#MMA #Rankings @UFC @JonnyBones @SugaRashadEvans @DanHendo @PhilMrWonderful @AlexTheMauler
The Light Heavyweight division is a good microcosm of how I see the whole of MMA at the moment – in a state of generational flux. For years, 205lbs was considered the most stacked division with guys like Rampage Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Shogun Rua competing with Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva and Keith Jardine for title opportunities. Now, most of that generation have either retired (Liddell, Couture) moved out of the UFC (Jardine) or have had their day in the sun with the title and been moved down the card on account of losing as often as winning (Rampage, Shogun, Forrest.) This has left a new generation of stars breaking into title contention – Light Heavyweight even has a relative rookie as the champion in the shape of the insultingly young Jon ‘Bones’ Jones, with the likes of Phil Davis, Alexander Gustafsson and even Ryan Bader following on behind.
The state of flux comes when the younger generation who perhaps DESERVE the title shot more on account of winning more of their matches aren’t at the level yet where they draw enough to really get the shot, meaning more established fighters are given title shots with more spotty recent record (see Rampage, Machida.) Fortunately, the UFC brass seems to recognise this and is placing these hotshots in matches where (if successful) they’ll quickly become huge stars.
Of the guys who were big stars before UFC 100, we still have Rashad Evans and Dan Henderson rightly in the title frame, but this year we should see someone like Phil Davis or Mauler Gustafsson getting a title shot (assuming either man can win their next match, against Evans or Rogerio Nogueira respectively, but both on free network TV) and Jones vs. Davis/Gustafsson for the title would surely mark the point where the generational shift is complete and any ‘veteran’ getting a shot after that point would surely be more the aberration that the main story, so to speak. We live in interesting times…
Anyhow, it’s been an interesting few months at Light Heavyweight and while some folks on this list haven’t been active, some of them have and their results and performances have been very interesting. This is how I see the division at the moment.
1 Jon Jones 15-1 (8-1) UFC – Current UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
As predicted, Lyoto Machida presented a singular test to Bones’ abilities – a test he passed with flying colours, responding to losing the first round by getting a takedown, busting Machida open with one of his trademark elbows and finishing the fight with a standing guillotine. I have to admit that I’m none too fond of the way he callously dropped Machida after the referee stepped in – I’m well aware the referee told him to release the hold, but he could have shown more regard for his opponent than dropping him, to fall unconscious to the floor AFTER the match was won.
However that has no bearing on his in ring abilities and having dispatched the best muay thai artist in the division (Shogun), one of the most celebrated sprawl & brawl artists (Rampage) and the most elusive counter striker (Machida) it’s a big question as to who can unseat Jones. It looks like it’ll be Dan Henderson (with his high level Greco-roman wrestling and Right Hand of Doom) or the winner of Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis (both top notch wrestlers with underrated stand-up) next in any case…
2 Rashad Evans 16-1-1 (3-1) UFC
Rashad hasn’t been active since his win over Tito Ortiz in August, basically waiting for his expected bout against Phil Davis to come to fruition. It seems he’s been the #1 contender to the LHW belt forever (effectively winning that status when he decisioned Rampage in August 2010) but it turns out that waiting for Shogun wasn’t the best plan when Rashad ended getting injured TWICE and lost out on title shots (which ended up going to Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson.) Rashad recovered by defeating Tito Ortiz and now has a bout scheduled against up & comer Phil Davis at UFC on FOX 2 with the winner set to get a title shot in the summer. Rashad’s #1 contender slot at Shogun has turned into a former teammate grudge match against Jon Jones as Rashad was so offended by Jones accepting ‘his’ shot at Shogun followed by Jones saying he’d be happy to face Rashad for the belt (after years of Rashad saying he wouldn’t face a teammate – usually referring to Keith Jardine) that he left Jackson’s Gym where Jones was the new golden boy. If Rashad beats Davis, he’ll be the #1 contender and get his shot…
3 Dan Henderson 29-8 (6-1) [3-0 at 205lbs] UFC
Hendo left the UFC as the de facto #1 contender to Anderson Silva’s belt, lost his first Strikeforce match to Jake Shields and moved back up to light heavyweight. Wins over Renato Sobral and Rafael Cavalcante won him the Strikeforce 205lb strap and he followed that up with a win over Fedor Emelianenko (notionally) at Heavyweight. His return to the UFC was in a highly entertaining and victorious effort against former champion Mauricio Rua and that win catapulted Henderson to the edge of title contention. One of the oldest elite level mixed martial artists, Henderson wants his shot at the belt as soon as possible and has reportedly refused a bout against Antonio Rogerio Nogueira as being beneath his current interests. This could yet pay dividends as if Jon Jones is indeed ready for another match and with Evans-Davis yet to happen, Henderson could be the logical choice for a title match which comes sooner rather than later.
4 Phil Davis 9-0 (8-0) UFC
Mr Wonderful has had an organise rise since his debut in 2008 and since his UFC debut in February 2010 he has handed Alexander Gustafsson his only loss, sent Brian Stann and Tim Boetsch down to the 185lb division and won a decision over Rogerio Nogueira to find himself right in the title mix.
