Should the Heavyweight Class be Broken Up?

Posted on July 18, 2010


Brock Lesnar’s successful title defense against Shane Carwin at UFC 116 several weeks ago has sparked intense debate. Some of it has been in reference to where Lesnar falls in the Heavyweight rankings, i.e. if Fedor should be unseated as the consensus #1 ranked Heavyweight in favor of Lesnar. To me that debate is neither here nor there, since the relative lack of competition Fedor has faced in the last five years automatically disqualifies him in my mind from being considered the hands-down best in the world.

The other argument has stemmed from whether or not it’s necessarily fair to have a weight division that allows for a sixty-pound weight discrepancy, and if perhaps there should be an additional weight class for those weighing in at 225 and up to prevent an unfair size advantage.

I don’t want to dismiss the notion entirely, since somewhere down the line it might need to be addressed.

That time isn’t now. Doing so wouldn’t create two very weak divisions, with the heavier class having a very, very shallow pool. 

For this argument, let’s take a look at what I consider to be the Top 10 Heavyweights (see more of my rankings):

  1. Brock Lesnar (4-1 / UFC Heavyweight Champion)
  2. Shane Carwin (12-0 / UFC Interim Heavyweight Champion)
  3. Cain Velasquez (8-0 / UFC)
  4. Alistair Overeem (33-11, 1 NC / Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion)
  5. Junior Dos Santos (11-1 / UFC)
  6. Fabricio Werdum (15-2 / Strikeforce)
  7. Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC / WAMMA Heavyweight Champion)
  8. Frank Mir (13-5/ UFC)
  9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1 / UFC)
  10. Roy Nelson (15-4 / UFC)

While some take issue with my placements, the ten men I’ve included don’t vary all that wildly from those you see in other top tens.

Let’s say we were to follow through on the proposed Heavyweight split. You’d have the 205 weight class re-designated as Cruiserweight (that would be my suggestion since application of the term “Light Heavyweight” would seem redundant), 225 as Light Heavyweight, and 265 as Heavyweight.

With logical applications in terms of where these fighters regularly weigh in at and what weight they could cut to (an aspect of the game that seems to be largely forgotten in this discussion), this is where the current Heavyweight Top 10 would fall:

Light Heavyweight (206-225): Cain Velasquez (a tough cut but he’d be able to make it), Junior Dos Santos, Fabricio Werdum, Fedor Emelianenko, Frank Mir, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Roy Nelson

Heavyweight (225-265): Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin, Alistair Overeem(?)

Of the next ten fighters who are considered in the mix (for example the list provided by USA Today & SB Nation’s “Consensus” rankings), none of them with the exception of maybe Antonio “Big Foot” Silva would have trouble or even hesitate to cut weight to make the 225 division.

Other than a lack of good, competitive fighters that would come in at the 225 or 245 and up weight division, we also have the problem of assuming that with size comes an automatic advantage.

Brock Lesnar is a freak of nature. Not only for his incredible size, but also for what he can do with his size. Lesnar is so quick and so athletic that I think people forget just how rare it is for a man his size to move and operate in the manner that he does, particularly since many of his opponents have been at the larger end of the heavyweight spectrum.

There are few men in this world as big as Lesnar and Carwin, even fewer with an athletic background, and still even fewer that have the necessary tools in skill and conditioning to be able to compete. There is a point where no matter how much you train, being bigger becomes a disadvantage.

Not to mention the fact that MMA is still in the process of growing as a sport in terms of popularity and accessibility. It’s really only in the last decade that the heavyweight division has even become competitive. It’ll be even longer until you see more fighters on the bigger end of the spectrum that can hold a candle to a fighter like Brock Lesnar.

Proponents of the Heavyweight split seem so eager to discount the accomplishments and natural gifts that Brock Lesnar possesses that I wonder if it isn’t just an anti-Lesnar movement. Sure, he’s bigger than most everyone in the division and he’s not the most charming man to engage in a discourse with, but you have to give credit where it’s due. Frank Mir learned the hard way that increasing size isn’t always going to give you an advantage in a fight. Lesnar has excelled at this sport due to great athleticism, his collegiate wrestling background, an astounding (and understated) commitment to training, and an almost superhuman ability to quickly pick up pretty much any sport he’s training in.

As I mentioned earlier, it’s an idea that might have to be addressed sometime in the future. But it’s not something that could or should happen anytime soon. Besides, training and learning how to slay the dragon that is Brock Lesnar will only make Heavyweight fighters better, whether they walk around at 220 pounds or 260 pounds.