Since June 11, the UFC has put on three fight cards.  While the promotion catches its breath and re-stacks the dominoes, fans of the UFC are stuck in the mud.  With that being said, now is a good time to sit down and really take a good look at the status of each weight class.  We are going to start by examining the light heavyweight division, which is historically one of the most exciting divisions to watch.  The 205-pounders have the size and strength to consistently bring a lot of action and a lot of power.

Jon “Bones” Jones currently sits atop the division after defeating Mauricio “Shogun” Rua at UFC 128.  The victory brought a little bit of controversy along with it, as Jones was a late replacement for former teammate Rashad Evans.  One of the “unwritten rules” of MMA is that teammates are not supposed to fight one another, and apparently that they are not supposed to step in for one another when given a title shot.  Jones was set to defend his title against Evans at UFC 133, however the bout was axed after it was announced that a hand injury suffered by Jones would require surgery and he would be out until late 2011. However, after seeing multiple doctors, Jones has opted to skip surgery and simply rehab the hand.  With “Bones” off of the card, the UFC plugged in up-and-comer Phil “Mr. Wonderful” Davis against Evans as the main event.

Now that we are all caught up, here’s a look at the contenders in the UFC light heavyweight division:

Quinton Jackson (32-8, two-fight winning streak)

With Evans booked up to fight at UFC 133, “Rampage” Jackson gets the nod to fight for the title at UFC 135.  While Jackson is a worthy candidate, people are up in arms because Evans defeated Jackson by unanimous decision at UFC 114 to determine the No. 1 contender.  With then-champion Rua sidelined with an injury for so long and an eventual training injury suffered by Evans before their fight, Evans more or less lost his contender status.  One way or another, this is likely Jackson’s last shot at a UFC title considering that he is now 33-years-old and has openly expressed that he does not like training for fights.  If he loses the fight, he will drop down the ladder and it will be difficult for a guy his age to rise back up.

Rashad Evans (15-1-1, two-fight winning streak)

It has been a rough year or so for Evans as far as the title picture is concerned.  He was supposed to fight for the belt, and then didn’t due to injury.  Then his replacement, Jones, wins the title and now Evans is supposed to fight Jones.  But then the fight with Jones is cancelled.  Now, with the guy he defeated for the No. 1 contender spot fighting for the title, Evans is scheduled to fight Phil Davis at UFC 133.

For Evans it is simple: Beat Davis and he gets the next shot at the title.

Forrest Griffin (18-6, two-fight winning streak)

Like a couple of other people on this list, at age 32, Griffin could very well be making his final run at the title.  The former champion is currently riding a two-fight winning streak in which he defeated Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin by decision.  While that isn’t extremely tough competition, Griffin will now square off against former champion Rua at UFC 134.  The fight will be a rematch of their UFC 76 bout in which Griffin impressively won by rear-naked choke.  That victory propelled Griffin to a title shot against Quinton Jackson, which he won by decision.

For Griffin, a victory does not guarantee a title shot, but depending on how the cards land in the other fights, Griffin vs. Rampage II for the title is pretty appealing.

Lyoto Machida (17-2, won last fight)

While it has been a tough year for Rashad Evans, due to being bounced in and out of fights for the title, it was a really rough 2010 for Machida after he lost his championship at UFC 113 to Rua and then lost a split decision to “Rampage” in his next fight at UFC 123.  Machida has bounced back though, defeating Randy Couture by Steven Seagal front kick, getting himself back in the talk.

For Machida, he really needs to win another fight to become relevant again.  Look for him to be scheduled to a fight soon, and if he wins, he is right in the thick of things once again.

Phil Davis (9-0, nine-fight winning streak)

The man who could really throw a wrench into the plans of Evans and make his time since UFC 114 even worse is Davis.  “Mr. Wonderful” is enjoying an undefeated record, holding nine victories and zero defeats.  Davis has looked great in every fight that we have seen him in and he is currently 5-0 in the UFC.  While it is not official, if Davis wins against Evans at UFC 133, he could very well be the next No. 1 contender.  People love labeling the 26-year-old Davis as “The next Jon Jones,” which is pretty wild because Jones himself is only 23-years-old.  Either way, if both Jones and Davis win their fights, it would be extremely appealing for the UFC to put these two young guns together for the title.

