Contender or Pretender for the UFC's Top Ten Light Heavyweights

Andrew SaundersCorrespondent IIJuly 22, 2013

Contender or Pretender for the UFC's Top Ten Light Heavyweights

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    Traditionally, the UFC light heavyweight division has been the pride of the Zuffa organization. At important point's in the organization's history, top promotional stars Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Forrest Griffin and Rampage Jackson have ruled the weight class with an iron fist.

    In 2013, the landscape of the 205-pound division doesn't include any of those names. However, there are plenty of legitimate stars who are capable of one day rising to the top of the heap. There are also some who aren't fooling us in the slightest.

    Here is a look at the contenders and pretenders of the UFC light heavyweight division. 

    Author's Note: We are looking solely at the Top 10 contenders to the UFC light heavyweight championship as ranked by UFC.com.

Ryan Bader

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    Once thought of as one of the hottest prospects in the division, Ryan Bader's momentum came to a screeching halt in 2011 when he gave up consecutive submission losses to Jon Jones and Tito Ortiz.

    Nobody can hold it against Bader for getting flatted by Jon Jones. And anyone can get caught by a punch that catches them by surprise. For that reason, neither of those losses gave fans a true indication of Darth's place in the light heavyweight division.

    We didn't get a good feel for Bader's place in the weight class until a 2012 matchup against Lyoto Machida.

    Bader looked flat footed and outclassed when competing with Machida and their matchup ended with one of the year's biggest knockouts. 

    With knockout power and tremendous wrestling, there are a lot of fighters in the division who will fall to "Darth" during his UFC career. However, he isn't on par with the top of his class.

    Pretender

Gegard Mousasi

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    Mousasi looks to be leaving the light heavyweight division in hopes that the grass is greener down at middleweight. For that reason, we will be leaving "The Dreamcatcher" out of the conversation at 205 pounds.

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    But where does he sit in the middleweight division? If we are going to waste a slide on a non-light heavyweight, we might as well address his actual home.

    Mousasi doesn't have a great game while fighting off of his back, which was exposed during his Strikeforce matchup against King Mo. Now that he is a leaving a division full of wrestlers who outsize and overpower him, the undefeated kickboxer who holds a black belt in judo now has a much better chance of success.

    Previously, Mousasi knocked out No. 5 middleweight contender Ronaldo Souza. His skills see him land strikes with high accuracy, while opponents have trouble connecting with their own.

    With standup artists like Vitor Belfort, Anderson Silva and Michael Bisping at the top of the middleweight division, Mousasi has some stiff tests ahead of him. However, they are stylistically what he is looking for. 

    The true test comes in the form of grinders like Yushin Okami, but we can cross that bridge when we get there.

    Contender - Middleweight

Phil Davis

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    Eight men have faced Phil Davis inside the Octagon. Only one of them has left with his arm raised afterwards.

    That man is none other than former champion Rashad Evans, who absolutely dominated "Mr. Wonderful" in the main event of UFC on Fox 2.

    The loss was so one-sided that Davis was immediately debunked as a contender in the division. In fact, Davis was demoted to the Fuel preliminary card for his next fight, which came against an unranked opponent making his UFC debut.

    Despite the fact that Davis is undefeated in three appearances since, he is about to run into a buzz saw named Lyoto Machida, who has a stellar reputation of knocking out wrestlers.

    Pretender

Mauricio Rua

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    Do you see Mauricio Rua desperately clinging to Alexander Gustafsson in the attached photo? Because it's certainly reflective of the way that "Shogun" clings desperately to his spot in the light heavyweight rankings.

    Horrifically inconsistent since returning from knee surgery, Rua has only turned in one performance that was reminiscent of his time as a world champion.

    Losing three of his last five contests, Rua is in a must-win situation when he meets Chael Sonnen at next month's UFC Fight Night 26. Unfortunately, the time to have faith in Shogun seems to have expired, as the former world champion opened as the betting underdog in that matchup.

    Pretender

Dan Henderson

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    Dan Henderson was once the next man in line to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC light heavyweight championship. Unfortunately, an injury forced him from a contest that would have headlined the ill-fated UFC 151 event.

