Once possibly the deepest division in the UFC, the light heavyweight division is now but a puddle.
The fact that the UFC is flying in middleweight Vitor Belfort to fight Jon Jones attests to this.
Yes. I know.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Ryan Bader are all good fighters. The fact that Jones beat all of them within a year did not magically make them bad.
Jones' feverish pace, indeed, is the main reason the UFC found itself in such an awkward position with finding light heavyweight contenders. Even if Henderson did not get injured, the promotion faced a tough sell when it came to convincing fans to buy into Lyoto Machida's chances against Jones, who beat him with a shocking standing guillotine choke at UFC 140.
All that aside, the UFC light heavyweight division is in dire straits, and there is no end in sight. Most of the division's modern mainstays are close to retirement.
Rua looked nothing like the soccer-kicking demon he was in Pride when he struggled to deal with a slow, clunky Brandon Vera. Dan Henderson is over 40 years old, and there is no getting around that fact. “Rampage” Jackson is downright aching to leave the UFC. Forrest Griffin had Dana White wishing he would call it a career a matter of weeks ago.
Tito Ortiz is gone. Randy Couture is gone. Chuck Liddell is gone. Stephan Bonnar is going. Matt Hamill is just coming back. Rich Franklin and Wanderlei Silva are in the middleweight division. Keith Jardine and Houston Alexander were exposed and then cut from the promotion.
It gets worse. There are glaring problems with the current crop of “prospects” that are supposed to become the future of the division.
Ryan Bader getting downright demolished by Lyoto Machida shows that he has hit his ceiling. Phil Davis has shown little but solid wrestling in his UFC career to this point. Glover Teixeira, though his limits remain unknown, is 32 years old and is likely as good as he will ever be (but, to reiterate, how good he is remains to be seen).
The division, right now, has just one true championship-caliber prospect in Alexander Gustafsson. Though brimming with potential, he is at least two more wins away from truly entering the title picture.
Then, to top everything else off, two of the last remaining light heavyweight contenders, Evans and Machida, are potentially moving down to middleweight.
Yes, Chael Sonnen is joining the division. That, though exciting and likely to generate a championship bout, is simply not enough to mask the fact that the light heavyweight division will be almost empty in the next year or two.
So now, here we are. All these things have fallen into place, such that UFC 152 is going to be topped with Vitor Belfort fighting outside his native weight class. Belfort has been on the outside looking in on the middleweight title picture for a long while. Now, though, he is going to face Jon Jones because, simply, they had no other choice.
With that, it is hard to deny that what was the most intriguing division in the UFC now has very little to be excited about.
There are no title contenders. There are almost no prospects. There are no rivalries that have not already been played out.
So has the light heavyweight division lost its luster? Yes. Now, it is just more obvious than ever.
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