UFC Matchmaker: The Light Heavyweights
Each diehard fan of MMA is a professional matchmaker. They can see all the angles. They size up the strengths and weaknesses of each fighter and determine the most exciting potential wars in the octagon.
They carefully consider the resumes compiled and determine the rankings in each division. It's always clear to them who should be next in line for the title shot. And just as their lack of position as UFC Matchmaker dictates, they are robbed of the shot to choose the fights! What a terrible tragedy!
All the experts are shunned as the days pass; all the possibly miraculous fantasy fights never occur. These experts are resigned to watch episodes of TUF 6 as they scout the new talent.
The experts may also be resigned to hovering over their computer monitor, keeping up to date with rumors for upcoming events, or perhaps even writing an article for the bleacher report.
Leaving all sarcasm behind, my matchmaking dreams will begin in the UFC Light Heavyweight division, and this will be the focus of my article. The Light Heavyweight division is perhaps the deepest talent pool and most UFC-dominated division in all of MMA.
Significant upcoming fights already include Tito Ortiz vs Lyoto Machida, Wanderlei Silva vs Keith Jardine, Rashad Evans vs James Irvin, and the title fight between Forrest Griffin and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. It seems that every top competitor in the division finds his home in the most prestigious octagon in the sport. It's a matchmaker's dream...
Let's begin with some under-the-radar potential match-ups. I'm looking for Rashad Evans to defeat James Irvin at UFC 85 by utilizing his superior wrestling and sufficient striking skills.
This would set up a number of options for the undefeated contender. I would look to see him face Matt "The Hammer" Hamill, a fellow rising contender in the division. Hamill holds a record of 5-1, with his only loss coming in what is highly regarded as one of the worst judging jobs in UFC History by split decision to Mike Bisping.
Evans and Hamill are widely considered to be two of the best pure wrestlers in the division, each with great pedigrees. I would see this match as the stepping-stone for the winner towards a solidified top spot in the division and recognition as a dangerous opponent for any fighter.
They'd likely step into consistent opportunities such as the one Rashad almost had recently, when he was scheduled to fight Chuck Liddell as a replacement for Shogun Rua.
Rameau Sokoudjou is a certified beast and has a wealth of potential. He already holds KO wins over Antônio Rogério Nogueira (UFC Heavyweight champion's brother) and Ricardo Arona in Pride. He is relatively inexperienced, but these wins prove his power.
Rameau recently lost at UFC 79 to Lyoto Machida, a fighter who still remains undefeated. Now Rameau prepares to fight MMA veteran Kazuhiro Nakamura in a bounce-back match at UFC 84. I look for him to loosen up in his return to the octagon and win by TKO.
Fighting on the same card is the undefeated Thiago Silva (11-0). Thiago has recorded three straight TKO victories in the UFC. At UFC 84 he will fight UFC newcomer Antonio Mendes. I look for him to win in similar fashion with his amazing strikes.
This sets up my next potential match-up: Rameau Sokoudjou vs Thiago Silva. The winner here would quickly be a Top 10 contender in the division.
Moving on to bigger names, there is certainly a great deal of sorting out to do at the top of this division. I look for the respective winners of Machida vs. Ortiz and Wanderlei vs. Jardine to fight each other some time in the fall. The man who emerges from these four would move to the 3-5 spot in the division — most likely only one more fight from a title shot.
I also look for the formerly scheduled Mauricio "Shogun" Rua vs Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell fight to be rescheduled as soon as each recovers from his knee and hamstring injuries, respectively. I would hope neither fighter competes in the octagon again until this collision of top 5 Light Heavyweights has been settled. I'd look for the winner here to move into the #1 contender spot against the winner of Griffin vs. Jackson immediately.
Regardless of the outcomes of all these fantasy fights, expect a high priority to be placed on another rematch of Liddell vs. Jackson. Although rematches of Jardine vs. Liddell, Griffin vs. Rua, and Jackson vs. Rua would all be intriguing, I see Liddell vs. Jackson as a fight that may happen in spite of losses from either of the two fighters. The massive popularity of these two and appeal to the more casual MMA fans would make the fight highly anticipated, even if it were not for a title or No. 1 contender spot.
Here are some other random match-up thoughts: Houston Alexander vs Tim Boetsch; and Wilson Gouveia vs James Irvin.
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