UFC 167 Fallout: Rashad Evans and the State of the Light Heavyweight Division

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UFC 167 Fallout: Rashad Evans and the State of the Light Heavyweight Division
Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sp

There was a lot of chaos in the aftermath of UFC 167

Champion Georges St-Pierre lost the fight on the large majority of public scorecards, but won on two of the three that actually mattered. Johny Hendricks watched the welterweight title he probably earned float back to the welterweight king upon Bruce Buffer's announcement. If that weren't enough, the pound-for-pound great skittered his way through a post-fight interview that sounded like a retirement only to have UFC president Dana White toss him under the bus at the post-fight press conference.

With all that insanity it's easy to lose track of one of the night's biggest winners and the triumphant return of Rashad Evans. Granted, the former light heavyweight champion put the brakes on a recent rough patch by defeating Dan Henderson at UFC 161 in June, but it was his utter steamrolling of former two-divisional title challenger Chael Sonnen that confirmed his re-arrival back to form.

While the bout was ultimately a short showing and ended well before the conclusion of the opening round, "Suga" has never looked better as he systematically dismantled the "Gangster from West Linn." There were no wasted movement in Evans' attack as every inch of his physical output went to getting rid of Sonnen in the early goings. And after putting the Oregon native on his back, he did just that, as Evans took full mount and pounded out the stoppage.

With the victory, Evans has now collected wins in back-to-back showings and reclaims his seat at the table of potential title contenders in the 205-pound division. That said, the current state of the light heavyweight fold is entrenched in a bit of chaos—not UFC 167-type chaos, but chaos nonetheless.

Let's take a look at the what's going on in the UFC's "crown jewel" division.

 

There Is Going to Be a Title Fight at 205 Before 2015

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

So far, the only thing we know about the title picture in the light heavyweight division is that Jon Jones and Glover Teixeira are going to fight some time.

We originally thought it was going to be at UFC 169 on Feb. 1, but that date was scrapped due to "Bones" needing more time. Then the UFC came out last week to say they were going to dance at UFC 170 on Feb. 22, but apparently that night isn't going to work either as the promotion announced the fight was a no-go less than 24 hours after making it public.

With Jones and Teixeira tangled up in a title fight that will go down some time in 2014, the race to earn the next title shot will hit a full-on foot race. Yet, while the next championship opportunity is certainly a valuable grab, the path to said opportunity will come with some twists and turns.

The fighter standing in the shortest line is Alexander Gustafsson. After taking Jones to the wire and pushing the pound-for-pound great further than anyone had done in the superstar's young career, "The Mauler" began to campaign for an immediate rematch. Where a second go 'round with Jones seemed to be the most likely option, the UFC decided to go with the Brazilian knockout artist for the next challenger.

Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

That said, in the aftermath of Jones vs. Gustafsson, UFC president Dana White suggested the 26-year-old Swede would get another shot at the title if he found success in his next fight. Where the promotion originally announced his opponent to be Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, "Lil Nog" pulled what appeared to be one of the year's most curious moments when he immediately pulled out of the fight with injury.

Following Nogueira's removal from the bout, White went public with the announcement being premature, nevertheless, it left the recent title challenger without an opponent. That issue was solved in the days that followed as the UFC tapped British slugger Jimi Manuwa to face the Swedish striker, and the two will square off when the promotion returns to London on March 8.

Should Gustafsson hand the "Poster Boy" his first professional loss, a title shot will be his reward. On the other hand, if the Team Alliance fighter comes up short, things are going to get extremely interesting, and the avenue to the throne will be wide open.

 

Someone Is Going to Be the Odd Man Out

Rashad Evans picked up a huge win over Chael Sonnen this past Saturday at UFC 167, and in the process joined a crowded upper tier, all waiting for their chance at a title shot.

While the Blackzilians-trained fighter certainly looked fantastic in drubbing the former title challenger, he now finds himself standing next to two familiar faces in Phil Davis and heavyweight contender turned soon-to-be light heavyweight Daniel Cormier.

Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

Where Evans and Davis shared cage time at UFC on Fox 2 in January of 2012, with the former TUF winner taking the unanimous decision, the relationship between Evans and Cormier is on a different level. The two are good friends and trained together in the early stages of D.C.'s career. Both have had issues when fighting a friend or training partner has come into question and would most likely be the road both would hope to avoid.

Nevertheless, a fight needs to be made. With Evans and Davis having fought less than two years ago, a rematch between the two at this point seems highly unlikely. That would put Davis vs. Cormier as the most likely option and would push Evans out to the side for the time being.

"Mr. Wonderful" is coming off the biggest win—albeit a controversial one—over former light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida at UFC 163 in August. The 29-year-old has found victory in three consecutive showings and is on the cusp of earning a title shot. Yet, he will definitely need at least one more high-profile win to get there, and his next fight will be absolutely crucial where his title hopes are concerned.

Andrew Richardson-USA TODAY Spor

As for Cormier, the former Olympian has transitioned from a highly touted prospect under the Strikeforce banner to one of the hottest commodities on the UFC roster. The AKA product has picked up back-to-back victories since coming over to compete inside the Octagon and has a style many believe will take the title away from Jones. That said, the Louisiana native is yet to set foot in the light heavyweight division and will need a victory over a top-ranked contender to prove he's worthy of a title shot.

That's why a bout between Davis and Cormier makes perfect sense for both and seems to be the likely choice going forward.

If that were to happen, the only option for Evans which comes to mind would be a potential matchup with Mauricio "Shogun" Rua if he wins his upcoming bout against James Te Huna at Fight Night 33 on Dec. 6. While the former Pride champion has looked like a shell of his former self in recent outings, appearing listless in back-to-back drubbings at the hands of Gustafsson and Sonnen respectively, he still carries the type of main event name recognition that would make a bout with Evans a realistic thing. 

Granted, he still needs to defeat the scrappy Sydney-based fighter, which is going to be no easy task if a re-invigorated Rua doesn't show up. If Rua doesn't defeat Te Huna next month, there is going to be one top-ranked light heavyweight left out in the cold as the title race heats up.

 

Duane Finley is a featured columnist for Bleacher Report. 

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