The 20 All-Time Fan Favorite Light Heavyweights

Andrew Saunders@SaundersMMACorrespondent IIDecember 14, 2012

The 20 All-Time Fan Favorite Light Heavyweights

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    In the history of the Ultimate Fighting Championship, no weight class has had bigger marquee fights than the boys at light heavyweight. It is a weight class that features some of the most popular fighters that the sport has ever known, and for a long time was the toughest division in all of MMA.

    From early pioneers to the current crop of elite fighters at 205 pounds, fans have loved the combination of knockout power, speed and athleticism that the division offers. 

    If you need any indication of the importance that the light heavyweight division has played for the UFC, you need only turn to the UFC Hall of Fame. Of the last five fighters inducted, four of them spent a considerable amount of their career competing at 205 pounds.

    After the popularity of the recent article 20 All-Time Fan Favorite MMA Heavyweights, I have decided to return for an installment for the light heavyweight division.

Dan Henderson

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    Greatest Achievements: PRIDE Middleweight Champion, PRIDE Welterweight Champion, Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, UFC 17 tournament winner, 2009 Knockout of the Year, 2011 Fight of the Year (vs Shogun Rua)

    There is a lot of discussion regarding PRIDE throughout this article, so for anyone unfamiliar with the brand, let's clarify now. Fighters who weighed in at 205 pounds in PRIDE were considered to be middleweights and fighters who weighed in at 183 pounds were considered to be welterweights. PRIDE middleweight and UFC light heavyweight as synonyms for the sake of this article

    I was not sure which weight class to honor Dan Henderson, as he had impressive careers at both light heavyweight and middleweight. I went with light heavyweight due to his wins against Wanderlei Silva, Shogun Rua, Rich Franklin, Vitor Belfort and Fedor Emelianenko.

    Technically, Henderson weighed 207 when he knocked out Fedor, but I think that is close enough.

    Henderson twice failed to capture UFC gold, however, he did win the middleweight tournament at UFC 17.

    The legacy of Henderson was once based on his wrestling acumen, however, his incredible knockout power has led to some of the greatest highlights in MMA history, including a murderous stoppage of Michael Bisping at UFC 100.

    Henderson is currently considered to be a top contender for Jon Jones at light heavyweight, however he is expected to face Lyoto Machida in a title eliminator.

Babalu Sobral

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    Greatest Achievements: Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion, UFC title contender

    Babalu Sobral was once considered one of the most popular stars in the UFC. However, with one poorly considered act of revenge, he became the sport's most hated.

    With career wins over Shogun Rua, Chael Sonnen, Trevor Prangley and Jeremy Horn, you would be hard-pressed to find fans in 2006 who did not know, respect and fear the dangerous Brazilian grappler.

    In case you have not noticed from the photo, Babalu is a terrifying looking man. If his looks do not scare you, his actions certainly would.

    At UFC 74 (which was ironically subtitled Respect), Sobral performed one of the most despicable actions to ever occur inside of the confines of professional sports.

    Fighting David Heath, Sobral dealt with an opponent who flung verbal taunts in his direction. As a way of "teaching him respect," the one time title contender locked in an anaconda choke. When Heath tapped out, Sobral refused to release the choke. In his mind, his opponent crossed a line and needed to be put to sleep.

    Sobral was released from his contract and went on to win the Strikeforce light heavyweight championship.

Stephan Bonnar

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    Greatest Achievements: Participant in a bout that is widely considered to be the greatest fight in the history of mixed martial arts.

    Speaking of fighters who went on to completely tarnish their legacy and somehow morph their received love into unquestionable disdain, here is Stephan Bonnar.

    Stephan Bonnar was not the flashiest cast member of The Ultimate Fighter, but when he got to the show's finale, he made sure to let it all hang out in hopes of earning a UFC contract.

    The fight with Forrest Griffin has gone on to be known as the greatest fight in MMA history and also the most important. This, paired with Bonnar's ability to throw caution to the wind without ever being finished, made him one of the most popular stars to ever come out of the reality program.

    Bonnar endeared himself to many when he agreed to fight Anderson Silva at UFC 153, effectively saving the event from cancellation. Unfortunately, he used anabolic steroids to prepare for the contest, got knocked out in the first round, and threw away any love or respect that historians likely would have shown him.

Vitor Belfort

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, UFC 12 Heavyweight Tournament winner

    When you have the physique of a Greek god and you absolutely maul opponents like Wanderlei Silva, Tank Abbott and Marvin Eastman, there is no question that you are about to become an enormous star.

