The Cain Velasquez era in the UFC heavyweight division came and went faster than you can say diverticulitis. The former champion will look to rebound off a stunning 64 second KO loss in his next fight, which is why his next opponent is so important for him and the UFC.
MMA is funny game. Every year there always seems to be that one guy who looks unstoppable on his way to the championship, wins the championship in dominant fashion, and then loses the title in his first or second title match. Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Brock Lesnar, and now Cain Velasquez finds himself in that same position.
If you don’t think Cain’s next opponent is a big deal than you don’t understand the UFC business. Velasquez was on the verge of becoming one of the UFC’s biggest stars due to his appeal with the Mexican audience. One loss won’t stop the train but a second in a row could derail the tracks to the point of no return.
Note: I left Shane Carwin off the list due to his recent back surgery, thus making him unavailable in the near future for a fight with anyone.
Cain Velasquez vs. Frank Mir - Of all fights on the list, this is the money match right here. Mir is riding his first two-fight winning streak in three years and is by rights about one-two fights away from a shot at the UFC heavyweight title. A battle of former champions with a title shot on the line would be the way to go here for business. But is that what is best for Cain?
I think Cain would have little trouble with Mir. Mir is older, slower, and while he has been winning, he didn’t look overly impressive in either of his last two fights. Cain would have the advantage here in just about every aspect of the game except size, although that hasn’t affected Cain in the past. A win here would justify an immediate championship match, which is exactly what the UFC needs.
A loss would also not be the worst thing in the world for business. Frank Mir is still marketable and he is a great talker. Mir challenging Junior Dos Santos for the UFC heavyweight title would draw pretty well. Mir challenging Brock Lesnar (should he win his next two fights) for the UFC heavyweight title could be a gold mine.
Cain Velasquez vs. Cheick Kongo - Cain reportedly is lobbying for a Kongo rematch, although the UFC doesn’t seem ready to jump on that bandwagon. These two guys fought back in 2009 in what I would say was Cain’s breakout fight. Kongo would come in riding his first two-fight win streak in the UFC since 2009 with wins over Matt Mitrione and Pat Barry.
Their last fight was a really great fight which saw Cain dominate Kongo with takedowns and Kongo would nail Cain on their feet. I don’t doubt that the fight would play out exactly the same as the first one. However, there is a chance here that Cain won’t have the same stone chin here that he had in the first one. Suffering a first knockout does strange things to combat sports fighters and if Kongo nails Cain the way he did in the first fight, maybe Cain goes down? This is hardly the slam dunk it would appear to be on paper.
I think this is a very risky fight to make on a lot of levels. Kongo is not exactly a world beater, but he is certainly capable of knocking Cain out. What would a win for Kongo mean? Kongo challenging for the title wouldn’t mean much to the box office, and it would devastate Cain. He would have to go far to the back of the line, thus taking any title shot off the table for 2012. In addition, he probably would no longer draw as a headliner for awhile. I don’t like the fight from a business standpoint, although as a fight fan I’d love to see a rematch.
Cain Velasquez vs. Brandon Schaub - I would call this the safest fight on the docket. I can’t imagine Velasquez losing to Schaub, although anyone can get in a lucky shot. The biggest problem here is that of all future fights, this has no chance of drawing as a main-event on pay per view.
I have little interest in seeing this fight and for business, it makes very little sense. A win here is meaningless. You can’t justify giving Cain a championship rematch with a win over Brandon Schaub. The win would be so meaningless that he would likely have to win two more fights to get the shot, rather than just one with the other opponents (or none). But what if Schaub wins? If Schaub wins, the UFC is screwed!
Cain Velasquez vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira - I could see the UFC going in this direction if the Frank Mir fight fails to materialize. These two guys fought a little over a year ago and calling it a fight would be complimentary. Their UFC 110 fight was a one-sided dominant affair which saw Cain KO the former Pride FC star in the first round to win a crack at the UFC heavyweight championship.
I think Nogueira is done, so as far as the fight goes, I think it would be a safe bet for Velasquez. I can’t imagine Nogueira matching the speed of Velasquez at this stage of the game. The UFC would have a hard time handing Velasquez a championship fight off of a win here. I still think he’d need one more fight (most likely against the Alistair Overeem vs. Brock Lesnar loser). However, a loss here would not be nearly as devastating for Cain as it would against Schaub or Kongo. Plus, the UFC could have a great story on their hands with Nogueira challenging for the championship off a win.
Nelson is a hard hitter and if these two guys stood and punched, he may very well KO Velasquez in the first round. How are you going to market Velasquez after two knockouts? Roy Nelson challenging Dos Santos or Lesnar would be absolutely huge (no pun intended), but is that the right thing for long term business? I could go either way on that one quite honestly. I think Cain would win, but the gamble is too big to take in my opinion. Give him Nelson after a win in his next one? Okay I can see that, but I think tempting fate this soon could do some serious damage to the former champion.
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