Gabriel Gonzaga Quietly Moving Up UFC Heavyweight Ladder

Gabriel Gonzaga I can’t believe I’m saying this right now, but Gabriel Gonzaga is quietly making an unexpected run up the UFC heavyweight ladder. After losing three out of four fights, including two by way of brutal knockout to Shane Carwin and Junior dos Santos, Gonzaga was released from Ultimate Fighting Championship in late 2010 after a decision defeat to Brendan Schaub at UFC 121. His UFC record at the time was 7-5, and although he had one of the sport’s all-time greatest KOs over Mirko Cro Cop, he was beat down by a smaller Randy Couture for the heavyweight strap at UFC 74 and no one ever though he was going to make another run for the belt — until maybe now, that is. After briefly flirting with retirement following getting cut, Gonzaga took a local fight against Parker Porter in late 2011 and ended up getting a late arm triangle submission victory. A few months later, the UFC ended up bringing him back to replace an injured Rob Broughton at UFC 142, and he ended up submitting undefeated prospect Ednaldo Oliveira in the first round. He hasn’t looked back. Since returning to the Octagon in early 2012, Gonzaga is 4-1 with submission wins over Oliveira and Ben Rothwell and KO wins over Dave Herman and, most recently, Shawn Jordan. The only loss during that stretch came to top contender Travis Browne at the TUF 17 Finale, although many contend he was knocked out with illegal shots to the back of the head. And after Browne’s most recent win over Alistair Overeem, that loss doesn’t look so bad in hindsight. So he’s basically been flawless outside of getting hit with elbows in the back of the head since returning to the Octagon, and the Gonzaga we’ve seen in the last few fights is definitely a scary proposition for most in the heavyweight division. Now, I don’t think Gonzaga is going to contend for the belt again, and I don’t see him beating the upper echelon fighters at heavyweight like Cain Velasquez, dos Santos, and Fabricio Werdum (who he has already lost to twice). But against guys like Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Overeem and Frank Mir? I absolutely give Gonzaga a chance to beat all of them. The knock on Gonzaga will always be his chin, but it appears as though he’s really learned to distance himself from his opponents strikes over the years, which has helped him not get hit at all in his last few fights. And if he’s the one landing first, especially as of late, it’s clear he has just as much power as most in the division outside of the elite. And that makes for fun fights. For his next matchup, I’d like the UFC to book Gonzaga against Stipe Miocic. I think it’s the fight that makes most sense for both men at the moment, and it would help sort out who is a contender at heavyweight and who is not. Yes, I do favor Miocic in this fight, but he’s been finished with strikes before and Gonzaga can crack his chin again. So you really can’t count him out of it. Either way, it’s clear that Gonzaga is back to top form, and with a decent-sized name, a good personality, and an entertaining style, look for the UFC to keep putting him on main cards for as long as his second wind lasts. And at just 34 years of age, it may last longer than we think, which is crazy considering the up-and-down career he’s had in the Octagon. But it’s just another example of how anything can happen in mixed martial arts.

Written by Adam Martin.

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