For the first time in a long time, the top of the UFC's largest weight class is surrounded with question marks, as Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) Heavyweight Champion Cain Velasquez is, like the rest of us, scratching his head and wondering who will be the next man to step up and challenge for his belt.
Prior to UFC 156: "Aldo vs. Edgar" last Saturday night (Feb. 2, 2013) in Las Vegas, people were already penning in a date for the next heavyweight title fight as former Strikeforce champion Alistair Overeem was expected to walk through Antonio Silva in dominant fashion to become the clear-cut No. 1 contender in his weight class.
Unfortunately, when he stepped into the cage with Silva, things went horribly, horribly wrong for "The Reem." The Dutchman was up two rounds to none going into the final frame when "Bigfoot" connected some heavy strikes and charged forward until Overeem was on the ground, slumped against the cage and completely unconscious (watch highlights here).
While the win was certainly one of the biggest of Silva's career, it threw the top of the heavyweight division into a loop, and now the UFC brass is back at square one.
Even though "Bigfoot" was mauled by Velasquez in one of the bloodiest fights in recent memory at UFC 146 in May 2012, UFC President Dana White said following UFC 156 that he "wouldn't be opposed" to setting up a rematch with Silva, but that doesn't seem to be the more intriguing option to fans, or Velasquez for that matter.
If Silva isn't the guy, then who does that leave Velasquez to face?
A trilogy bout Junior dos Santos, who Velasquez has beat and lost to, is certainly an option; however, most would like to see "Cigano" get a notch back in the win column after losing to Velasquez just over one month ago at UFC 155.
Velasquez could face the winner of Fabricio Werdum vs. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who meet in June, but it is unlikely the champion will want to sit on the sidelines until the fall waiting for the winner of that bout.
This all narrows things down to the elephant in the room. An elephant named Daniel Cormier, a former Olympian who is regarded as one of the best heavyweights on the planet, but also just so happens to be a good friend and training partner to Velasquez.
Both men have stellar wrestling abilities, ever-improving boxing skills and cardio for days, which makes for a very appealing match up on paper. According to Velasquez, though, it's not a fight that is ever going to happen.
"I would not fight [Daniel Cormier]," Velasquez said on Tuesday's edition (Feb. 5, 2013) of UFC Tonight on FUEL TV. He's my coach, teammate and my friend."
Outside of Cormier, there aren't many invigorating match ups to be made for the heavyweight title. According to the UFC's official rankings, Dos Santos, Werdum, Cormier, Silva, Frank Mir, Overeem, Nogueira, Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve and Shane Carwin make up the top-10 list of contenders for Velasquez's belt. All of those fighters are either booked for fights, injured, or coming off a loss, making it all the more difficult to match-make for the champion.
On Tuesday's same edition of UFC Tonight, host/analyst and UFC light heavyweight No. 1 contender Chael Sonnen weighed in on who he thinks should fight Velasquez, dropping the name of former heavyweight champion Josh Barnett, who is currently in contract negotiations with the organization.
"Bigfoot just fought and lost to Cain and it was vicious and one sided, he's not going to be the guy to fight him again," Sonnen said. "Insert Josh Barnett. He was UFC heavyweight champion in 2002. He left and can come back and get his belt back. He's the guy."
"The Warmaster" would certainly be an interesting and fresh match up for Velasquez; however, at Dana White's UFC on FOX 6 post-fight media scrum (watch it here), the UFC President stated Barnett would have to work his way up the rankings.
While Velasquez claims he wants to get back in the cage in the summertime, he may very well have to sit on the sidelines for a few months until a legitimate contender emerges.