The UFC's Light Heavyweight division is the most talented in all of MMA right now. It is ripe with intriguing matchups and stylistic showcases. One of the only things it doesn't have is a clear cut No. 1 contender.
Several men have a claim on the top of the heap, but upcoming events will settle the matter once and for all.
Lyoto Machida should already be the No. 1 contender for the belt. But because of his evasive style and passive personality he hasn't been given an opportunity for the strap—yet.
Machida has won 13 straight fights and remains unbeaten in his MMA career. He holds notable wins over Stephan Bonnar, Rich Franklin, BJ Penn, Kaz Nakumura, Soku, and most recently over Tito Ortiz.
The biggest knock on Machida has been the lack of ability to finish his opponents and his "point" fighting style. The critics won't be able to keep him out of the title talk for much longer if he keeps winning against top competition.
Machida has the ability to guarantee a title shot with a victory over Thiago Silva at UFC 89. It is not a coincidence that the bout is going to be held on free TV. Dana White wants everyone to be familiar with both Machida and Silva as the winner will be catapulted up the 205 ladder.
A victory for Machida should give him a shot at Griffin. A victory for Silva should give him a chance at the No. 1 contender spot.
The wild card in all of this is the former UFC Light Heavyweight champion Chuck Liddell. He has a fight coming up at UFC 88 against Rashad Evans, and Liddell has been a mediocre 2-2 in his last four fights.
He dropped two in a row to Rampage Jackson and Keith Jardine before rebounding to beat Wand Silva by decision at UFC 79. A win against Evans would put him at two victories in a row and, many feel, in a position to fight the champ.
I personally don't feel that two wins should put Liddell at the top of the pile, but we all know it doesn't matter what anyone else thinks. The decision is up to Joe Silva and Dana White.
I can see why Dana would give Liddell another shot. The payday would be tremendous. A Forrest Griffin vs. Chuck Liddell matchup would be a huge gate and PPV draw.
So to sum things up I see the scenarios as follows:
If Machida wins against Silva he should be guaranteed the next title shot.
If Liddell wins against Evans he may be given the next title shot just to make a payday. Machida would be forced to fight another top 205er and wait to get his shot against the winner of Liddell/Griffin.
If Silva beats Machida he may be given a title shot IF Liddell loses, but this is highly doubtful. A win would catapult him into the title conversation, and he would be a win or two away from a shot.
If Evans beats Liddell he could be considered for a shot, but his lack of quality opponents would hurt him. Combine an Evans win with a Silva victory over Machida and there you have a very interesting No. 1 contenders match.
UFC 88 and 89 are going to shape the title contender picture and it will be interesting to see how things shake out. I don't envy Joe Silva and Dana White as they have some hard choices in front of them.
I believe that Lyoto Machida has earned his shot with a victory over Silva, but we will have to wait and see if money is more important than hard work to the UFC brass.