    The former PRIDE and Strikeforce champion didn't get his golden opportunity, and after putting together consecutive losses at the ripe age of 42 (turning 43 in August,) it is unlikely that he ever will.

    Henderson might be on a two-fight losing-streak right now, but considering that both shortcomings came in the form of a split decision against world-class opponents, there is no question that he can hang with the best on the planet.

    It's only a question of whether he can compete long enough to build the sort of momentum needed to prove it.

    Contender

Antonio Nogueira

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    Somewhere between the an unfortunate series of injuries and a pair of decision losses, fight fans have seemingly lost faith in Antonio Nogueira.

    Not only is Nogueira a third-degree black belt in jiu-jitsu, but he also took home a bronze medal in the Pan Am Games as a boxer. Those skills have led to stoppage wins over Tito Ortiz, Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem. 

    In February, Nogueira earned the biggest win of his UFC career when he squeaked out a victory against former UFC champion Rashad Evans. It wasn't the prettiest victory we've ever seen, but by shutting out 80 percent of the takedowns that came his way, Lil' Nog did a lot to refute the claim that he cannot beat elite wrestlers. 

    Contender

Rashad Evans

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    Anyone who saw Rashad Evans at UFC 156 likely considered that the best days of his career were behind him. On that night, the Ultimate Fighter winner dropped a unanimous decision to Antonio Nogueira, despite being a 5-to-1 favorite.

    Currently, "Suga" is enjoying being on the winning side of things after defeating Dan Henderson in the main event of UFC 161. His next move is up in the air, although a move to middleweight is no longer on the forefront of his mind.

    The win over Henderson showed the world that Evans isn't done beating the best light heavyweights that the world has to offer. He might not be prepared to unseat Jon Jones from atop the division, but who is?

    Contender

Glover Teixeira

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    Want to prove that you are a true contender in the UFC light heavyweight division? Beat tough guys and do it decisively!

    Although Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado aren't exactly burning up the 205-pound rankings, Teixeira walked through them in such stunning fashion that fans began talking about him as the next big thing in the weight class.

    Now 4-0 inside the Octagon, Teixeira also boasts victories over former champion Quinton "Rampage" Jackson and notable James Te Huna.

    On September 4, Teixeira gets his first headlining gig in the UFC when he meets Ryan Bader at UFC Fight Night 28. As a 3-to-1 favorite, it would be a shock to the MMA community were the Brazilian unsuccessful.

    Contender

Alexander Gustafsson

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    In the modern era of the UFC, fighters like Thiago Silva and Shogun Rua are little more than gatekeepers inside the Octagon. They lose to those who are worthy of competing with the division's elite and butcher anyone who isn't.

    For Alexander Gustafsson, they were a pair of stepping stones that he defeated en route to earning a crack at Jon Jones and the UFC light heavyweight championship.

    While "The Mauler" didn't look particularly impressive in either victory, the fact that he was able to best a pair of seasoned veterans with big-fight experience earned him a lot of respect.  

    Regardless of these wins, there is something about the Swede that leaves me unimpressed. You could offer bookings against every member of this list and I wouldn't be willing to bet my dollars on Gustafsson for any of them.

    At UFC 165, Gustafsson gets a crack at gold. Will he be able to take advantage of the recent addition that champion Jon Jones built onto his midsection? Or will he be nothing more than the next victim that "Bones" adds to his résumé?

    Pretender

     

Lyoto Machida

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    After earning a tremendous knockout victory over Ryan Bader last summer, Machida was promised a title shot against the winner of UFC 151's main event between Jon Jones and Dan Henderson. Unfortunately, when that fight fell through due to injury, a series of unfortunate events led to "The Dragon" being pushed to the side.

    In February, Machida met Henderson in a title eliminator, where he won by split decision. Post-fight, Dana White confirmed that Machida would be the next man to fight for the title.

    However, just like Jon Fitch and Johny Hendricks have found out in the past, a title shot promised by Dana White is worth exactly nothing. Jones will instead be facing Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165. 

    Instead, Machida meets Phil Davis in the co-main event of UFC 163. The former champion is more than a 3-to-1 favorite.

    Contender