    Chiseled to a startling degree, Vitor Belfort was one of the first fighters to display spectacular skills in both the standup and jiu-jitsu departments of combat. His ability to thrive in two locations made him highly successful in the sport's early days.

    Although Belfort has experience competing as a heavyweight, light heavyweight and middleweight, the vast majority of his bouts occurred at 205 pounds.

    Belfort nearly shocked the world at UFC 152 when he snatched an armbar from Jon Jones, which almost earned him a second stint as a UFC champion. Unfortunately for fans of the Brazilian, Jones showed incredible patience and courage by refusing to tap out, and he later came out victorious.

    The Phenom meets Michael Bisping in January, and a win could potentially earn him a crack at the UFC middleweight championship.

Houston Alexander

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    Greatest Achievements: Won first two UFC bouts via vicious knockout in a combined time of one minute and 49 seconds

    Every weight class has a popular slugger whose level of notoriety does not reflect his lack of overall success. At heavyweight it was Kimbo Slice. At featherweight, it was Leonard Garcia. At light heavyweight, that man is none other than Houston Alexander.

    Debuting at UFC 71, Alexander was expected to be massacred by Keith Jardine, who was coming off of a vicious TKO win against Forrest Griffin. Apparently no one told Houston that he was supposed to lose.

    In a bout that featured some of the most cringe-worthy uppercuts ever witnessed, Alexander buckled Jardine repeatedly before finally separating him from consciousness only 48 seconds into the fight.

    He would follow up that performance by knocking out boxer Alessio Sakara in 61 ticks of the clock, but lost his final four fights with the UFC before spiraling into obscurity.

Matt Hamill

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    Greatest Achievements: Ultimate Fighter semi-finalist

    While the "greatest hits" collection of Matt Hamill fights would not include many earth-shattering victories, his wins over Tito Ortiz and Keith Jardine showed us that this deaf athlete did not get a roster spot solely because of his handicap. 

    Deaf since birth, Hamill began wrestling at a young age, and eventually made his way onto Season 3 of The Ultimate Fighter

    "The Hammer" was not only the top choice of coach Ortiz, but a breakout star on the show due to his oftentimes childish immaturity that starkly contrasted his imposing wrestling game.

    At one point, the inspirational star was in possession of a dazzling 9-2 record, that includes a very controversial decision loss to Michael Bisping, as well as a disqualification victory over future champion Jon Jones.

Lil Nog

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    Greatest Achievements: Sherdog's 2005 Fight of the Year (vs Shogun Rua)

    Although not quite as popular as his heftier twin, Antonio "Lil Nog" Nogueira was a major star under the PRIDE banner in his own right. While fighting for the organization, "Minotoro" put together an impressive record of 9-2, which includes a pair of wins against Alistair Overeem and another against Dan Henderson. 

    When the company folded, Nogueira did not immediately move to the UFC. Instead, he went 5-0 in smaller organizations, including a pair of wins in Affliction.

    Since coming into Dana White's back yard, the Brazilian has gone 3-2, losing bouts to wrestlers Ryan Bader and Phil Davis.

    Nogueira is tentatively scheduled to meet Rashad Evans in February. If he performs at the level that we have seen previously, he could become a dark horse contender in 2013.

Keith Jardine

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    Greatest Achievements: Ultimate Fighter semi-finalist, two-time PPV headliner

    Interesting appearance? Check
    Crazy style of brawling? Check
    Awesome nickname? Check
    Wins over world-class fighters? Check

    Although Keith Jardine has become a bit of a punch-line in recent years, there is no questioning his popularity at the end of 2007.

    Seven fights into his tenure with the UFC, "The Dean of Mean" had raked in five victories, including wins against Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell. This led to a bout with Wanderlei Silva, although Jardine found himself sleeping by way of fists only 36 seconds into the fight.

    Jardine would later headline UFC 96 against Rampage Jackson, and proved that he was still capable of competing with world-class athletes. However, including that loss, Jardine has only found himself victorious in two of his last ten fights, which includes three episodes of him being violently knocked out.

Ricardo Arona

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    Greatest Achievements: 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix finalist, RINGS 2001 Tournament champion, RINGS Middleweight champion, Ended Wanderlei Silva's 5-year undefeated streak at light heavyweight

    Ricardo Arona was a major player in PRIDE. After picking up wins against Dan Henderson, Alistair Overeem, Wanderlei Silva and Kazushi Sakuraba, it was assumed that the Brazilian Top Team fighter would be imported into the UFC along with other top members of the organization.

