The recent pink slips handed to heavyweights Junior Dos Santos and Alistar Overeem might have what the old 'what-if' juices flowing.
JDS had his day in the sun and held the UFC heavyweight belt respectfully where the Reem just never hit paydirt. It would be hard to hone in on the factors that contribute to the bridesmaid vs. bride phenomenon that can be prevalent in MMA. It is amplified at heavyweight where the longest winning streak for title defenses at heavyweight in the UFC is three – three! And the irony is that this record is held by a part-time fighter in Stipe Miocic. Demetrious Johnson defended his Flyweight belt eleven times! What is going on at heavyweight?
As hard as it is to get a UFC heavyweight belt, it is harder to keep it. But a fighter can do neither if he is not in the UFC or in the UFC at the right time. Alistar was late to come over. As good as he has looked (let's refrain from off-handed USADA quips), and whatever degree of his younger self he brought, he just never hit the peak of the mountain. This is a more common story than we may remember. Those outings from legendary guys like Mirko Cro Cop (Flipovic – he does have a last name), Johs Barnett (during either sojourn in the UFC), Andre Arlovski (now on his second run) never seemed to translate to the UFC cage. Nor do they seem to have been at optimal belt prospect times.
This 'what-if' syndrome plagues the hardcore fans of MMA. Somewhere someone has no doubt written fan fiction books about Fedor Emelianenko sitting with that look (you know the one) on his face dawning the fabled Glorious Sweater of Absolute Victory with an empty cartoon speech bubble above his head across from Randy Couture in a press conference somewhere in Siberia leading up to the fight was never to be in reality. It is not just fantasy league stuff that annoys either. It is real-life getting in the way as well. While we want avoid the distasteful discussion of monopolies and lawsuits with their far-reaching implications and similarly we dodge the subject of the cleaning up of the sport likely being detrimental to our favorite imaginary matchups (or actual match-ups that materialized, but have a cloud over them – look up Mark Hunt), there were some matches in there that probably could have happened. Maybe even should have had cooler heads prevailed.
It's a shame the low hanging fruit is to reduce this all down to saying it just means the best were in the UFC and the reason some came and couldn't get a belt and some chose not to come was that the competition was simply too good for that to happen. Whatever the validity of this thinking, guys like Cain Velasquez and Daniel Cormier prove it is no absolute. Cain has a Bodog fight on his record if one needed a credibility example outside the UFC. In a vacuum, there are matchups that did not have to be fantasy. Whether it is related to run, second run, or late run at a heavyweight title, timing may not be everything, but it is certainly important. Things have to be just right. Striking while irons are hot and all that. Face it, it is just so darn hard to be a heavyweight Mixed Martial Arts fighter in ideal circumstances – and things are very rarely ideal, nor are there silver medals.