Who is greatest heavyweight in mixed martial arts history?
It is a debate that has never truly been settled.
For years it was considered Fedor Emelianenko, whose reign of terror lasted 28 fights over 10 years. Others will point to Fabricio Werdum, the man who eventually solved the mystery surrounding the Russian. Yet still, with names like Stipe Miocic, Alistair Overeem and Antônio Rodrigo Nogueira floating out there, the argument continues on.
But for Chael Sonnen, the answer is easy.
“I have it down to three,” said Sonnen during an appearance on The MMA Hour. “My three might surprise you and I actually enjoy this topic. I have Fedor in the conversation, I have Werdum in the conversation but I I‘m always surprised people don’t say [former UFC champion] Josh Barnett in that conversation. I feel like they weren’t watching back in 1999 and 2002 and 2003.
“So I have those three guys. What order do you want to do it? I would probably put Fedor at number one. I love the debate, but for me it’s down to those three.”
One name in particular Sonnen omitted, yet singled out, was former UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez.
The injury riddle Velasquez (14-2) holds several UFC records including the most knockouts (10), highest significant strike percentage (57.62%), most total strikes (1464), most takedowns (34) and longest combined title reign (1281) in UFC heavyweight history.
However, a myriad of injuries have forced Velasquez to watch from the sideline. Dating back to 2013, Velasquez has made the walk to the octagon only twice, with his most recent ending in a violent TKO win over Travis Browne at UFC 200 in 2016.
For this reason, Sonnen claims Velasquez can’t be included in his top three heavyweights.
“I think Cain took himself out” said Sonnen. “How disrespectful, but Cain sits in the locker room to much to put him on that list. He had some fantastic moments and I’m not sure there was anybody alive that could beat him. But all we can do is discuss that because just didn’t walk out there and show it enough.
“But these are just conversations anyway. It comes to down to popular opinion. You’ve got to be able to out-argue the guy across from you. That’s how these pound-for-pound greats last. But I do think Cain shortened himself. He was the most intimidating heavyweight when he was in there. I’d put him right up there with George Foreman as far as the scariest guys to get into the ring with. But I kind of have him as a fourth or a fifth and out of the conversation.”
As for Emelianenko taking the top spot on Sonnen’s list, fans shouldn’t be surprised as “The Last Emperor” recently starched “The American Gangster” in the first round of their main event clash at Bellator 208 last weekend.
This performance punched ticket to the finals of the Bellator Heavyweight Grand Prix, a feat few would have imagined a few years ago after witnessing Emelianenko battered against Fábio Maldonado in 2016 followed by a violent knockout loss to Matt Mitirione in his very next fight.
Sonnen, however, was quick to praise Emelianenko for dialing back the clock in their matchup.
“I’ve had to break a lot of rules in my career too and I’m not talking about laws,” said Sonnen. “There are rules that say ‘if a fighter gets old, when a fighter slows down, when a fighter stops looking the same then he can never come back.’ I don’t like that. I’ve never been in a situation where you don’t use that as motivator and use that use that tape and use that footage to get better.
“But there seems to be a rule out there where when you look bad against a Fábio Maldonado that it’s over. You’ve got to break those rules. You can’t let it apply to you and I don’t think Fedor let it apply to him. He started training differently and that’s what a real fighter does. He gets better and finds a way to come back and I admire that in anyone that can do it. But I also look down on the guys that can’t. Don’t let that stuff stick to you.”
Emelianenko is currently slated to take on reigning Bellator light heavyweight Ryan Bader in the tournament finals for the promotion’s vacant heavyweight title on Jan. 26 inside The Forum in Los Angeles.