    A jiu-jitsu fighter with ADCC championships to his name, Arona was unquestionably one of the most talented fighters to enter a PRIDE ring. Between his incredible skills, rugged good looks and wins over world-class fighters, he was one of the most marketable guys the organization ever had.

    At the end of the day, Arona might not be remembered for his accomplishments in the cage. Instead, his most famous moment came at the hands of Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, who avoided a triangle choke loss by lifting Arona into the air and powerbombing him into oblivion. That knockout lives on highlight reels to this day. 

Forrest Griffin

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Ultimate Fighter winner - Season 1, 2005 Fight of the Year (vs Stephan Bonnar), 2006 Fight of the Year (vs Tito Ortiz), 2008 Fight of the Year (vs Quinton Jackson)

    When the UFC introduced fans to a reality-program similar to boxing's "The Contender," they never could have dreamed that one season of the show would create more success than all of their previous years in business combined. Much of that is due to none other than the show's inaugural light heavyweight winner, Forrest Griffin.

    After winning the show's tournament, Griffin would overcome the odds by defeating two of the top names coming from the PRIDE organization: Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson. The win over Jackson earned Griffin the UFC light heavyweight championship.

    Since that time, Griffin has faced the best in the world on a consistent basis and walked away with a pair of wins against Tito Ortiz as well as another from Rich Franklin.

    One day, Griffin will walk away from the sport, and his name will forever be enshrined in the UFC Hall of Fame. That being said, I hope that day is soon, as the three-time Fight of the Year winner has not looked great in recent performances, despite some assistance from testosterone replacement therapy.

Shogun Rua

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix Champion, Sherdog's 2005 Fight of the Year (vs Antonio Nogueira), 2010 Knockout of the Year (vs Lyoto Machida), 2011 Fight of the Year (vs Dan Henderson)

    As one of few PRIDE superstars who was able to overcome the apparent curse that plagued fighters who were imported from the organization, Mauricio Rua has spent much of the last decade as one of the most feared strikers on the planet.

    Throughout his stellar career, Rua has defeated and finished some of the best light heavyweights that the sport has ever seen, including Alistair Overeem, Chuck Liddell, Mark Coleman, Lil Nog, Lyoto Machida, Forrest Griffin, Rampage Jackson and Ricardo Arona.

    For some time, Rua was considered the best 205 pound fighter in the world, despite never winning the PRIDE championship. In fact, due to a longstanding friendship with longtime champion Wanderlei Silva, Shogun never even challenged for the belt, despite winning the 2005 PRIDE Grand Prix.

    Eventually, he would capture a world title by becoming the first man to defeat Lyoto Machida back at UFC 113.

    Apparently, Shogun is allergic to momentum, as he has alternated wins and losses in his last eight fights. He has lost five of his last 10 contests. 

Randy Couture

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC heavyweight champion, UFC light heavyweight champion, UFC interim light heavyweight champion, UFC 13 heavyweight tournament winner, 2001 Fight of the Year (vs Pedro Rizzo), 2007 Fight of the Year (vs Tim Sylvia), 2009 Fight of the Year (vs Big Nog)

    Randy Couture is the only fighter who made the list of most popular heavyweights and light heavyweights. The UFC Hall of Famer is a two time champion at this weight class.

    "The Natural" won more championships at heavyweight, but 205 pounds is the proper weight class for his frame. At this class, he holds wins over fellow Hall of Famers Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Mark Coleman.

    When the UFC needed a representative that they knew would not let them down, Couture was always a phone call away. He coached the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter opposite Liddell, and at UFC 118, he represented mixed martial arts by dominating boxing champion James Toney to prove that boxers truly do not stand a chance against an MMA star.

Lyoto Machida

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, 2011 Knockout of the Year, tied for longest winning streak in UFC light heavyweight history

    For a guy who had an undefeated record and career wins against Rich Franklin, Stephan Bonnar and BJ Penn, Lyoto Machida entered the UFC with surprisingly little fanfare. 

    "The Dragon" won his first eight fights inside the Octagon, which included victories against Tito Ortiz and Thiago Silva before capturing the UFC light heavyweight championship from then-undefeated champion Rashad Evans.

