Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Light Heavyweight

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIJune 13, 2013

Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Light Heavyweight

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    The UFC light heavyweight division has seen more shake-ups than those who live in the earthquake-plagued areas of California.

    With several emerging contenders and a few legends fading into the background, the landscape of the 205-pound weight class barely resembles itself from one year ago. 

    Instead of looking backward, Bleacher Report MMA likes to whip out the crystal ball and gaze into the future.

    After considering everything on the books and several variables that aren't, here is a look at where the UFC light heavyweight rankings will stand at the end of 2013.

Current Standings

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    Official rankings courtesy of UFC.com.

    Champion: Jon Jones

    1. Lyoto Machida
    2. Alexander Gustafsson
    3. Dan Henderson
    4. Glover Teixeira
    5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
    6. Rashad Evans
    7. Mauricio Rua
    8. Phil Davis
    9. Gegard Mousasi
    10. Ryan Bader

10. Ryan Bader

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    Current Standing: No. 10

    Upcoming Fight: None 

    Ryan Bader was scheduled to fight Glover Teixeira in a clash of prospects at UFC 160. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how you look at it,) Bader was forced from the contest due to an injury.

    Bader told FightLine that he was looking to get back into the cage sometime this August, although no matchup is currently scheduled. For that reason, Bader is one of the harder fighters to predict in the final half of 2013.

    However, with most of the ranked light heavyweights booked for action, the next move for Bader is wide open. Personally, I wouldn't be surprised to see him rebooked against Teixeira, which is a fight that doesn't favor him.

    Should Bader be matched up against an unranked opponent like Matt Hamill or the winner of a UFC 161 clash between Ryan Jimmo and Igor Pokrajac, his odds of success are much higher.

9. Phil Davis

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    Current Standing: No. 8

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Lyoto Machida at UFC 163

    Although Phil Davis was once one of the brightest prospects in the UFC, a devastating loss to Rashad Evans made the UFC slow-roll the NCAA standout's growth.

    In successive bouts, Davis met far-from-ranked fighters Wagner Prado (twice) and Vinny Magalhaes, which earned the wrestler a pair of wins and a no-contest to get him back on track. 

    With the UFC's restored faith in the lengthy wrestler, Davis has been promoted to a co-main event position against No. 1 contender Lyoto Machida at UFC 163.

    Machida is a puzzle that no wrestler has figured out how to solve. Expect the matchup to be a setback for the unproven Davis, although he won't drop entirely out of the rankings.

    Unless Davis competes two more times this year, he will likely slide a spot.

8. Gegard Mousasi

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    Current Standing: No. 9

    Upcoming Fight: None 

    After undergoing knee surgery to repair an injury, it is not widely expected that Gegard Mousasi will return to action in 2013. His forward movement in the rankings is due to the likely drop that Phil Davis will receive should he lose to Lyoto Machida in August.

    Mousasi is highly regarded in the light heavyweight division and was scheduled to face No. 2 Alexander Gustafsson before a cut forced the Swede from their would-be April matchup.

7. Chael Sonnen

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    Current Standing: Not Ranked

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Shogun Rua at UFC on Fox Sports 1:1.

    Depending on your views on Chael Sonnen, you are either going to love this slide or attempt to burn me in effigy because of it.

    With as mediocre as former champion Shogun Rua has looked in recent showings, I do not think he has the cardio needed to defeat a grappling-centric fighter like Chael Sonnen in a five-round affair.

    In the main event of UFC on FS 1:1, Sonnen will look to use his wrestling to ground Shogun, who is known for his impressive striking. As long as the former middleweight can avoid the Brazilian's often-overlooked leglocks, he should be able to grind out the biggest win of his career. 

    This win will give Shogun losses in three of his last four appearances and knock the former UFC champion from the rankings entirely.

6. Dan Henderson

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    Current Standing: No. 3

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Rashad Evans at UFC 161

    As much as I love Dan Henderson, the former dual-division champion doesn't have the gas tank that he once did. Some attribute that to bad weight cuts to middleweight; however, the former Olympian blew his load before the third round of a UFC 139 fight against Shogun Rua.

    At UFC 161, he meets Rashad Evans, a faster striker who has immense wrestling and doesn't shy away from using it. Expect Evans to push the pace and grind out "Dangerous Dan" before really turning up the heat once "Hendo" has trouble catching his breath.

    This will be the second consecutive loss for Henderson and will make fans start questioning whether or not he still has what it takes to compete. Barring retirement from the former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion, he will fall from the Top Five before the end of the year.

