UFC 130 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in Las Vegas shuffled the contender decks this Memorial Day Weekend. Here are five moves that are shaping up and shaking up the UFC’s weight classes.
1) “Rampage” Next for Jon Jones for Real
The UFC knows the value of continuing Jon Jones' momentum relies heavily on who the UFC Light Heavyweight Championship defends his belt against first. If a fractured hand Jackson nursed while securing a clean, stock win against Matt Hamill Saturday night heals in time for him to fight Jon Jones next, he should be chosen over Lyoto Machida as the no. 1 contender more for his blockbuster appeal than his razor-thin decision against Machida last November at UFC 123.
Plans for the UFC's first showcase of Jon Jones the champion have changed nearly as much as the title has changed hands since Chuck Liddell's two-year reign over the division ended in 2007 (six). Rashad Evans’ August meeting scheduled with Phil Davis at UFC 133 hasn’t slowed talk of Evans-Jones although it’s ensured Evans is immediately unavailable. In addition to compelling beef with Jones, Evans holds a win over Jackson, who holds a win over Machida, who holds a win over Evans.
The consistent title changes and tough timing have disguised how healthy it is to have three former champions and a rising star wild card on deck to challenge the throne. The silver lining here is that of the last six 205-pound champions in the UFC, Jones and Jackson stand out currently as the most popular.
The UFC has the opportunity for a rare bout between a history-making 23-year-old champion in Jones and a foil of a veteran champion in Jackson. The window of opportunity for that bout is now because Jackson, 32, eyeing retirement at 35 suggests it will take big money fights to truly garner his big money performances.
2) Demetrious Johnson's Mighty Case for a Title Shot
“Mighty Mouse” Demetrious Johnson competed with former WEC Bantamweight Champion Miguel Torres for every second of his captivating 15-minute SPIKE TV preliminary scrap with Miguel Torres. A Matt Hume protégé, Johnson has four consecutive victories including back-to-back against former champions in Torres and K-1 HERO’s 2005 Middleweight Grand Prix Champion Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto. The 24-year-old has exceeded expectations in an underdog role for his last three bouts. With 135-pounds hosting it’s first UFC main event at UFC 132 in July between champion Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber, Johnson is the perfect uncelebrated but serious challenger for a champion riding the biggest win of his career and looking to further establish themselves via real opposition.
For Torres, coming off a well-played contest, Yamamoto is a fight that contains intrigue stemming back to their time being internationally acclaimed outside of the UFC.
3) Brian Stann's Flagship Fight
Brian Stann disposed of Sengoku Middleweight Champion Jorge Santiago in their Fight of the Night honored contest 31 seconds shy of the second round’s end. “All-American” displayed marked improvement in the facet of his game already considered his strength—his striking. His looks standing left Santiago confused and eventually broken, signaling Stann is a fighter capable of outclassing top-10 opponents.
The Marine’s marketability surely will fast track him to a title shot; however, Anderson Silva’s unparalleled reign leaves the former WEC Light Heavyweight Champion with few opponents that can advance Stann’s contender position while he continues evolving as a fighter ready for someone of Silva’s caliber. Stann will be happy to report for regularly duty but he should compete in a title eliminator bout opposite Wanderlei Silva, Mark Munoz or Michael Bisping, whichever fighter emerges from their contender bouts with Chris Leben, Demian Maia and Jason Miller respectively with the most momentum.
For Santiago, he endured the worst outcome possible in his UFC return, but the resilient Brazilian would benefit from mixing it up with another hard luck, solid middleweight in Dan Miller.
4) Getting Rick Story Straight
A sturdy chin and poise to fire punches back in the face of adversity Rick Story demonstrated versus Thiago Alves coupled with a six-fight win streak undoubtedly places the Brave Legion rep in contender talks. The 26-year-old passed a significant wrestling test against Johny Hendricks and now a striking test versus Alves. If he can neutralize the submission grappling of Jake Shields, another former title challenger to Georges St. Pierre's UFC Welterweight Championship, Story could solidify he’s ready for the no. 1 contender spot.
Story has been bold in calling his shots at welterweight. That attitude is welcome when it’s from confidence in skills instead of confidence in an ability to sell a fight, which is why Rick Story is a “Horror” for other contenders and a dream for fans.
For Alves, the loser of Chris Lytle-Dan Hardy would stand well against his muay Thai.
5) UFC Heavyweights Could Use Strikeforce Bump
Frank Mir pushed around and beat up Roy Nelson to a decision in co-main event action, while Travis Browne scored the Knockout of the Night with a thrilling and unique superman punch KO versus Stefan Struve in round one. The winning heavyweights are at two entirely different junctures in their UFC career yet they have one thing in common: their best fights are in Strikeforce.
Mir likely concludes his trilogy with Brock Lesnar next when Lesnar recovers from diverticulitis. Facing the biggest star in MMA is a lucrative plus; however, defeat could irrevocably damage Mir’s longevity as a contender because key losses are valued more when the division doesn’t have the requisite depth to reestablish former champions with legitimate threats in the upper-echelon of the division like Antonio Silva, Sergei Kharitonov and Josh Barnett.
For Nelson, there’s not many prospects left at heavyweight although a chance to avenge a controversial loss to Andrei Arlovski allows him to have a contest relevant to his career while reinventing it by losing weight.
Browne appears incredibly promising to the heavyweight class thanks to his 6’7 frame and Alliance Training Center’s movement-oriented boxing. Good prospects like Shane Del Rosario and Daniel Cormier are legit counterparts that generate excitement for an up-and-comer like the Hawaiian. Instead, Browne can take a stern challenge from a grizzled guy like Mike Russow to raise his stock.
Danny Acosta is the lead writer at FIGHT! Magazine. Follow him on twitter.com/acostaislegend