Jon Jones - UFC Light Heavyweight Champion
For years the UFC light heavyweight division has been touted as the deepest and one of the most exciting divisions in MMA. You've had the greats: Liddell, Couture, and Tito all hold their reign.
Then the likes of Rampage, Wanderlei, and Shogun made their way from Pride to bolster an already stellar division. We then enter the "Ultimate Fighter" era adding Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin, two former champions.
The division has had several claims usually resulting in Mike Goldberg or Joe Rogan announcing the new "The Fighter X Era". Remember when no one was suppose to be able to beat Lyoto Machida? Shogun Rua cut that chapter of history short.
Here we are in 2011, the light heavyweight division is currently ruled by a lanky 23-year-old that made his professional debut three years ago.
The hot button topic now is who is next to challenge Jon "Bones" Jones?
After his domination of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128, Rashad Evans appeared to be next in line. The two former teammates had begun to garner some serious hype behind their match up until it was derailed by a Jones' hand injury. Evans' opponent was quickly filled with another up and coming talent in Phil Davis.
Now with the announcement that "Bones" is healthy enough to fight and will forgo surgery, the champion awaits his next opponent.
The question is now who gets the opportunity? Here is a rundown of potential contenders.
Forrest Griffin in His Win Over Tito Ortiz
Former light heavyweight champion Forrest Griffin has rallied back nicely since being embarrassed by current middleweight champion Anderson Silva at UFC 101. He has picked up two consecutive victories over Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin.
While Ortiz and Franklin aren't exactly in their prime, they are still impressive wins. Forrest is set to face off against Shogun Rua at UFC 134. This is a rematch of their UFC 76 bout where Griffin was able to submit Rua with a rear naked choke.
If Griffin is able to repeat the magic and beat Shogun again, that makes it three notable wins in a row and puts him right in the title picture.
This title shot is all based on another win for Forrest and hoping that the time line for the fight lines up right. Nevertheless, he is right on the door step of a title shot.
Phil Davis' rise through the light heavyweight division has been somewhat over shadowed by the success of Jon Jones. However, it should not be ignored. Davis is 9-0 coming off his latest victory over Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. "Mr. Wonderful" was able to outpoint "Lil' Nog" to a unanimous decision.
It was clear that he was on his way to the top, but struck gold when Jones backed out of his match with Rashad Evans. Davis is now set to face the fighter who many consider the true number one contender at UFC 133 in his first pay-per-view main event.
Davis has displayed some excellent wrestling and submission skills throughout his brief career. He faces his greatest challenge yet with Evans.
However, if he is able to pull out the victory over "Suga" he will likely receive the same treatment Jon Jones did and be launched into a title shot.
Whether or not the young Davis is ready for it is irrelevant. Two of the UFC's brightest young stars may be meeting in an octagon near you very soon.
Shogun Rua Defeating Lyoto Machida
The latest of Jon Jones' growing line of victims is former Pride superstar Mauricio "Shogun" Rua. While the fight went to the third round there was no question that Jones dominated the fight. Finally, in the third round Shogun collapsed to his hands and knees losing his title.
However, the talent and resume is clearly there. After what many considered to be a robbery by the judges, Shogun lost his first title shot in the UFC against Lyoto Machida. UFC President Dana White was happy to hand him another shot at "The Dragon" at UFC 113.
Shogun didn't let it get to the judges again. Machida was knocked out violently in the first round.
Rua underwent knee surgery prior to his fight with Jones, but had almost nine months to heal. Some question whether or not he was fully healthy at UFC 128, but at this point it is irrelevant.
Rua takes on Forrest Griffin at UFC 134 looking to avenge his loss. With Shogun's fight resume, one impressive victory could land him another shot at the title. While he has an up hill battle ahead of him, if Shogun is able to swiftly knock out or dominate Forrest it may start the clamoring for a rematch.
Lyoto "The Dragon" Machida
"The Machida Era" was cut short by the vicious strikes of Shogun Rua at UFC 113. Machida's next match was only the second loss of his career, but it was his second straight. He lost a close split decision to Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in what many consider another questionable call.
Dana White went as far as suggesting that another loss for Machida could potentially lead to him moving on from the UFC. Fortunately for Lyoto, we didn't have to find out whether or not Dana was bluffing. Lyoto Machida reached backed to the 80's with a "Karate Kid" style front kick that dropped Randy Couture at UFC 129.
Even though this makes Machida 1-2 in his last three fights, White suggested that he may be the next person in line for a title shot. It is mostly depending on the health of Rampage Jackson's hand following his victory over Matt Hamill last night.
If you disagree with the judges at UFC 123, you could have Machida as 2-1, which would put him right in the title picture. The only opinions that really matter is that of UFC President Dana White and match maker Joe Silva.
Until we get an official report on the health of Rampage's hand, we have to assume that Machida could be one fight away from another shot at the gold.
Quinton "Rampage" Jackson
Rampage Jackson dominated Matt Hamill last night at UFC 130 in an unanimous decision victory. What Dana White labeled as a "title eliminator" turned into more of a showcase for Rampage. Hamill had no answer for the Pride veteran.
This makes Jackson 2-1 in his last three fights with his last loss coming to Rashad Evans at UFC 114. While the numbers seem to be there, taking a closer look at his record raises some questions. His last loss was to Evans, who may be the most deserving of the title shot out of the entire division.
His win against Machida was questionable to most, but at the very least it wasn't a decisive win you'd expect from a number one contender. Lastly, his against Hamill last night was impressive, but Hamill had no business being in the title picture.
However, it appears Rampage is next in line for the shot. Dana White has already announced that if healthy, Jackson will get the next shot at Jon Jones.
The health of Quinton's hand remains to be seen, but it appears he is at maximum one more win away if his injury is too serious.
Rashad Evans at UFC Weigh Ins
Rashad Evans is easily the most deserving contender for the title shot at 205. He was the one that was suppose to originally get the shot at Shogun Rua until Rashad suffered a knee injury during training. Then Jon Jones' hand injury left Evans without a title shot once again.
Now he is set to face the rising star Phil Davis. Evans is the heavy favorite in this match up, but as we know with MMA there are no sure things.
Rashad missed out on his first chance at the title after getting knocked out by Lyoto Machida resulting in one of the most famous knock out photos of all time. The loss appeared to have changed his approach to fighting as he seemed to become more conservative.
He wrestled his way to two straight victories over Thiago Silva and Rampage Jackson, who are both top ten light heavyweights.
Evans has the most deserving resume leading towards a title shot and eventually he will get it. It will be tough to swallow if Phil Davis is able to pull off the upset and once again knock Rashad another step back from the title.
Until we know the results of that bout, "Suga" Rashad stands atop the list for most deserving of the shot at the UFC light heavyweight gold.