someone who has also succumbed to Miocic, showed signs of a resurgence – another one! – in a knockout win over Mark Hunt four months ago.

It’s a steeper climb for the likes of Travis Browne, ranked nine, and Aleksei Oleinik, ranked fourteen, who also meet at UFC 213. Such is the dearth of talent at heavyweight, however, there’s always a chance fortunes change and a door suddenly opens. That Browne has lost three in a row might not matter if he goes out there and wrecks Oleinik in impressive fashion. Similarly, should Oleinik, he of the unconventional Ezekiel and scarf-hold chokes, add Browne to his list of strangled victims, he too can expect some traction in the coming months.

Daniel Omielańczuk, ranked fifteen, has a majority decision win over Oleinik, which is all well and good, but also finds himself on a two-fight losing skid and is therefore ranked a spot lower than the man he once defeated. Again, this is the heavyweight division; stuff like this occurs on a regular basis. In the case of Omielańczuk, losses to Stefan Struve and Timothy Johnson have slammed the brakes on any momentum he may have been gathering, but that’s not to say it can’t start up again with a convincing win over Curtis Blaydes, unranked, this Saturday night.

Blaydes, at just 26, is something of a heavyweight anomaly. He lost to Francis Ngannou in a couple of rounds (only by doctor’s stoppage, mind), and is sometimes a little soft around the edges, but that doesn’t change the fact he has age on his side, has room to grow and is on a good run of form, having won his last two fights by TKO (albeit the last of those was overturned and made a no-contest due to Blaydes’ penchant for a doobie). Blaydes, unlike the others mentioned, isn’t in his thirties, isn’t hanging around in hope and hasn’t yet been damaged beyond repair. In the context of today’s heavyweight division, that’s about as promising as it gets.

Realistically, the winner of Werdum vs. Overeem will be The Heavyweight Most Relevant come Sunday morning, yet we’d be fools to discount the possibility of any of the other heavyweights at UFC 213 appearing in a UFC heavyweight title fight in the future. Slim pickings, heavyweight is, for now, MMA’s land of opportunity.