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Land of the Giants - Part II

Michael DiSanto, UFC - In the first part of the Land of the Giants heavyweight breakdown, we examined the top guns among the big boys. But there’s more than just the Fab Four of Lesnar, Carwin, Mir, and Velasquez, as you’ll soon find out…

By Michael DiSanto

In the first part of the Land of the Giants heavyweight breakdown, Michael DiSanto examined the top guns among the big boys. But there’s more than just the Fab Four of Lesnar, Carwin, Mir, and Velasquez, as you’ll soon find out…

LUNCH PAIL CREW

These heavyweights bring very full lunch pails to the Octagon each time out. They may have holes in their respective games that keep them from the top of the division, but they sure are fun to watch, win, lose or draw.

Pat BarryPat Barry: His bio lists him at 5’11. I’m not convinced. I that is a college basketball height—you know, one determined by asking “hey Pat, how tall are you” instead of pulling out the tape measure. His height, or more appropriately lack thereof, is probably his biggest enemy in the heavyweight division. His punching power, by contrast, is his biggest strength. This guy punches like Earnie Shavers or a young Mike Tyson. If he touches any heavyweight on the chin with a fully committed punch, it’s game over. And he kicks like an angry mule, scoring knockouts in K-1 with both low and high kicks. Suffice to say that this guy doesn’t take a backseat in terms of single-strike power to any heavyweight in the world. But this is MMA, not kickboxing, so there is more to the game than just striking. That is where Barry has some problems. His ground game is certainly improving, but his height is a major problem on the ground, particularly when fighting from his guard. Regardless of how good Barry is at controlling an opponent’s hips from his guard, that won’t prevent a significantly taller foe from posturing up and unleashing powerful ground-and-pound attacks, which is something that hip control is supposed to help prevent. I’ve said it before that Barry has the power of heavyweight and the frame of a middleweight. I think Barry’s best division is probably 205 lbs, if not 185 lbs. He would be a serious title threat in either weight class. Last: TKO2 over Antoni Hardonk at UFC 104. Next: TBA.

Paul BuentelloPaul Buentello: It was great to see “The Headhunter” return at UFC 107 after nearly three years fighting in other promotions. The affable Mexican-American mixed martial artist certainly doesn’t look like a fighter. I’m sure he doesn’t strike fear into anyone’s heart during pre-fight weigh-ins or when he first enters the cage. The fear arrives when Buentello first touches them with his fists or feet because this guy has very real dynamite in both. His takedown defense is excellent, though he does leave a bit to be desired once he is on his back, and that is the big hole in his game, along with a gas tank that has been less than full for recent fights. Against Stefan Struve he was completely exhausted far too early, and that came back to haunt him. With that said, it is tough to count out Buentello in any fight because of his knockout power. And he certainly is one of the more entertaining heavyweights out there. Last: MD loss to Stefan Struve at UFC 107. Next: Cheick Kongo at UFC Live: Vera vs. Jones on March 21.

Antoni HardonkAntoni Hardonk: In terms of technique, Hardonk stands alone atop the list of UFC heavyweight strikers. Watching him throw leg kicks is a thing of beauty. There is no hitch. No step. No movements that telegraph the incoming bomb. And he doesn’t land the shot with an ineffective slapping motion that is so common among converted strikers. It’s all shin thrown in a whipping motion from his hips, which makes it as effective as a baseball bat to the legs. But one should expect nothing less of an Ernesto Hoost student. Striking isn’t Hardonk’s problem. He can stand and trade with anyone, except Pat Barry, who made him pay for that mistake back in October. It is his inability to stop the takedown that gets him into trouble. Hardonk has been working hard on his ground game, but three of his four UFC losses occurred after takedowns. If he can either dramatically improve his takedown defense or develop an excellent defensive guard, then the sky is the limit for this guy. If not, he will be relegated to the role of heavyweight gatekeeper because there is no room among the heavyweight elite for a one trick pony. Last: TKO2 by Pat Barry at UFC 104. Next: TBA.

