Having recently approached the heavyweight division, it’s time to take the striking rating down a weight class and examine the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Unlike the big boys of the UFC, ranking the promotion’s 205-pounders is going to produce an extremely daunting challenge.
There are some remarkably skilled strikers taking up residence at 205, and with nearly 40 fighters clogging the division, isolating and accurately ranking the absolute best of the best isn’t a feat to scoff at. It’s tough, and a few fans will likely feel as though “their” fighter was slighted.
That’s just the nature of the ranking beast.
Before I launch into this list, allow me to issue a note to you—the reader—and outline, to the best of my abilities, the criteria being dealt with. First, expect the obvious factors to come into play: speed, mobility, defense, power, and durability. Common opponents and subsequent outcomes will be mulled over, as will the deterioration of a fighter, the ascension of one’s skills and the level at which each man has competed.
Developing a list of this nature is no exact science, mind you, so try to avoid flying into an uncontrollable rage if you're under the impression I've got this all wrong. I'm human, and this is an opinion piece.
There was a time when Rampage would have topped this list, but his best days and his new tricks look to be long behind him. Still the owner of a dangerous boxing acumen, Rampage has become a very predictable fighter.
Jackson head hunts, plain and simple. His head movement, while still solid, isn’t met with equal talent in footwork. These days he often fails to cut off the cage, he rarely utilizes jabs to set up his power punches and he hurls the same hooks potential opponents have grown wise to.
If Rampage lands, he can put opponents to sleep. He’s still fast enough and powerful enough to make that nightmare a reality, but until he chooses to work on the depth of his striking arsenal, foes will continue to implement the kind of attack required to avoid the haymakers and outwork the former champion.
Just about everything I said about Rampage can be said of Thiago Silva.
The big difference between the two is time invested and time remaining. Rampage has been competing as a professional for nearly twice as long as Silva has, and he’s been a part of more than twice as many bouts. Time isn’t on Rampage’s side, but it does favor Silva, who can still make waves in the division if he focuses on the proper adjustments.
Here’s a kid who seems to have an undetectable ceiling. With each outing Gustafsson looks as though he’s improved his offensive attack.
A rangy fighter with a dangerous reach advantage over the majority of his peers, Alexander brings more tools to the table than those gifted to him genetically. An active, overwhelming jab keeps opponents befuddled, while clean power punches and authoritative kicks tend to leave opponents in helpless heaps.
When you take “The Mauler’s” mobility into consideration, you’re looking at one of the most promising young talents competing today. The only thing this Swedish-born beast lacks is a wealth of experience, which is an issue he’s already begun confronting.
Dan Henderson earns the number seven slot on this list due to his ability to turn one trick into a repeatedly successful and highly feared attack.
He doesn’t possess the best movement in the division, and he’s not the fastest guy you’ll spy inside a cage, but he’s got a right hand that the devil himself would avoid, and he can take a beating like very few others.
“Hendo” has destroyed some great opposition with his fists, including Wanderlei Silva, Michael Bisping, Fedor Emelianenko and Rafael Cavalcante. Those aren’t guys you see being knocked about the cage on a regular basis.
Despite the lack of tools in Henderson's belt, he's truly mastered his trademark style, which has enabled the 15 year veteran to compile one of the most impressive resumes you'll find in the world of MMA. The fact that Henderson continues to not only thrill, but also win with his aggression and right hand primarily, says quite a bit about the man's overall talent.
This is a dangerous striker, to put it mildly.
Glover places rather high on this list due to his unpredictability and absolute brute strength. On the technical front, Gustafsson and Rampage are likely superior fighters, but there’s a familiarity that comes attached to their body of work that isn’t fixed to Teixeira’s yet.
Of course that will likely change after a few more fights inside the octagon, but for now, Glover has the element of surprise on his side.
The highly touted Brazilian loves to lean on his overhand right, left hook combo, and it works. However, he’s shown a willingness to mix up his punches, and that’s likely what will allow him to continue to excel in the division. Both his chin and his power are admirable strengths, as the guy hits like a mac truck, and he can take a mean punch.
The future looks like bright for this man.
