Recently, the explosion of interim champion Shane "The Engineer" Carwin, challenger Cain Velasquez, and challenger Junior "Cigano" dos Santos, combined with champion Brock Lesnar's extended illness, has thrust the Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight division to the fore of its publicity machine.
And rightly so.
When Carwin and Lesnar step into the Octagon at UFC 116 to eliminate that nasty little "interim" tag, it will kick off the most anticipated string of title defenses in the division's history. If the Minnesota Mountain can turn back the Engineer and the next upriser, the organization will have its very first double-threat atop what is always a combat sport's fattest cash cow.
Brock is already a superlatively dominant marketing force.
The same would have to be said about his abilities in the cage if he can score a couple more impressive victories. To date, he can only list his pulping of Frank Mir at UFC 100 and eventual throttling of Randy "The Natural" Couture at UFC 91 in that category.
Yet, all the ink being spilled over the 265-pounder's notwithstanding—the UFC's deepest and most intriguing class might just be the light heavyweight one.
The grudge match between Rashad "Sugar" Evans and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson at UFC 114 should've reminded mixed martial arts fans of that very fact.
Even though the action might've disappointed some in the audience, the outcome throws another burner under the 205-pound hot stove.
If Rampage, aka Bad Attitude Baracus, had emerged with the win, it would've marked two straight defeats for Sugar to the cream of the division's crop. His skeptics could've argued that his rise to the light heavyweight title was an accident aided by a fluke—and he should be relegated to stand guard at the gates of 205-pound contention.
He would've been a lighter analogy to Mir and, consequently, no longer crucial to the title picture.
Instead, you have to place Evans smack-dab in the middle of the most dangerous fighters at his weight.
You have to take his striking victory over Chuck "The Iceman" Liddell seriously. You have to give him due credit for his short stint with the belt—even if it did come by virtue of dismantling a suspect Forrest Griffin and was ended before a successful defense.
Sure, Rashad's last two fights have unfolded almost exactly the same—after essentially suffocating both Jackson and Thiago Silva for most of the battle, the original Ultimate Fighter barely escaped the bouts as his adversaries managed to stun him in the final stanza.
Sugar imposed his will and was able to play to his strengths in both contests. He did so for long enough to secure non-controversial unanimous decisions on each occasion.
Speed, footwork, and exceptional wrestling usually don't conspire to form crowd-pleasing slugfests, but you better believe they make Rashad Evans a lunch-requiring task for the rest of his light heavyweight brethren.
And then there's the matter of Rampage.
Despite the defeat to Evans and the earlier ugliness against Griffin that saw him lose the UFC hardware in the first place, you can't possibly dismiss this beast.
It's easy to overlook given Jackson's lengthy fight resume and large radar blip dating back to the days of the Pride Fighting Championships, but Quinton is only 31. Granted, he's taken some savage beatings in his time from the likes of Wanderlei "The Axe Murderer" Silva (twice) and current champ Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (ironically, Silva is one of two men Rua refuses to fight out of loyalty).
Nevertheless, this is a gladiator who should still have plenty left in the tank.
You have to at least consider Jackson's regrets about The A-Team distraction and ring rust are sincere and valid.
Let's be fair here—the dude has never appeared in a Hollywood blockbuster so there's a very good chance he had no idea what was in store for him. Additionally, the former light heavyweight champion spent nearly 15 months on the sidelines while his antagonist engaged in real fisticuffs.
Those aren't excuses or meant to diminish Evans' triumph; merely to point out that tossing Jackson on the scrap heap is probably a bit premature.
In other words, neither fighter did anything to merit eliminating the other from the cluttered landscape. That means an already crowded guest list gets even more crowded.
Remember, this division bristles with dynamic competitors of all varieties.
The man atop the heap was once thought to be the most vicious striker in the world at 205. What's more tantalizing is that Shogun might be entering a whole new phase of excellence at 28 based on his couplet against Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida.
Speaking of the Dragon, the loss against Rua that cost him the division's belt was also the first of his career. So, yeah, he'll probably be back in the thick of things once he recovers from a stress fracture under his eye.
There are also the lurking shadows of Anderson "The Spider" Silva's unparalleled brilliance, Couture's intriguing prospects at a more manageable girth, and the raw gnarliness of Jon "Bones" Jones.
Not to mention less proven, but equally exciting prospects such as Ryan "Darth" Bader and Phil "Mr. Wonderful" Davis.
Lump Evans and Jackson into the mix and you've got seven legitimate contenders and the growing spectres of two more.
At a minimum.
So, yes, the biggest brawlers in the UFC are getting ready to swarm the stage, soak up most of the limelight, and the circus around the heavyweights will be justified.
But be sure to spare some attention for the next division down because the show should be just as good.
If not better.
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