 

A MAJOR QUESTION MARK

Stefan StruveStefan Struve: This guy has a lot going for him. For starters, he just turned 22 years old. He also happens to be the tallest heavyweight in the UFC, standing 6’11. Struve has extremely long, flexible limbs with solid submissions, particularly from his guard. That makes him very dangerous on the ground. He mixes those ground skills with solid standup game. All that adds up to make Struve one of the more interesting prospects to come out of Europe in the last few years. His UFC debut was a train wreck—at least, it must have felt like a train wreck when he ran into Junior Dos Santos at UFC 95. The tall Dutchman was dispatched in less than a minute on that disappointing night. He recovered nicely from that loss with three straight wins, including a thrilling three-round war with Buentello the last time out. Struve’s problem is that he needs to add significant muscle and power if he truly wants to compete with the division’s big boys. That was glaringly obvious against Dos Santos. I honestly think he needs to add somewhere in the neighborhood of 30 lbs his 235-lb frame over the next few years. That would be an insurmountable task for most humans. But Struve is 6’11 and remains a relative baby in the sport with several years to go before he hits his physical prime, so it is not that daunting of a task for him. Last: MD over Paul Buentello at UFC 107. Next: Roy Nelson at UFC Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi on March 31.

NEW BLOOD

The last year has seen a nice infusion of new talent into the heavyweight division. Some of these guys are grizzled veterans. Others are fresh new faces with untapped potential.

Ben RothwellBen Rothwell: “Big Ben” might be a UFC newcomer, but this guy has a ton of experience with nearly 40 professional fights under his belt, including a couple of first-round TKO wins over current UFC light heavyweight competitor Krzysztof Soszynski and a split-decision win over “The Ultimate Fighter” winner Roy Nelson. In other words, Rothwell paid his dues and then some before arriving in the world’s toughest MMA promotion. Unfortunately for the Wisconsin native, his debut came against the division’s best young fighter, Cain Velasquez, and he was summarily smashed. Rothwell had a golden opportunity to rebound from that loss at UFC 110 where he was scheduled to face Mirko Cro Cop. A win over the Croatian superstar would have catapulted Rothwell right into the middle of the heavyweight mix. A stomach virus forced Rothwell to pull out only a few days before the fight. That was the correct move, since fighting Cro Cop while fighting illness is a recipe for disaster, and Rothwell can ill afford to get dominated again if he wants to remain relevant in the division in the short term. Last: TKO2 by Cain Velasquez at UFC 104. Next: TBA.

The Ultimate Fighter Finale Roy NelsonRoy Nelson: How does one discuss Nelson without making reference to his enormous gut? I’m not being disrespectful. He rubs that sucker like a golden Buddha after every win. And honestly, why should he care about his belly? MMA is about effective fighting, not bodybuilding. This guy is an extremely effective fighter, dominating B-level competition in smaller shows around the country over the last several years before finally getting his opportunity to compete in the ultimate proving grounds. Nelson actually uses his gut to his advantage during fights, especially when trying to control an opponent on the ground. And his cardio seems unaffected by his high levels of body fat. Maybe a monstrous belly will become the new rage. Maybe it won’t. I’m more interested to know if Nelson is really as good as he seemed when he easily dominated the competition during the tenth installment of TUF. His first stiff test comes in about a month against Dutch beanstalk Struve. Last: KO1 over Brendan Schaub at The Ultimate Finale 10. Next: Stefan Struve at UFC Fight Night: Florian vs. Gomi on March 31.

UFC 102 Todd DuffeeTodd Duffee: Duffee has all the physical tools to be an excellent heavyweight. The 24-year-old has good size, standing 6’3 and weighing 260 lbs. He is extremely strong. And, of course, he is very athletic with dangerous punches—all six of his professional fights have ended inside the distance due to strikes. Duffee is another in a growing line of career mixed martial artists—guys who grew up with the sport, rather than transitioning to MMA after long careers in a particular martial art. That is the good. The bad is that he remains relatively untested. Is he the destructive striker that his perfect knockout record suggests? That certainly remains to be seen. It also remains to be seen whether his takedown defense is good enough to deal with lifelong wrestlers or if his submission defense is good enough to deal with high-level black belts. I don’t know the answers to those questions, though I’m not ready to bet against him. Duffee has a ton of potential. Only time will tell if he will live up to that potential. Last: KO1 over Tim Hague at UFC 102 (set the UFC record for fastest knockout—seven seconds). Next: TBA.

