The greatest heavyweight champion in UFC history is hurt – again.
Fully recovered from a shoulder injury that kept him out of the octagon for the first half of 2014, Cain Velasquez is still dealing with an injured left hand that might keep him out for the entire year, as originally reported by Ariel Helwani.
Velasquez hasn’t stepped into the octagon since his third fight against former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos, earning a TKO victory in the fifth round in October of last year.
This isn’t the first time injuries have kept the champion out of the octagon. His first stint at champion – birthed by a TKO victory against Brock Lesnar – only saw Velasquez fight once in 12 months as champion because of a torn shoulder labrum.
For most other divisions, this wouldn’t be too much of an issue.
Find yourself some solid title contenders, have them duke it out and give birth to a true No. 1 contender – ultimately setting yourself up for a compelling title fight upon the champion’s return.
Problem for the UFC matchmakers is they’ve already got their guy in Fabricio Werdum, who just took heavily favored Travis Browne to a five-round unanimous decision last Saturday at the Amway Center in Orlando.
To add more complication, Werdum’s only fought once in each of the last three years. Putting him on the bench waiting for Velasquez to return would be unwise.
Putting him back in the octagon against anybody who doesn’t have “Brown Pride” branded across his chest would be foolish.
Since the start of his second reign as champion, the UFC has struggled to find genuine title contenders to challenge Velasquez. Outside of dos Santos, who’s responsible for two of Velasquez’s three title defenses, Velasquez has simply outclassed anybody standing across the octagon.
Of the top 5 ranked UFC fighters, Werdum seems the only one to make viable sense.
No. 2 ranked dos Santos is only six months removed from his most recent loss to Velasquez. No. 3 Browne just suffered a five-round beating from Werdum. No. 4 ranked Antonio Silva is coming away from two fights without having his hand raised and facing a year-long suspension for testing positive for a banned substance in his last outing against Mark Hunt. No. 5 Josh Barnett was knocked out in his last fight against Browne.
There’s literally nobody left but Werdum.
At this point, only Stipe Miocic, who’s riding a two-fight winning streak, makes sense for a title eliminator bout against Werdum. And that’s assuming Miocic finds a way to get past “Cigano” next month in São Paulo, Brazil.
Assuming the title fight does happen, Werdum likely suffers the same fate. But that shouldn’t stop the UFC from protecting the only guy who’s proven himself to, at the very least, challenge for heavyweight gold.
Send your thoughts to @Kristian_Ibarra on Twitter.