If you’re talking boxing and boxing alone, “Little Nog” probably owns the best offensive attack at 205. Precise punches in startlingly affective bunches typically leads to unconsciousness for foes, and while time is catching up to the smaller of the Nogueira’s, he’s still a live dog in any fight.
Nogueira has proven capable in the clinch, working strong, dirty boxing and quality knees. Unfortunately for “Minotoro” his reflexes seem to be slowing, and he’s appeared a bit lethargic in a few of his recent outings. The end may be near for Nogueira, and he may not be the most diverse striker in the division, but he infuses just enough variety to keep plenty of men guessing, and he’s likely got a few more quality wins ahead of him.
Often underrated, Rogerio is still an excellent striker.
“Shogun” looks like a fighter who has lost quite a bit of drive to compete. Amazingly, he’s still a very dangerous foe.
When in good shape, Shogun is an aggressive fighter who knows how to string together intimidating combinations that often bring early conclusions to his bouts. A sound boxer with some nice head movement (a key strength that seems to go AWOL when Shogun shows up in subpar condition), the younger of the Rua brothers’ greatest strength originates in his lower extremities.
Shogun’s leg kicks, Muay Thai clinch and the hellacious knees unleashed from the plum, are and always have been Rua’s most significant tool. The fact that he possesses a sturdy enough chin to absorb punishment enables him to get inside the pocket and work his offense in impressive fashion.
If Shogun could regain some level of consistent dedication, the idea of him one day reclaiming gold isn't inconceivable, even after multiple knee surgeries.
They say speed kills, and Rashad Evans would likely agree with that beaten cliché. I consider Evans the fastest fighter north of the middleweight division, and I don’t think too many would disagree with that.
Rashad leans on a boxing heavy style. His stellar upper body motion and liquid footwork enable him to move in and out of the pocket without sustaining much damage. His fists meanwhile, pack a serious wallop.
Evans is able to use the momentum generated by his movement to create one punch knockout power, and more than one man has found himself on the wrong end when trading with Rashad.
Fans will automatically look to the Evans/Liddell bout as bona fide proof of Rashad’s impressive striking prowess and pure ability to knock opponents out.
I wouldn’t blame them for a moment.
From a strictly aesthetic stance, there is no light heavyweight as exciting to watch as “The Dragon.” Machida’s unorthodox assault is a thing of beauty, as he’s capable of uncorking vicious offense, and even more dangerous when countering his competition. Rush Machida and you’re asking to run right into a fist that seems to be dipped in plaster.
Beautiful kicks, extremely unpredictable operations and an elusive manner rarely seen in mixed martial arts ensure Machida will be around, and dominant, for years to come. He’s nearly impossible to hit, and that quality lends itself to longevity.
Outside of the champion Jon Jones, Lyoto Machida’s striking is unrivaled at 205 pounds.
I’m not completely comfortable with this placement.
I personally believe that Machida is a superior striker, but it’s difficult to make that claim having already seen “Bones” dispose of the former champion.
Sure the case can be made that Machida never runs into that big left hand of Jones if he hadn’t found himself victimized by Jones’ potent top game (namely those unbelievable elbows) early. But I suppose at the end of the day, you’ve got to give Jon his respect: he landed the punch, it dropped Machida, and put “Bones” in perfect position to sink the fight-ending guillotine choke.
Outside of the Machida fight, very few men have made Jones appear mortal.
Vitor Belfort nearly took one of Jon’s arms with him, but was subsequently pummeled soundly. Beyond that, no one has really mounted any significant offense on the champion. He’s elusive, in large part to his otherworldly 84-plus-inch reach advantage, and he’s unbelievably bold with his selection of attacks. It may be a spinning elbow, it may be a front kick, it may be a sidekick, or a flying knee. . .you just never know what to expect from Jon Jones.
The undisputed champion for good reason, Jones is far too impulsive to get a good read on, and that makes him a tough out for any man. This is a competitor who dictates where a fight takes place and what pace it’s fought at. His striking is a key weapon, although his wrestling is quite impressive.
Based on accomplishments, age, genetics and sheer volatility, Jon Jones deserves, and earns the number one ranking on this list.