The UFC's Chokehold on the 205lb Class

The UFC has a chokehold on top contenders in this division that would do Babalu proud. And like Babalu, they're showing no desire to let go. The consensus of the ranking sites Sherdog, FightMatrix, Irish Whip Fighting, 411 Mania, and MMA HQ is that 90 or 100% of the world's top 10 Light Heavyweight Fighter are fighting for UFC. Even the notoriously biased-against-UFC fighters MMA Weekly only has 2 non-UFC fighters in their top 10. And even MMA Weekly admits those fighters are barely holding on to their top 10 rankings.

For me it's FightMatrix' computer generated rankings that really show the extent of the UFC's dominance in this division since they go all the way to #25. Out of the top 25 Light Heavies in the world, only 8 are NOT in the UFC: Ricardo Arona #9, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira #12, Renato "Babalu" Sobral #15, Vitor Belfot #17, Vladimir Matyushenko #19, Mike Whitehead #20, Reese Andy #24, and Yuki Kondo at 25.

Both of the non-UFC fighters getting any Top 10 nods, Ricardo Arona and Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira (aka "Little Nog") have multiple losses to fighters currently with the UFC. Arona's lost to Jackson, Wanderlei Silva (after scoring an upset in a non-title match in 2005), Shogun and most recently Sokoudjou. Little Nog's losses to Shogun and especially Sokoudjou  really derailed his title run. Arona has talked about his desire to fight for the UFC many times but so far no deal has been signed. Little Nog has been in limbo, mostly concentrating on amateur boxing competitions but will return in February at HCF in Canada against BoDog Fighting Vet Todd Gouwenberg. This is not a fight that will propel Little Nog back to the top of the rankings but it does keep him active and should get him back on the winning track against credible competition.

Of the other top 25 "ronin", Babalu got famously shitcanned from the UFC for holding a choke too long against David Heath. He's apparently decided to remain very busy while he tries to get back in Dana's good graces having already fought once in the Philippines since being dropped and due to fight against Tiger White in February. He's also signed deals with Strikeforce and HCF although no fights have been announced yet. Hopefully he'll sweep the lesser competition and get invited back to UFC in 2009. A rematch with Shogun would be fun, as would Babalu against any of the big PRIDE names he's never faced.

Vitor Belfort is another UFC vet who's been in something of a steroid exile since losing to Dan Henderson and failing a steroid test at PRIDE's October 2006 Las Vegas event. Since then he's had two wins in the UK's Cage Rage and recently met with Dana about returning to the UFC. He's a fighter with pretty good name recognition among UFC fans and would be a good matchup for any of the PRIDE refugees -- rematches with Wanderlei, Chuck and Tito would all draw fan interest as would a match with Shogun.  

Mike Whitehead is a guy who has been on a tear, winning 11 straight, since his only UFC appearance -- a loss to Keith Jardine. With wins over names like Ruben Villareal, Mark Kerr, and Vernon "Tiger" White, he probably merits a return chance to the big show. I think he's done with the IFL so we'll see what happens there.

Vladimir Matyushenko is another IFL fighter who's undefeated since his last UFC appearance (a KO loss to then Heavyweight Champ Andrei Arlovsky). He's thriving in the IFL, but with only 3 career losses and a track record of fighting top competition (often at heavyweight), Vladdy is someone I'd love to see back in the UFC.

The backwards named Andy Reese is another IFL fighter who's been putting together a sterling record with that promotion. Hopefully we'll see him against Andre Gusmao -- another top prospect who would've been signed to the UFC if the pesky detail of being under contract to the IFL hadn't interfered -- in the IFL's 2008 season.

Yuki Kondo, the last non-UFC fighter making FightMatrix' top 25 is a vet at the sunset of his carreer with over 70 fights. He's already gone 1-2 in the UFC and is undersized for the 205 division anyhow. I doubt we'll see much more of Kondo.

Update [2008-1-3 19:28:55 by Kid Nate]:

I missed that 5oz of Pain have updated their rankings and they've got Vladdy Matyushenko at #9 but they still hold to the rule of giving the UFC 90% of the top light heavies. This dominance is unmatched in any other division. Even in welterweight the UFC/WEC only have 7 out of 10.

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