A wrestler by inclination, Davis tends to win his fights by decision or submission (his two TKO wins coming from the early portion of his career where his opponents were well overmatched) and thus far has only gained one OTN bonus in his five match UFC career (for his submission of Tim Boetsch) but the fact that he’s kept winning in a division where many of the biggest stars are in sporadic form has moved him past the likes of Forrest Griffin, Ryan Bader etc. to stand one win away from a title shot. The man in his way is perhaps his equal in wrestling and is perhaps a better striker, so it’ll be interesting to see how Phil vs. Rashad goes down.
5 Alexander Gustafsson 13-1(6-1) UFC
The Mauler responded to his only career loss (to #4 Phil Davis) in his second UFC bout by going on a four fight win streak, knocking off Cyrile Diabite, James Te-Huna, Matt Hamill and Vladimir Matyushenko all within the first two rounds. Gustafsson has earned his place at the top table and has a chance to further prove his credentials with a main event bout in his home country against Rogerio Nogueira. A win there would see him right in title contention, perhaps next in line depending how the Jones-Henderson-Evans-Davis tangle works out. IMHO Gustafsson is one of the most entertaining young fighters in the division and, having only gone to a decision once in his 14 fight career with a tendency to score his wins early, I’d LOVE to see him challenge Jon Jones for the title. It may come soon…
6 Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua 20-6 (4-3) UFC
Shogun may only have a +1 record in the last few years, but his losses have come via poor judging (to Machida), in a pretty close, epic fight (to Henderson) and in decisive fashion to a rising force (against Jones.) His loss to Jones could (charitably) be put down to ring rust but the fact that he would have lost a three round match to Henderson 30-27 is probably more worrying.
When Shogun is on, as he was against Forrest Griffin and in both Machida matches – especially the second – he is one of the most terrifying strikers in the division. However, he has a tendency towards mental weakness and being frustrated by wrestlers which has seen him drop out of title contention. I’m a massive Rua fan and I’d love nothing more than to see him go on a streak and reclaim the 205lb title… but it’s a long road back and I can’t see any way he’;d get a shot before mid 2013 at the soonest.
7 Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson 32-9 (3-2) UFC
Rampage did better than expected against Jon Jones, being the first to take him into the championship rounds (although arguably Stephen Bonnar and Andrea Gusmao can say the same as they survived to take Jones to a decision) but it’s hard to know where Rampage stands in the division now. He hasn’t scored a truly decisive win since he KOd Wanderlei Silva in 2008 and his dedication to MMA has been called into question a few times. Can he rally to make another run at the title? I’d like to see him tangle with Shogun to see which of them gets to stay in contention – stick that on a card in Japan to draw in the old PRIDE fans…
8 Lyoto Machida 17-3 (4-3) UFC
The Dragon is perhaps the first fighter to win a round against Jon Jones, his counter striking and movement really paying off in the opening round of his UFC 140 title challenge… before Jones took him down, busted him open with an elbow and choked him out in the second. The loss leaves Machida 1-3 in his last four, with the only win coming against Randy Couture. Like Rampage and Shogun, it’s hard to know where Machida stands now, with a losing record in recent memory, having lost decisively to the champion… A match against the loser of Evans vs. Davis would make sense, although there is enduring smack talk between Machida and Chael Sonnen, with Machida having mooted a move to 185lbs. Interesting…
9 Gegard Mousasi 32-3-2 [8-1-1) [6-1-1 at 205lbs] Strikeforce / DREAM – Current DREAM Light Heavyweight Champion
Despite his less than inspiring draw against Keith Jardine, the Dreamcatcher has won four out of five bouts since losing his Strikeforce Light Heavyweight title to King Mo. Decisive wins in Japan and a solid decision over Ovince St-Preux have raised his stock again, and with Lawal’s failed steroid test, I’d say he is probably the top lightweight outside the UFC. Given the state of Strikeforce, it will be interesting to see where Mousasi goes from here. A move to the UFC is a possibility, while perhaps a shot at the resurrected Strikeforce belt, probably against Feijao Cavalcante is equally likely.
10 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira 20-5 (5-2) UFC
Lil Nog sneaks into the rankings on account of Muhammad Lawal’s failed drugs test and Stanislav Nedkov’s relative inactivity. His stoppage win over Tito Ortiz pulled him back into the top teir following decision losses to up & comers Ryan Bader & Phil Davis. Nog now finds himself playing gatekeeper again, being set to face a more aggressive youngster in the shape of Alexander Gustafsson. A win over Gustafsson should put Nog on the outside of the title picture, while a loss will confirm his new role as a solid main card fighter, but more of a nostalgia act/gatekeeper for the youngsters to get past on their way to the top table (both Bader & Davis found themselves in what were effectively title eliminators after beating Nog.)
Ryan Bader 13-2 (5-2) UFC, Rafael Cavalcante 11-3 (4-2) Strikeforce , Muhammad Lawal 9-1 (7-1) Strikeforce (would have ranked #6 but for his recent failed steroids test), Vladimir Matyuschenko 26-6 (5-3) UFC, Stanislav Nedkov 12-0 (4-0) UFC, Ovince St. Preux 11-5 (11-3) Strikeforce
That’s how I see the division stacking up ahead of next weekend’s UFC on FOX 2 card, where the Rashad Evans vs. Phil Davis fight has the chance to mix things up at the top. If Rashad wins, he’s still #2 but with a cast iron shot at Jones, while if Davis wins, he’ll leapfrog Henderson into #2 with Rashad dropping out of the top 5 on account of being on a loss. It’s all to fight for!
Thanks for reading, I’d love to hear your thoughts…