Kick-starting the Heavyweights in Zagreb

ufc-fn86There is no doubt that the heavyweight division needed a kick-start and soon as it was falling into the realm of “who cares.”

The UFC made a real effort to do just that and it all began in Zagreb, Croatia where a number of new heavyweights stepped into the octagon looking to make an impact.

It wasn’t all new guys though as a few veterans had their chance to make an impression as well and the two veterans featured in the fight were in need of that boost.

Gabriel Gonzaga was one of them as a former top contender in the division who had fallen on some tough times as of late.

Not many knew his name until 2007 when he was put out against a legend in the MMA game, Mirko Cro Cop essentially as a sacrificial lamb.

Nobody expected Gonzaga to take the win, it was simply another step for the MMA veteran to get closer to the heavyweight title.

Then came the kick as Gonzaga gave Cro Cop a taste of his own medicine unleashing a big left head kick and knocking out the former K1 champion.

It launched Gonzaga into the spotlight as a fighter to watch in the division and immediately he became a name that many UFC fans recognised.

Since that knockout, though, Gonzaga has not been able to reach the heights that many believed he could.

Instead, he has struggled to string together wins and now at 36-years-old he is quickly running out of time to get to where everyone thought he could when he earned that knockout.

After three straight losses, there was no doubt that Gonzaga was close to being cut from the UFC but he saved his job in December.

He earned his first win in a year and now he entered another chance to begin a long climb up the division rankings.

Ruslan Magomedov was to be his original opponent but an injury thrust an up and coming heavyweight into a great opportunity.

Derrick Lewis took the short notice fight only two months from his last fight and was looking to add a name like Gonzaga to his win column.

Lewis had looked good leading to Zagreb earning two straight knockouts but he has struggled against those bigger name fighters.ufc-fn86ii

He entered the octagon hoping to prove that he can fight the big names and win as he hoped to spring into the rankings with another big win.

Gonzaga came into the fight with a confidence in his stand-up but he quickly changed his mind when Lewis landed his first big punch.

Gonzaga proceeded to try to take Lewis down and press him against the fence avoiding the big shots.

It only worked for a short time though as eventually Lewis got out and landed some big shots to end the fight in the first round with a knockout.

Gonzaga will continue to struggle in finding some recognition after his latest loss and may not be around much longer now losing four of his last five fights.

For Lewis, it is a continuation of his great run as he will continue to move up and take on tougher competition where he will prove if he is a contender or not.

Gonzaga had always been up and down but was still a veteran name who took on a fighter looking to make his first real run at the title.

That was similar to the main event except that the mountain to climb for the up and coming fighter was a little bigger.

Junior dos Santos was once considered an unbeatable champion when he beat Cain Velasquez for the heavyweight title in 2011.

His boxing was more technical than anyone in the division and it looked like the answer to a pretty good heavyweight division.

He defended his belt against Frank Mir and the path to cleaning out the division seemed to be on until he faced Velasquez a second time.

The rematch saw Velasquez take the belt and since that fight, dos Santos has struggled to stay in the octagon and stay effective.

A win against Mark Hunt earned him a rematch against Velasquez, which he lost again before spending most of 2014 inactive due to rescheduling and injuries.

He is still among the best in the division and since returning from injury has worked to find his way back to the title.

It hasn’t been easy as a win against #1 contender Stipe Miocic gave way to a knockout loss to Alistair Overeem in his last fight.

He entered Zagreb looking to get back in the win column and put his name among the top contenders when the belt finally gets back in action.

mma-sidebar.fwHis opponent was not necessarily a new fighter but a fighter who was just finding his stride heading into the main event.

Since 2009 Ben Rothwell had not been consistent enough to gain traction in the division but that traction has come in the form of four straight finishes.

He may not have gotten the talk that he deserved but winning a fight against dos Santos was sure to put him in the conversation.

The former champion was not ready to let that happen though as he was able to control the fight from start to finish.

It was all in the technique as dos Santos used great boxing to stick and move staying away from Rothwell and his power.

The display of technique brought back memories of dos Santos the champion and there is no doubt that he will enter the title conversation once again after a dominant performance.

For Rothwell, it was the end to a four-fight win streak and for his detractors, it was evidence that he is not ready for the best.

He will learn from it and if he can put together a few more wins there is little doubt that he will get a shot at a top fighter again.

With four of the six main card fights featuring heavyweights, the division got a shot in the arm as the night introduced some new fighters to watch and a vintage performance bringing back some interest in the UFC’s heavyweight division.

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