Interesting Times Ahead for UFC Light Heavyweight Division

Duane FinleyContributor ISeptember 27, 2013

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Jon Jones fights Alexander Gustafsson (right) during their light heavyweight championship bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

Less than a week has gone by since the epic battle between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson went down at UFC 165.

The pound-for-pound phenom escaped the Air Canada Centre in Toronto with his light heavyweight strap in tow, but certainly did not do so unscathed.

Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson took turns emptying out their respective arsenals over the course of the five-round affair. While "The Mauler" took Jones into deeper waters than he'd ever been before, it still wasn't enough to sink the young champion.

Immediately after the main event tilt, the MMA community demanded a rematch. Debates raged on Twitter for the next two days regarding the judges' decision, but the one idea most media members and fans seemed to agree on was that a rematch made the most sense.

Those sentiments were put on ice Thursday morning when the UFC announced the next fighter to get a shot at the light heavyweight title would be Glover Teixeira. The Brazilian powerhouse had been deemed next in line by UFC President Dana White prior to the "Fight of the Year"-worthy bout between Jones and Gustafsson, and despite the outcry for an immediate rematch the promotion decided to book Jones vs. Teixeira instead.

While the decision to book Teixeira as the next opponent for Jones may not have been the popular choice to make, it was made nevertheless, and the 205-pound division is now facing an interesting road ahead.  With Jones and Teixeira set to square off on Super Bowl weekend in New Jersey, the title race in the upper tier of the division will now become wide open.

Prior to the main event at UFC 165, the options remaining for Jones in the division he's dominated for three years looked sparse. But now after being taken to the brink by Gustafsson, and moving on to his next challenge with Teixeira, what appeared as a "cleaned out" weight class one week ago is now looking a bit different.


Gustafsson's Stock is High but the Next Step is Going to be Tricky

Despite being a sizable underdog going into his bout with Jon Jones, upon the fight's conclusion Alexander Gustafsson emerged a new man in the eyes of the fighting faithful.

Sep 21, 2013; Toronto, Ontario, CAN; Alexander Gustafsson (left) fights Jon Jones during their Light Heavyweight Championship bout at UFC 165 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports
Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

While his quest to "shock the world" wasn't fulfilled in the sense he initially intended, the rangy Swedish fighter absolutely accomplished this task by making a fighter who had yet to look human appear very much so. Few people were giving the 26-year-old even a remote chance to dethrone the light heavyweight king going into the fight, but afterwards Gustafsson's skills and heart were the hot topics floating around the MMA universe.

Although he had come up short in Toronto, "The Mauler" wasted no time in lobbying for a rematch. He took to the interview circuit to make his case and received massive support from the UFC fan base in his mission to secure another bout with Jones.

Nevertheless, the UFC tapped Glover Teixeira to face the champion next, and now Gustafsson will face an interesting dilemma on the road ahead. While a former title challenger having to get at least another win under his belt before jumping back up into contention is a common scenario in combat sports, this presents a problem where Gustafsson is concerned.

Outside of friend and teammate Phil Davis, there are no other elite 205-pound fighters without bouts scheduled on the docket. Davis and Gustafsson have already fought once before with "Mr. Wonderful" handing Gustafsson the first loss of his professional career. Following their fight at UFC 112 in 2010, Gustafsson moved his training camp to join Davis at Alliance MMA in San Diego. 

During the taping of Countdown to UFC 165, Gustafsson addressed the issue of them having to step into the Octagon again in the future. He alluded to it being something they would have no problem doing with a title on the line. Davis has also addressed the issue in the past and expressed the same sentiment.

Obviously, if they were to lock up later this year or early next there would be no championship gold at stake, and this would make a rematch between the two teammates a difficult situation to navigate.

Apr 27, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Phil Davis (red shorts) competes against Vinny Magalhaes (not pictured) during UFC 159 at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

That being said, there aren't many other options for Gustafsson with the current landscape of the division. Former title challenger Chael Sonnen and former champion Rashad Evans are set to dance at UFC 168 in late December, but the winner of that tilt most likely wouldn't compete again until March or April of 2014.

Dan Henderson and Vitor Belfort are slated to trade leather on Nov. 9 at Fight Night 32, but that contest won't do much in providing an answer in the 205-pound ranks. "Hendo" will be coming into the bout on a two-fight skid, and while Belfort is currently on a tear those wins have been in the middleweight division. Even if he does get past Henderson, there is no guarantee "The Phenom" will remain in the light heavyweight fold in the aftermath.

This leaves Gustafsson sitting with red-hot stock and nowhere to go, and that is a problem. 


More Than a Few Obstacles Blocking Daniel Cormier's Light Heavyweight Title Shot

For the past year the excitement has been building for Daniel Cormier to get into the Octagon with Jon Jones. The two men have taken turns trading barbs in the MMA media, and the anticipation for "D.C." to get into the mix at 205-pounds has been high.

Jan 12, 2013; Oklahoma City, OK, USA; Daniel Comier (black shorts) and Dion Staring (white shorts) in their Strikeforce MMA Heavyweight bout at the Chesapeake Energy Arena.  Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports

With the dominance Jones has displayed in the weight class, it is rare to see a potential opponent mentioned that draws his ire, but Cormier has accomplished this task. In every interview or press conference where the champion is asked about a potential bout with the former Olympian it becomes clear just how much the AKA fighter has gotten under Jones' skin.

Nevertheless, Cormier is currently competing in the heavyweight division and there are some major obstacles blocking his projected path towards Jones. The first is a brick-handed knockout artist in Roy Nelson, who Cormier will face next month at UFC 166. Before making the move down to 205-pounds, Cormier wanted to settle his beef with "Big Country" and that grudge match will get resolved on Oct. 19 in Houston, Texas.

While there is no guarantee he will defeat the former TUF winner in their tilt, the road to Jones took another big twist this past weekend in Toronto. With Gustafsson coming just shy of unseating Jones from the light heavyweight throne, he became the fighter fans want to see inside the cage with the champion. Even with Gustafsson getting passed over for the immediate rematch, he will certainly be the next in line for the title shot after Jones and Teixeira settle their business on Super Bowl weekend.

This will create a bit of a predicament for Cormier as his hopes were to defeat Nelson at UFC 166, then drop down for a title shot at 205-pounds. The Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix winner is 34 years old, and despite his late start in MMA, has been on a serious run to become a champion. That being said, with his friend and teammate Cain Velasquez holding the heavyweight strap, Cormier has decided to put his focus on the light heavyweight title. 

While achieving that goal is still a possibility, the odds of him getting a title shot in his first fight in a new weight class have become highly unlikely. Then again, there are several other factors at play which could alter those plans dramatically in the near future.

Apr 27, 2013; Newark, NJ, USA; Roy Nelson (white shorts)  celebrates defeating Cheick Kongo (yellow and grey shorts) during UFC 159 at the Prudential Center. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

A loss at the heavy hands of Nelson would cool any momentum Cormier has built considerably, making his move to light heavyweight an unheralded one. Another scenario that needs to be taken into consideration would be the current heavyweight champion being defeated by Junior dos Santos in their trilogy bout at UFC 166.

If dos Santos and Cormier are both successful in Houston, a title shot in the heavyweight division would become a realistic option for the former Oklahoma State University wrestling standout. Then again, there are too many variables and hypothetical outcomes to weigh in that scenario to get a clear picture of what the next step would be.

The only thing that appears to be clear-cut at this time is the light heavyweight title shot Cormier was looking for has moved a bit further down the line. Whether that means it has moved beyond his reach remains to be seen, but it will certainly be an uphill climb from here on out. 


Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report.