    Machida has played jump rope with popularity through his UFC tenure. At first, nobody cared about him because he apparently could not finish a fight to save his life. Then, he knocks out big-mouth Rashad Evans in spectacular style and we enter The Machida Era with tremendous excitement. Then, he takes a controversial decision over Shogun and becomes public enemy No. 1. Now, he wins a round against Jon Jones and knocks out Ryan Bader to return to our good graces.

    It is exhausting keeping up with that man. So instead, how about a fun fact?

    Some guys are just strange. Many of you might consider Machida to fall into this category based on his oral consumption of his own urine. While most would be disgusting by ingesting their own tinkle tea, Machida believes that urine therapy gives him additional strength.

Rashad Evans

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC light heavyweight champion, Ultimate Fighter Season 2 winner, 2008 Knockout of the Year

    It's hard to consider Rashad Evans to be a member of the all-time fan favorites in his division, but that's mostly because he is one of the most despicable men in the sport in the eyes of many detractors. However, his fans recognize him for his pure talent, incredible speed and his finesse inside the cage.

    "Suga" truly personifies the old "you either love him or hate him" cliche, as evidenced during his tenure as a contestant on Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter. After Evans shook his groove thing mid-fight, opposing coach Matt Hughes spoke his mind on the showboating. That moment seemingly has followed Rashad throughout his career.

    "I think sometimes that once the fans have their mind made up about you, that's it, and I think a lot of it comes from that Matt Hughes thing (during season two of The Ultimate Fighter), where he said I was cocky and that I like to showboat, and I think that stigma has followed me. No matter what I do, they see my personality as concrete, and there's no changing it for a lot of people. A lot of people are very lazy with their opinions, and once their mind is made up one way, they either refuse or it's very hard for them to go another way. But I take the good with the bad, and the good thing is this - I've never met a fan that didn't like me." 

    Since that time, Evans has headlined multiple events that sold more than 1,000,000 buys on PPV. He consistently remains one of the organization's top draws. 

Tito Ortiz

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC light heavyweight champion, Most light heavyweight title defenses in UFC history (five), Most fights in UFC history (27), 1999 Fight of the Year (vs Frank Shamrock), 2006 Fight of the Year (vs Forrest Griffin)

    One of the biggest UFC stars in the early days of Zuffa, Tito Ortiz earned five consecutive title defenses of his light heavyweight championship, and was the first dominant champion after Dana White and Co. took the reigns. 

    Tito's star power was never more evident than when he bolstered both television ratings and PPV buyrates in 2006. His season of The Ultimate Fighter against Ken Shamrock was the highest rated, and his challenge against Chuck Liddell for the UFC light heavyweight championship was the first PPV to break one million buys.

    Ortiz made appearances for the TNA pro wrestling organization, which continued the longstanding crossover between wrestling and MMA. 

    Fifteen years after his UFC debut, the Huntington Beach Bad Boy hung up his gloves back in July. The retirement came after a depressing string of losses that saw Ortiz pick up only one win in nearly six years of competition.

    Finished with in-cage action, Ortiz currently manages fighters, including former Strikeforce champion Christiane "Cyborg" Santos.

Rampage Jackson

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, PRIDE title challenger,  Unified UFC and PRIDE championships, 2003 PRIDE Grand Prix finalist, 2004 Fight of the Year (vs Wanderlei Silva), 2008 Fight of the Year (vs Forrest Griffin)

    Not only is Quinton "Rampage" Jackson one of the sport's most intimidating looking fighters, but with 21 victories by way of stoppage, he is one of the deadliest.

    Fighting for the PRIDE organization, Rampage became known as a violent man who can turn out the lights of any man on the planet. Never was that more apparent than after the vicious powerbomb knockout he scored against Ricardo Arona in 2004.

    His victories against a trio of UFC champions (Murilo Bustamante, Kevin Randleman and Chuck Liddell) helped solidify the idea that PRIDE had the best fighters in the world. When the UFC purchased PRIDE in 2006, Jackson wasted little time in capturing their championship by once again defeating Liddell.

    Since that time, Jackson has continued to cement his legacy by unifying the UFC and PRIDE championships, defeating Dan Henderson, earning revenge against Wanderlei Silva who had previously knocked him out on two occasions and winning five Fight Night bonuses.

    Jackson's star power grew even more in 2010 when his portrayed popular character B.A Baracus in the big-screen adaptation of The A-Team. In addition, his acting credits include an episode of The King of Queens and a guest hosting job on an episode of WWE Raw.

