Following a dominant win over Francis Ngannou on Saturday night at UFC 220, Stipe Miocic not only became the longest reigning heavyweight champion in UFC history, but he largely cleared out the last contender left for him in the division.
Miocic already holds wins over four of the top five ranked fighters at heavyweight with only one name left standing who hasn't opposed him yet — former champion Cain Velasquez.
It's not that Miocic hasn't faced Velasquez because he's somehow been avoiding the two-time UFC champion. Instead, it's Velasquez's own body that has prevented him from taking a fight since 2016 and he's only had two bouts in the past four years due to injuries.
The good news is Velasquez is back in the gym now as he slowly gets his body back into fight shape. His teammate, Daniel Cormier, admits it was a huge benefit to have him around as he got ready to defend his light heavyweight title this past weekend in Boston.
“Anytime he's around, he's just an inspiration to what you can do just through hard work,” Cormier told MMAWeekly.com. “Just watching him and his commitment to help us get better and being around the team and helping us in any way that he can. It's inspirational to me. I love having that guy (around) and I always feel like I prepare better when he's around more frequently.”
The biggest question surrounding Velasquez's future is always his health.
At 35, Velasquez is still in the prime of his career by heavyweight standards, but he's already lost so much time due to injury that it's impossible to predict if he'll ever come back with the same kind of dominance he showed during his previous run in the UFC.
It could also be argued that Velasquez never faced anyone as well rounded as Miocic, who is a knockout striker with Division I college wrestling skills and conditioning to go all five rounds, as he proved in his lopsided win over Ngannou on Saturday night.
Still, Cormier is a believer that a healthy Velasquez is still the best heavyweight in the world, but he'll be the first to say that's all conditional based on his health.
“If his body can hold up, I do. I do believe that skill for skill, I think he's the best in the world. And I'm not even talking about the best at heavyweight. Just in terms of a fighter, everything he brings to the Octagon, I just think he's the best,” Cormier said.
“I've always felt that. I've always told people that. He's just the best. I don't think people understand that because they didn't get to see that as many times as we should have. Cain's probably lost five years due to injury. Just put this into perspective, the guy is a two-time heavyweight champion with two title defenses of the championship and he's lost five years and he's only 35. He's lost five years. He's given up five years. Imagine what his resume would look like if he actually got to compete that whole time.”
There's little doubt that at his peak, Velasquez looked like an unstoppable wrecking machine when he was tearing through fighters like Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos.
Now, the question remains can Velasquez tape, screw, and glue his body together long enough to make a convincing case for the UFC to put him into the Octagon with Miocic in what could be the biggest heavyweight fight in the history of the sport.