The UFC light heavyweight division has long been deemed the deepest and most popular division in the organization. Since the two year reign of Chuck Liddell as the division’s champion, which ended in May of 2007 by the hands of Quinton Jackson, the 205 pound division has seen four different champions. Jackson is the only one of those to successfully defend his belt.
That says quite a lot about the level of competition.
However, the meteoric rise of Lyoto Machida to championship status has serious implications for the fan favorite of UFC divisions.
Machida has gone through his career without the feeling of losing. Not only has he never lost a fight, he has never lost a single round. His run did not stop when he faced Rashad Evans at UFC 98 to gain the title.
Not since Chuck Liddell has the division seen someone run through the competition like Machida has. That being said, the potential many see in Machida, sees the champion flying well over the successes of “The Iceman”, which may pose a threat to the division’s competition.
Yet that is not the only factor in the division’s potential problems in the future regarding the level of competition.
Earlier this week, former UFC and Pride champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson announced via a blog on his website that he would no longer be fighting, as he pursues a career on the silver screen.
Dana White took the news with a laid back, unconcerned attitude, yet the decision by Jackson has serious implications for the division.
However, Anderson Silva refuses to fight Lyoto Machida. Dana White will probably not be able to make that fight happen considering Silva does not need to win that belt to stay atop the pound for pound list.
Yet another problem is the fact that two of the men listed above have already fought, and lost, to Lyoto Machida. Rua is fighting Machida at UFC 104. If he is to lose, the UFC may have to settle for unwarranted rematches.
Rashad Evans was brutalized by Machida, and was supposed to have the opportunity to rebound against Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. The winner of that fight would undoubtedly receive a title shot, especially if “Rampage” hailed victorious.
However, that fight is not in the picture for the moment, and early rumor has suggested that Thiago Silva will fight Rashad Evans for the number one contendership.
Yet, whoever wins that fight will be entering a fight with Machida (assuming he wins at UFC 104) with a serious chip on his shoulder. Machida tore both Evans and Silva apart, and it is hard to imagine that either would be ready for a rematch by early spring of 2010.
The UFC would have a difficult time promoting either of those fighters in a rematch as neither gave Machida a problem during their first bout.
While each of those fighters are extremely talented, and Thiago Silva showed his resilience by destroying Keith Jardine at UFC 102, neither are at the point where they can really challenge the champion. In a year or two, either of those men could be champion, especially Thiago Silva, who is still very young and has a hunger for that belt that is similar to that of Machida’s.
This whole scenario could have been put off for the moment with “Rampage” Jackson still in the picture. If Jackson fought Evans and pulled off a victory, that would leave the UFC with a clear contender, and one who hadn’t lost to Machida before.
Yet, it seems that fight is not to be, considering Jackson’s decision to leave for a career as an actor.
Outside of the top five in the division, the UFC has brought back several fighters, as well bringing in a new one, to benefit the division’s competition.
Both Rich Franklin and Tito Ortiz are familiar with the light heavyweight division. Ortiz even held the belt for a time. However, one thing the two have in common is that they each have lost to Machida.
The UFC also recently announced the signing of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Maybe the best thing he has going for him is that he has not lost to Machida. With a solid skill set, Noguiera may be able to climb into title contention.
However, none of these three pose a serious threat to Machida’s belt. Ortiz has been gone for quite some time, Franklin was demolished by Vitor Belfort (whose performance was eerily similar to one that Machida would put on), and Nogueira has not seen the competition level the UFC can offer in quite some time.
With the three older fighters attempting to make a run towards Machida’s belt, at least the UFC does have some young guns with good potential.
Both Jon Jones and Luiz Cane have risen in the toughest division with several impressive performances. Either could turn into a phenomenal fighter, yet they are each years away from reaching the full potential they need to. Speaking of young fighters, Thiago Silva makes the cut considering he is only 24 years old. This seriously helps Silva’s case considering his career could last for another decade, along with Jones and Cane.
With the young stars rising in the divison, as well as the new and returning stars of the division who have been around for years, the UFC has some great competition. Add the four top contenders and the division seems as competitive as ever.
However, Lyoto Machida, at this point, is in a class of his own. The division is basically Lyoto Machida, and then everybody else. He has yet to have much of a challenge, running through opponents, and the top of the division is filled with fighters he has already victimized.
The UFC light heavyweight division is still the most competitive division in the UFC, and it is safe to say that it is the most competitive division in mixed martial arts. However, the competition begins to fall off when Lyoto Machida enters the picture.
With Anderson Silva refusing to fight “The Dragon”, it is growing increasingly difficult to find the champion a fighter who can actually give him a run for his money. Until the UFC reaches out to grab a guy like Gegard Mousasi, who has all the potential in the world, the organization better hope for vast improvements out of fighters such as Thiago Silva, Forrest Griffin, and Rashad Evans.
At this point, it is hard to argue that T. Silva has the most potential out of the three to hold the belt before his career is over. He continues to improve and the loss to Machida extremely hurt the light heavyweight star.
But until Silva reaches a point well above where he is right now, the UFC looks towards coming to terms with Mousasi, or if Mauricio “Shogun” Rua of PRIDE decides to reappear, the UFC light heavyweight division’s competition at the highest level will be greatly hindered.
The division still holds elite status when it comes to depth. However, the depth of the division may not be able to make up for the void in competition at the championship ranks.