Brendan SchaubBrendan Schaub: Schaub is a late comer to the sport after spending his collegiate years playing football at the University of Colorado. He is a big, strong young man who is quickly learning the ropes thanks to his good work ethic and natural athletic ability. But his lack of experience was glaringly obvious in his knockout loss to Nelson in the finale of TUF 10. It will be interesting to see how Schaub rebounds from his first professional loss. Some fighters are never the same again, particularly when the loss is by vicious knockout. Working out with Shane Carwin, Rashad Evans, Nate Marquardt and crew should help ensure that he puts that unfortunate result behind him and continues building his fighting foundation. We will know for sure in a couple of weeks when he returns to action on the undercard of Brandon Vera versus Jon Jones. Last: KO1 by Roy Nelson at The Ultimate Finale 10. Next: Chase Gormley at UFC: Vera vs. Jones on March 21.

Matt MitrioneMatt Mitrione: It didn’t take long for Mitrione to alienate just about everyone in the house during TUF 10. His apparent lack of commitment to the sport and general arrogance stung most of his fellow reality show competitors. Little did everyone know that it was all mind games by an athlete who is well versed in the mental aspect of competing in professional sports, after spending a few years as a defensive lineman in the NFL with the New York Giants and then the Minnesota Vikings. Succinctly put, this guy is an uber athlete with Superman strength (his football playing weight was just shy of 300 pounds), bone-crushing power in his hands and an excellent set of whiskers. That makes him a dangerous opponent for just about anyone. He is trying to quickly get up the MMA learning curve under the watchful eye of grizzled UFC veteran Chris Lytle at Integrated Fighting Academy. Last: KO2 over Marcus Jones. Next: TBA

THE INTERNET SENSATION

Lots of guys enter the UFC amidst serious fanfare. Brock Lesnar was a former WWE icon when he debuted inside the Octagon. Cain Velasquez was regarded by many as the division’s heir apparent when he signed his first UFC contract. Both their respective UFC debuts, as well as those of just about every other competitor to date, did not inspire the same level of interest from casual fans as the debut of some guy named Kevin Ferguson, who is better known as “Kimbo Slice.” Simply put, Slice is a street fighting legend born from the underground videos of YouTube, a man with possibly the most unique aura of any competitor to ever enter the sport. And I cannot wait to see how his UFC career plays itself out.

Kimbo SliceKimbo Slice: For the first few years of his mixed martial arts career, Slice was a one-trick pony. He relied solely on his fistic prowess to win. That all changed in his official UFC debut against devastating striker Houston Alexander. Right from the opening bell, it was clear that Alexander wanted no part of exchanging punches with Slice, which shocked virtually everyone because Alexander was known for having some of the most explosive punches in the sport. His refusal to engage with Slice led to a very tactical battle that saw the Internet sensation actually execute a couple of extremely nice takedowns and good ground control. Slice will need to continue developing his offensive and defensive ground game if he actually wants to be anything more than a passing attraction in the UFC. He has enlisted the tutelage of Ricardo Liborio and the American Top Team to build his MMA skills—a great group to do just that. His improvement to date has been nothing short of remarkable. Slice’s biggest problem, though, is his size. At 225 lbs, Slice is a very small heavyweight. He is the perfect size for a non-existent 215-lb weight class, but may be too big to actually cut down to 205 lbs. Slice needs to figure out whether he is better off trying to take the extra weight off and make a run at light heavy or add another 15 to 20 lbs and really concentrate on heavyweight. Either way, I’ll be watching, along with millions of casual fans who cannot seem to get enough of Kimbo Slice. Last: UD over Houston Alexander at The Ultimate Finale 10. Next: TBA