Frank Shamrock

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, Strikeforce Middleweight Champion, Interim King of Pancrase, WEC Light Heavyweight Champion, 1999 Fight of the Year (vs Tito Ortiz)

    It really is a crime that newer fans of the sport do not know much about Frank Shamrock outside of his tenure in Strikeforce.

    The adopted brother of Ken Shamrock, Frank was able to strap a belt around his waist and defend it four times, a feat that had never been duplicated at that time. 

    Never losing the belt, Shamrock retired from the sport in 1999 after finishing Tito Ortiz with elbows in 1999's Fight of the Year. That did not last long, as he returned in December of 2000.

    Shamrock competed for another decade before calling it quits for good, but he did so after recording victories against the likes of Cesar Gracie and Phil Baroni.

Jon Jones

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Light Heavyweight Champion (incumbent), Tied for longest winning streak in UFC light heavyweight history, Youngest fighter to win a UFC championship, Youngest fighter to defend a UFC championship

    Since his UFC debut, Jon Jones has been a force to reckon with. However, it was his second appearance that truly caught the attention of fans around the world. 

    At UFC 94, Jones met tough-as-nails Stephan Bonnar in a bout that was considered to be a gimme for the former Ultimate Fighter star. After all, Jones was only 21 years old and had less than half of his opponent's experience.

    Jones displayed creative striking that caught everyone off guard; especially Bonnar. Since that time, "Bones" has massacred everyone put in his path, including former champions Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida, Rashad Evans, Vitor Belfort and Shogun Rua. 

    Jones remains the youngest champion in UFC history, and if he successfully defeats Chael Sonnen in April, he will tie the record of Tito Ortiz for most consecutive title defenses in the division.

Chuck Liddell

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    Greatest Achievements: UFC Hall of Fame, UFC Light Heavyweight Champion, 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix semi-finalist, 2007 Fight of the Year (vs Wanderlei Silva), Most knockouts in UFC light heavyweight history

    Show of hands: How many of you got into watching mixed martial arts because of Chuck Liddell?

    Was it his vicious knockouts that reeled you in? Maybe the fact that he was so scary that Tito Ortiz was seemingly ready to jump out of a moving train in order to avoid fighting him. Perhaps you really just dug seeing a dude with a mohawk and a skull tattoo pummel guys into the canvas.

    Liddell has been part of some of the most memorable feuds in MMA history, including a trilogy of bouts with Randy Couture and a pair of fights against both Tito Ortiz and Rampage Jackson.

    Competing against the best of the best (and beating most of them) is a great way to cement your place in the history books. "The Iceman" has competed against nine members of this list a total of 14 times. 

    Need to know the true star power of Chuck Liddell? The longtime champ was once a victim of Ashton Kutcher and his MTV prank show Punk'd. That puts Liddell in the same league as Simon Cowell, Kanye West and Justin Timberlake.

    While Liddell unfortunately lost his ability to take a punch in later years (losing four of his final six fights via knockout), he had already fought his way into the hearts of fans before finally deciding to hand up the gloves in 2010.

Wanderlei Silva

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    Greatest Achievements: PRIDE Middleweight Champion, 2003 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix winner, 2005 PRIDE Middleweight Grand Prix semi-finalist, 2006 PRIDE Openweight Grand Prix semi-finalist, Most wins in PRIDE history, Most knockouts in PRIDE history, Most title defenses in PRIDE history, 2003 Fight of the Year (vs Hidehiko Yoshida), 2004 Fight of the Year (vs Rampage Jackson), 2007 Fight of the Year (vs Chuck Liddell), 2008 Knockout of the Year

    Think of Wanderlei Silva as the PRIDE equivalent of Anderson Silva. The only loss he received in his first 23 bouts with the organization came by way of controversial split decision in a fight that he took against a heavyweight on less than one week's notice.

    Not only does Wanderlei have the records for most wins, most consecutive wins and most title defenses in company history, but he also has the most knockouts, with 15 of his 22 promotional wins coming via strikes.

    Since joining the UFC, "The Axe Murderer" has been part of wars with everyone from Chuck Liddell to Rich Franklin to Michael Bisping and more. His tendency to engage in barn burners has made him one of the most beloved figures of any weight class.

    Wanderlei just announced a return to 205 after a four-fight stint at middleweight. He meets Brian Stann in the main event of UFC on FUEL 8 in Japan.