UFC veteran Fabricio Werdum.
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Fabricio Werdum won the UFC Heavyweight title on the night of June 13th, and from the moment his hand was raised fans were bound to speculate who his next opponent might be.Would it be Cain Velasquez? After an even-keeled opening round, Werdum pulled ahead of the reigning champion with well-placed offensive striking and unerring defensive riposte. His left eye soon bloodied, and his stamina surprisingly diminished, Cain shot for a desperate takedown and slipped straight into a guillotine choke by the 38-year-old at 2:13 of round three.

Under different circumstances, with Velasquez’s ring-rust shaken and his body and mind fresh and revived after his twenty-month break from the sport due to injury, could he overcome Werdum? Do we echo the traditions of Heavyweight boxing and give the champion the first shot at the title?

He is not on the shortlist, according to Dana White.

Junior Dos Santos (*#2) is a hero in his native Brazil, and a Brazilian UFC Heavyweight champion is going to be the second most popular sportsman beyond the leading goalscorer of the Brazilian soccer team. Werdum Vs. Dos Santos could produce all of the fight week clamor of an Anderson Silva fight in Rio if and when it is to come together, and it probably will, just not immediately.

Earlier this year, Dos Santos had to undergo surgery due to a knee injury which he sustained in a unanimous decision win over Stipe Miocic. It has been a long road to a hopefully lasting recovery for the former champion, and he may not be ready to compete for the title upon his return despite his position as the #1 contender.

No time can be wasted for a fighter of Werdum’s age. He plans a return to the octagon by the end of the year, and needs an opponent. In a fan Q&A session on Thursday, Dana White stated that one of two contenders are being considered for a shot at Werdum; those fighters being Andrei Arlovski (#4) and Stipe Miocic (#3).

Arlovski, a Belarusian, is a very recognizable name in MMA circles. He held the title for a brief period in 2005 before conceding it to Tim Sylvia. After five straight wins followed a miserable period where Arlovski lost four fights in Affliction and Strikeforce over the course of two years, before being ditched by the latter promotion ahead of its merger with the UFC. After a solid turnaround in the World Series of Fighting and other lesser promoters, the UFC gobbled him up in an effort to revitalize the heavyweight division with some names — new and old — capable of contending for the title.

Remarkably, Arlovski has won three straight in this, his second stint with the UFC, including a first-round “Fight of the Night”-winning knockout over top-five ranked Travis Browne. In no small part due to the excitement he brings to a very emblematic weight class, and the allure of a rematch “eight years in the making,” following a tepid three-round win in favor of Arlovski against Werdum in 2007, this fight does sell. Or, at least they’ll figure out a way to sell it as Werdum makes the first defense of a title he feels is in the hands of a belonging champion.

Stipe Miocic is the first choice. Make no mistake about it; in the absence of an able-bodied Cain or JDS, Miocic is the man who should get the call for a fall date with Werdum. Eerily enticing, are the possibilities of a match-up of highly-regarded if publicly shrouded contender in the Ohioan Croat. His defeat against Junior Dos Santos was one of the best performances you could expect from one fighter, a young fighter, against a former champion. Conventional wisdom tells us he has plenty of learning left to be be done, but reality distorts this theory and unfurls the facts. Miocic, athletically, is one of the best Heavyweights we’ve ever seen enter the UFC.

6’4 Stipe Miocic perfected a 243lb build for his last bout against Mark Hunt. It was a bout in which Miocic slaughtered the slugger with crushing knees and sound infighting for almost the entire five rounds before, in Adelaide, Australia, the referee spared the crowd’s rallying force, soldering on every moment of his punishment, about ten minutes after he should have. Werdum stopped Hunt in two rounds seven months prior to win the interim UFC Heavyweight title.

Both tower over the likes of Velasquez and Hunt with their height; toned in every respect. Werdum is a diligent fighter with mental precision you won’t find elsewhere, but Miocic is strong and methodical. Maybe he is the best of both worlds when you consider the type of fight we saw from Velasquez and Werdum when they met last Saturday. Despite his struggles over five rounds against Dos Santos, the best could be yet to come in Miocic.

Ergo, there is no better time than now for Stipe Miocic to test himself against a champion who is true to form. He can learn a thing or two about fighting, or shock the world in a time of continued aberration, with no time for an icon to shape up where people most pay attention to them. Werdum can stand on the long line of Brazilian MMA legends, but whether he can become an icon will depend on his ability to take down fighters like Miocic, and not only headhunt the very best existing, but also the very best to come.

*# indicates ranking in official UFC Fighter Rankings, which can be seen at UFC.com/rankings.

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