For Davis, I can’t say whether or not he will be next in line for the title with a victory.  Obviously he needs to win to stay relevant, however if he wins he might not get the title shot depending on a bunch of other factors.

Mauricio Rua (19-5, lost last fight)

The 29-year-old “Shogun” Rua was just dominated by Jon Jones at UFC 128 and lost his title.  With that being said, “Shogun” has to still be considered on the list when talking about potential suitors for the title.  He is on the bottom of the list because he has some work to do to get another shot at the title, but do not count him out.  Rua will have several motivating factors when he steps into the cage again: Winning in front of his home crowd in Brazil, getting back the loss on his record from Forrest Griffin, and getting back to the title.

For Rua, a win will not get him the next title shot.  But a win gets him another high-profile fight, which could very easily lead to another title shot.

The six fighters above are sitting on top of the division, looking at Jones.  Now let’s take a quick look at the rest of the relevant fighters in the division, the guys who are on the outside looking in.

Ryan Bader (12-2, two-fight losing streak)

After two straight losses, Bader needs to worry about winning a fight and staying with the promotion, rather than even thinking about the title.

Alexander Gustafsson (11-1, two-fight winning streak)

While riding an 11-1 professional record is great, he hasn’t defeated any tough competition.  If he can beat Matyushenko at UFC 133 and then can take down a top talent, he should be considered in title talk.

Tito Ortiz (16-8-1, won last fight)

While he looked really impressive in his recent victory over Ryan Bader, Ortiz is still far from a title shot.  Heck, we could even see Ortiz get cut if he loses his next fight.  Time will tell.

Rich Franklin (28-6(1), lost last fight)

The former UFC middleweight champ has fought in the light heavyweight division since 2008.  During that time, he has gone 3-3 and has not won consecutive fights.  The 36-year-old will probably never fight for a title again, but his name alone will carry his career a bit further beyond this fight.

Kyle Kingsbury (11-2(1), four-fight winning streak)

Riding a four-fight winning streak in the UFC is always a good sign.  Defeating relative no-namers doesn’t help Kingsbury’s case, unfortunately.  Look for Kingsbury to get a step up in competition in his next fight.  If he gets it, and wins it, he should be considered in the title talk.

Stephan Bonnar (13-7, two-fight winning streak)

At this point, Bonnar is like Rich Franklin.  He is great to have on your card, but he will likely never see a title shot.  Like Forrest Griffin, “The American Psycho” will likely fight for the UFC for as long as he wants due to his role in the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, but quite frankly he has never been in any position to be considered in the title mix.  He is riding a two-fight winning streak and has no current dance partner.  If the UFC lines him up with someone like Machida and Bonnar can come through with the victory, we’ll talk.  Otherwise, he’s not in the title picture.

Vladimir Matyushenko (26-5, two-fight winning streak)

The 40-year-old is currently riding a two-fight winning streak, but was dominated by current champion Jones at the end of 2010.  If he can defeat Gustafsson at UFC 133 and then can beat top-tier competition afterwards, we’ll talk.

Krzysztof Soszynski (26-11-1, two-fight winning streak)

“The Polish Experiment” has looked good in his last two victories.  Again, in finding the theme of the people who have won during this section of the article, the wins weren’t against anyone of any real significance.  “K-Sos” has been good for the promotion and is always an exciting fighter, but that only gets you so far.  He is still a couple of fights away from title relevancy.

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-5, two-fight losing streak)

Just because you have the last name Nogueira doesn’t make you a contender.  “Little Nog” has lost his last two fights and could be fighting for his contract at UFC 133.

 

So there you have it.  The dominoes are lined up and now we’re just waiting for the first one to fall.  A lot can happen in the next few weeks with this division, which makes everything extremely exciting.  Should Evans come up short to Davis, everything will become wide open.  But even if Evans comes out victorious, these fighters have to keep winning in order to stay in the title talk.  With a couple of these guys lined up to fight one another, things are about to get interesting.

Photo: Jon Jones drops elbows to the head of Vladimir Matyushenko

  • Sean

    Bader and Kingsbury, let’s make it happen. Rematch of an exhibition to get into the TUF house, a shot for Bader to get his feet back under him, and a winnable test for an improving Kingsbury. Not going to be a headliner by any stretch, but a good test of mettle for them both.

  • Str8nochaser

    Great, thorough write-up. Enjoyed all the stats at a glance. =)