Alexander Gustafsson to Jon Jones: Breaking Down the Top UFC Light Heavyweights
The UFC's light heavyweight division is star-studded. From Jon Jones to Quinton Jackson, there are a number of noticeable names who are at the top of the division at any given time.
With Jones as champion, there are a number of men who claim to be at the top of the food chain. But of these light heavyweight elite, what are their strengths and weaknesses they bring to battles?
Here are the top six light heavyweights (in no particular order), as ranked by Bleacher Report.
Strengths: Boxing, footwork and speed
Next opponent: Mauricio Rua at UFC on FOX 5
Alexander Gustafsson is currently the best European light heavyweight in the world. A big reason for that is his superior boxing ability.
Gustafsson is 14-1 so far in his career. We have seen his great boxing skill, speed and footwork in dominant victories over Matt Hamill, Thiago Silva and James Te Huna.
His overall boxing game is hard to deal with for any light heavyweight. Unfortunately for Gustafsson, his encounter with a big-time wrestler left the only blemish on his record.
That loss came to Phil Davis, and since then, Gustafsson has worked to sharpen his take-down defense and wrestling.
We haven't really seen any of that on display lately, so it remains his weakness. A fight with Ryan Bader or Rashad Evans would put that to test.
Strengths: Wrestling, striking, and quickness
Weaknesses: Chin and size
Next Opponent: TBD
Rashad Evans rise in the MMA world is well-documented, as he went from a one-dimensional wrestler on The Ultimate Fighter to a world champion who could fight anywhere.
With a strong wrestling base, Evans began to focus more intently on striking while still at Greg Jackson's camp. His improvement lead to knockouts over Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin and Tito Ortiz.
Plus, add the fact that he is always the quicker fighter, and Evans is very difficult to deal with.
Unless, of course, you find his chin. Evans' chin has been tested several times. While he was able to recover and avoid being finished by men like Jon Jones and Quinton Jackson, Evans could not escape Lyoto Machida's striking.
Also, Evans has the frame to move down to middleweight. Although his quickness usually cancels out his size, his fight with Jones fully revealed this disadvantage.
Many have pointed to Chael Sonnen as a guy that Evans should fight next. I would not mind that one bit.
Strengths: Striking, top grappling and chin
Weaknesses: Age, wear and tear
Next opponent: Alexander Gustafsson at UFC on FOX 5
Mauricio Rua is a legend in the sport of mixed martial arts for many reasons. He is a Pride legend, his striking is outstanding, he can take a punch like a champion and he is an all-around beast in the sport.
Rua's Muay Thai skills are scary good—his kicks are lethal, his punches jaw-rattling.
His top game when grappling from the top position is also completely underrated. The jiu-jitsu black belt has vicious ground and pound, as well as surprising submissions.
Plus, his chin is top notch. If you don't believe me, go back and watch his fight with Dan Henderson. He took some of Henderson's biggest punches and stayed alive, which is a feat in itself.
Rua will continue to struggle against Father Time. Rua may only be 30 years old, but it is a very old 30 years. The wear and tear that his body has taken in this sport has resulted in several knee surgeries and long layoffs.
Let me tell you one thing: knee surgeries are never good for an athlete in any sport, especially one where your legs get kicked in training and competition.
The ten-year veteran may be young in years, but he does not have much time left. His body won't be able to deal with this forever.
Strengths: Striking, unpredictability and patience
Weaknesses: Lack of momentum
Next opponent: Winner of Jon Jones vs. Dan Henderson at UFC 151
Lyoto Machida is one of the biggest puzzles for any opponent to figure out. His style and unpredictability make him a nightmare to prepare for.
Furthermore, his karate style and highly intelligent striking attack are deadly for anybody who steps in his path. His highlight-reel knockouts include names like Randy Couture, Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans.
Machida's weakness is his current five fight stint. He is 2-3 in that run, which is a drastic change from his undefeated record before then.
Yes, he just earned a title shot with his win over Ryan Bader. But, that is simply because Jones has beat everybody already and Machida happens to be ready.
He lost the title to Mauricio Rua, which was backed up by a decision loss to Quinton Jackson. His win against an over-the-hill Randy Couture earned him a title shot.
Jones figured out the puzzle in the second round, downing the Japanese Brazilian with a guillotine choke. That led to his win over Bader, thus earning him the title shot.
More wins than losses in his previous five fights is really the only weakness Machida has.
Strengths: Knockout power, clinch, wrestling and chin
Weaknesses: Size and fighting off his back
Next opponent: Jon Jones at UFC 151
Dan Henderson is set to take on Jon Jones next month, and looking from a strength standpoint, he definitely has a chance.
Henderson has one-punch knockout power. It has been seen in fights with Michael Bisping, Fedor Emelianenko and Renato Sobral.
Furthermore, his Greco-Roman wrestling has made him dangerous in the clinch. He uses that background to gain the upper hand and work dirty boxing. He is still very powerful with his punches in that position.
Henderson also has a granite chin. It has held up to everything but an asteroid. He is extremely difficult to hurt with strikes, which makes him more dangerous.
The two weaknesses he has are his size, which can be seen as "Franklin weight" and fighting off his back.
Henderson cuts no weight when making light heavyweight. In fact, before his fight against Emelianenko, he needed to gain a couple pounds to make the limit.
Also, when put on his back, Henderson has a difficult time getting off of it. Jake Shields and Quinton Jackson showcased Henderson's inability to work from his back when they both defeated him.
Strengths: Striking, wrestling, submissions, size and finishing ability
Next opponent: Dan Henderson at UFC 151
Jon Jones has no weaknesses that we know of. He has never been in trouble, unless you count when he got disqualified for being too good against Matt Hamill.
Jones' striking is dynamic, creative and effective. He has no problem throwing spinning back elbows, side kicks and elbow strikes. And they work.
Look at his grappling. His wrestling and submission game is unmatched in the division. It makes guys with better grappling credentials look silly, especially when he incorporates his signature elbows.
Lastly, his finishing ability has made his life easy, as his fights are kept out of the hands of the judges. As stated in an article I wrote the other day, you can't blame the judges for your losses if you finish your fights.
Jones has finished 13 of his 16 wins by knockout or submission. The only men he hasn't finished are Andre Gusmao in his UFC debut, Stephan Bonnar and Rashad Evans.
It is going to be tough beating the current UFC champ.