    It is possible that Henderson will try to compete on the annual year-end card. If he does, the Olympian might earn a higher ranking. That being said, Henderson didn't compete at all in 2012. It is highly unlikely that he will make three appearances in 2013.

5. Alexander Gustafsson

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    Current Standing: No. 2

    Upcoming Fight: None; it is assumed that he will face Jon Jones next.

    There is not a single fighter in any division less deserving of his ranking than Alexander Gustafsson. Who exactly did he beat to become the No. 2 light heavyweight contender? An out-of-shape, out-of-prime Shogun Rua?

    Please. That win should have put Gustafsson in the No. 5 slot but no higher. 

    I think it has something to do with the UFC's tendency to oversell European fighters, as if they are actually contenders despite not being ready.

    Now that a matchup between No. 1 contender Lyoto Machida and Phil Davis has been announced, "The Mauler" is expected to fight Jon Jones next for the light heavyweight championship.

    Mark my words: Gustafsson is going to get destroyed by Jon Jones. The fight will not be remotely close, and Gustafsson's fans will immediately wonder why they begged for this bout in the first place.

    (Update: Jones vs. Gustafsson is now scheduled for UFC 165 in September.)

4. Rashad Evans

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    Current Standing: No. 6

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Dan Henderson at UFC 161

    With a predicted win in a pay-per-view main event, "Suga" will jump a couple of spots in the rankings. However, due to a recent loss to "Lil Nog," The Ultimate Fighter winner won't jump but so much.

    Rashad Evans could potentially step into the cage two more times in 2013, although I think he will take some time to contemplate his next move following UFC 161.

    If Evans is feeling particularly motivated, a December matchup with Glover Teixeira might be in the cards.

3. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

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    Current Standing: No. 5

    Upcoming Fight: None

    In February, Lil Nog achieved the biggest win of his UFC career when he upset Rashad Evans at UFC 156.

    Personally, I feel like Nogueira should be ranked No. 2 after the win; however, keeping in mind the affinity that critics have for Glover Teixeira, I'll have to assume that they will keep Nogueira behind his fellow Brazilian counterpart until the next man's appearance.

    Nogueira was scheduled to fight Shogun Rua at this weekend's UFC 161 event, but a back injury forced him from the contest. It is quite possible that we will not see Lil Nog again before the new year. In the meantime, Henderson and Gustafsson will fall beneath him, while no new names will take his spot.

2. Glover Teixeira

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    Current Standing: No. 4

    Upcoming Fight: None

    Now sitting 4-0 inside the Octagon, Glover Teixeira has the fans behind him as the next "real threat" to champion Jon Jones. The Pit fighter is on a 19-fight winning streak and has shown no signs of slowing down.

    The next fight for Teixeira will come against either Ryan Bader or Rashad Evans, depending on the turnaround before Evans' next appearance.

    If I had to guess, we will see Teixeira vs. Bader rescheduled for November, and the Brazilian will have his arm raised.

1. Lyoto Machida

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    Current Standing: No. 1

    Upcoming Fight: vs. Phil Davis at UFC 163

    Remember that whole "Lyoto Machida will get the next title shot" thing? Apparently, Dana White's word when it comes to promised title shots is garbage, because "The Dragon" has now been passed on for title fights on two occasions.

    Despite defeating No. 1 contender Dan Henderson back in February and taking his spot in the rankings, Machida has been given a fight with No. 8 Phil Davis in August.

    We've seen Machida whup high-level wrestlers before, and that will not change against an unproven commodity like Davis.

Champion: Jon Jones

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    Current Standing: Champion

    Upcoming Fight: None—assumed he will fight Alexander Gustafsson.  

    Jon Jones has beaten the very best fighters who have been put in front of him including several former champions. Let's take a look at the top UFC stars who have fallen before Jonny Bones.

    • Shogun Rua
    • Rampage Jackson
    • Lyoto Machida
    • Rashad Evans
    • Vitor Belfort
    • Chael Sonnen
    • Ryan Bader

    That includes six members on this slideshow, as well as one of the top middleweights on the planet who used to rule the same division.

    All signs point to a matchup between Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Unless the champion gets lazy in the fight, he will break Tito Ortiz's record for consecutive title defenses without breaking much of a sweat.

    How do you see the light heavyweight division at the end of the year? Let us know in the comment section below.

    (Update: Jones vs. Gustafsson is now scheduled for UFC 165 in September.)

     

    Feel free to check out the first article in this series:

    Predicting the UFC Year-End Rankings: Heavyweight

     

    Andrew Saunders is a Featured Columnist with Bleacher Report. He will mail you a package full of warm chocolate chip cookies if you follow him on Twitter.