Making some sense of the Light-Heavyweight Division
Well, another UFC has come and gone, and the muddy waters of the UFC light-heavyweight division have gotten murkier. This is like a convoluted night-time soap opera. Trying to figure out who stands where without a true ranking system is becoming a sport unto itself. Well, I am just going to use good old-fashion wins and losses with some ingenuity and common-sense to attempt to sort out this mess as best I can. I am sure no one will agree with my assessments. But it wouldn’t really be MMA if everyone did agree now would it?
After the dubious and somewhat controversial win by Forrest Griffin (16-4 ) over former LHW champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (28-7), Forrest will most likely ascend to the top of the rankings. As the champ, he gets to be matched up first. If I had my own personal preference, I would like to see an immediate rematch between Forrest and Rampage. I think it makes the most sense considering the circumstances surrounding the first fight. But since this is the UFC, let us assume common sense is out of the picture for a minute.
Forrest will probably fight one more time this year, even though he seems to have sustained minimal damage from his tussle with Rampage. His possible match-ups seem to be Chuck Liddell(21-5), Lyoto Machida(13-0), and Rashad Evans(11-0-1). I do not think Wanderlei Silva (32-8-1) will be included in this group for two reasons. One, he really needs one more win to justify a title shot, he does not have enough time to squeeze in two fights between now and the end of the year. And the second reason is as teammates I think they will put off fighting each other until all other options are exhausted.
If Liddell beats Evans in September, he makes the most sense for Forrest’s first title defense. The Story line of Chuck being Forrest’s coach on the Ultimate fighter TV show, along with the added attraction of getting the two most popular fighters in the promotion in the same cage are a virtual slam dunk. And style-wise they match up well, very similar to the fight he had with Rampage. This fight makes the most sense outside of a rematch with Rampage for the fans and for the promotion as it is probably the one fight that could eclipse the Tito-Chuck fight for PPVs and ticket sales.
One fighter does have something to say about this though, and that’s Rashad Evans. He is the only one in this group that may control his own fate. If he beats Chuck in September and sustains minimal damage, he is almost guaranteed a title shot. Even Dana White with his convoluted logic will have a hard time denying Rashad’s undefeated record a shot at the champ. This is maybe the least attractive fight with the biggest downside, as Evans is somewhat of a boring fighter and has not proven he can draw yet for the UFC. It will be fun to watch Dana try to talk his way out of this if Evans beats Liddell and the UFC decide to try and deny him a title shot.
Machida is maybe the most intimidating opponent for Forrest on paper, as his unorthodox fighting style is giving opponents fits and the rest of the fighters in his class a sudden list of excuses not to fight him. He also flaunts an unblemished record and notable wins over Tito Ortiz and Sokoudjou. Machida’s karate point-fighting style is boring fans and confusing opponents. A matchup with Forrest promises to be a snore fest as Forrest is not known for his knockout power and likes to attack in bunches and back out of the pocket. This would be a chess match for hardcore fans but not appealing in the slightest to the casual fan. This fight would be a last resort and in my opinion a few fights away for Forrest in the event he successfully defends his title.
In an effort to abbreviate this process I am going to list the future fights I think should happen in the division. These fights would go a long way towards sorting out a pecking order in the LHW division of the UFC. I welcome suggestions and criticisms as I do not pretend to have all the answers, just more questions in the end.
Forrest Griffin vs Chuck Liddell- (Assuming Chuck beats Rashad Evans)- for reasons listed above
Rampage Jackson vs Lyoto Machida- I am assuming that he will not get a rematch right away and will need one fight before a rematch is presented. I like this match up for both fighters. A win for Rampage justifies a rematch for the title immediately. Rampage’s aggressive style and power might be the foil for Machida’s striking game and at minimum will push Machida to engage and make an exciting fight for once.
Wanderlei Silva vs Sokoudjou- Wand needs one more victory to push him to the front of the line for a title shot and this one is it. Sokoudjou likes his opponent to set the pace and seems to be a fighter who steps up to competition as well as steps down. Wanderlei will bring the best out of him.
Thiago Silva vs Andre Gusmao- I know Thiago was rumored to fight Wand, but in my opinion the UFC needs to nurture one of these two for a future high caliber opponent. Add in the fact that Thiago has not shown that he is ready for the upper echelon of the division just yet, and this fight makes sense. Gusmao has potential galore, and if he beats the undefeated Thiago he has instant credibility. And If he loses its his first loss in a young career, will be easy for him to bounce back from, and can still be a contender down the road.
There are a few wildcards in all of this. Injuries to maybe the most talented fighter in the division, Shogun Rua(16-3) make his future very questionable. I would not expect to see him back until 2009. The beating Keith Jardine(13-4-1) took from Wanderlei Silva is not something fighters come back from easily. I think Jardine takes some needed time off to get his marbles together in his head. Then there are two migrations from the middleweight division, Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin. They are both getting showcase fights and both fighters say they are taking it one fight at a time. They are most definitely players in the division down the road. Finally, there is Brandon Vera. No one is denying his talent, but he is having trouble putting it all together in the ring as of late. A drop to LHW was almost forced on him for his own good, and after this showcase fight on July 19th, could instantly become a contender as well.
I think I am more confused now then when I started this article. This is the most talented and exciting division in the sport, and should be publicized as such. The ferris wheel keeps going around and where it stops nobody knows. And that is why this is the greatest combat sport in the world.