Jimi Manuwa Restarts UFC Title Hopes, Adds Some Life to Stale LHW Division

Mike Chiappetta@MikeChiappettaMMA Senior ColumnistMarch 18, 2017

Jimi Manuwa celebrates his knockout win over Corey Anderson.
Jimi Manuwa celebrates his knockout win over Corey Anderson.Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Throughout most of the UFC's history, it has been the light-heavyweight division that has been its showcase group. But the home of all-time stars including Tito Ortiz, Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Jon Jones has not been so glamorous lately.

With Jones out on an extended suspension due to a failed drug test, the 205-pound division has been headlined by an excellent fighter, Daniel Cormier, who nevertheless is viewed by many as something of a paper champion. The top contender, Anthony Johnson, while terrifying, is someone who has already lost to Cormier. And the rest of the division's top 15 is mostly comprised of aging veterans and rising youngsters who have yet to prove anything at the highest level.

In short, it could use a new contender.

Jimi Manuwa may or may not be that guy. There are certainly arguments against it. For one thing, he's 37 years old. Time is not his friend. He's also already lost to Johnson—albeit on short notice and just after surgery—as well as Alexander Gustafsson.

But on the other hand...

This guy has some fire in his hands, doesn't he?

If you didn't see Manuwa's first-round knockout of Corey Anderson Saturday night in the main event of UFC Fight Night 77 in London, it was a thing of beauty, a one-hitter-quitter left hook that landed flush against the temple and put Anderson out.

"I always thought I was in that elite group," Manuwa said during the UFC post-fight press conference. "It was a matter of putting the performances together and I've done that twice in a row. It's time now."

The man can crack. That much is sure. And that makes him an intriguing name to watch in a division that desperately, desperately needs it.

It would be hard to disagree that Manuwa is fun to watch. He brings an element of danger and volatility, risk-taking and vulnerability that is alluring to most fans. He lives on the edge, a kill-or-be-killed type of fighter who prefers to direct a controlled shellacking but also can't help to engage in a firefight if the need or the situation arises.

And that matters in the new-look, WME-IMG-owned UFC, where the show is as important as the athletic competition.

UFC has Cormier vs. Johnson 2 coming up April 8. That's a fine and good fight. Cormier faced some danger last time around, suffering a first-round knockdown before rallying to a third-round submission win. By all accounts, either man can win, and most sports books have it listed as a pick 'em, per OddsShark.

Beyond that, however, the division is mostly a mess with no real direction. Who might challenge the winner? Jones is supposed to return in July to a probable title match, but given his recent history, he cannot be seen as a sure thing. Gustafsson, ranked No. 2 behind Johnson, has lost two of his last three, although he has a chance to improve upon that when he faces Glover Teixeira in May.

No. 3 Teixeira had a 13-second knockout loss to Johnson within the last year. No. 5 Mauricio "Shogun" Rua has won three in a row for the first time in his decade-long UFC tenure, but it will be a difficult sell to promote him as a title contender when he's faced retirement pressure for years before this.

That doesn't leave many options, so the UFC could do a lot worse than Manuwa.

For the Brit, it was about the best result he could have hoped for when he accepted the fight in front of his hometown crowd.

Conversely, for Anderson, it was a lost opportunity. A rare 20-something UFC light-heavyweight on the rise, Anderson came in with wins in four of his last five, with only a heavily disputed split-decision loss to Rua marring that stretch.

Manuwa lands the fight-ending left hook
Manuwa lands the fight-ending left hookJosh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

A victory over Manuwa would have vaulted him into the top five, yet he never came close to hurting Manuwa or slowing him down.

Instead, the whole way through, Manuwa looked to be the better and more powerful dominant fighter, stuffing multiple takedown tries and firing off the sharper, stronger strikes.

His brand of explosiveness is what makes him so marketable. In a division that needs somebody new to stand out, he did that Saturday night. That won't only get him notice; it will also get him a big fight. Maybe even the biggest fight.

Manuwa said after the fight that he wasn't much interested in fighting Jones.

"I greatly respect him, but he's banned for steroids and that taints everything," he said. "When he comes back I'll fight him, no question. But I'm focused on the belt now and that's the winner of DC and Rumble Johnson."

Of course, it's not really his call.

The only thing he can control is what he does in the cage, and at that, he's quite good. Elite? Maybe not yet, but he's in the conversation. And more than that, it's easy to picture him alongside those elite names. Manuwa-Jones? Manuwa-Cormier? Manuwa-Johnson 2? If you're an MMA fan, all of those matchups can't help but bring a smile to your face,

The UFC's former glamour weight class these days brings as many shrugs and groans as cheers. With his win Saturday night, Manuwa offered a rare shot of adrenaline to his division, and that's a win of its own.