One of the topics of discussion stemming from UFC 104's main event title bout between Lyoto Machida and Mauricio "Shogun" Rua focused on the positive spin that fans can take from such a controversial decision. Michael David Smith pressed the point that the immediate rematch that Dana White has proposed should allow the UFC to buy time in trying to re-establish a stable of contenders to the crown. This point was made under the assumption that if Machida had easily defeated Mauricio "Shogun" Rua in the main event, most fans would have lumped the division in with the welterweight and middleweight divisions as a division that had a huge disparity between its champion and the challengers with no fresh meat to throw up against the champion.
Looking down our own USA Today/SBNation Consensus Rankings in the Light Heavyweight division, that case could be easily made. Without Quinton "Rampage" Jackson in the mix, Mauricio "Shogun" Rua, Rashad Evans, and Thiago Silva would have all been in the top five within the division, all suffering losses to the champion. Forrest Griffin's embarrassing loss to Anderson Silva has likely dropped his stock a bit until his rematch happens with Tito Ortiz at UFC 106, and the only real intriguing prospects are Luis Cane and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who will battle each other at UFC 106.
Smith suggests that the rematch will give three specific match-ups more relevance in the future: Randy Couture vs. Brandon Vera at UFC 105, Forrest Griffin vs. Tito Ortiz at UFC 106, and Rashad Evans vs. Thiago Silva at UFC 108. Couture and Ortiz are easily two of the most popular fighters in UFC history, and both men could muster up enough buys to make a title run a viable option for Zuffa from a business standpoint. Ortiz would likely need a couple of more fights, but Couture has already been rumored to be willing to take on Lyoto Machida if he happens to defeat Brandon Vera. The case could also be made that Forrest Griffin's past win over Mauricio "Shogun" Rua could vault him into contention if Rua happens to defeat Machida in the rematch. Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva have never faced Rua, but they have been crushed by Machida. Obviously, their contention would rely on one outcome.
There are, however, a couple of problems with this progression. While I agree with MDS regarding the division needing some time to re-establish contenders and new talent, the better situation for these match-ups relies on a Mauricio "Shogun" Rua victory at UFC 108. A Lyoto Machida victory at UFC 108 only truly gives us a couple of immediate options, and those could be thwarted by losses by those competitors. Randy Couture could potentially be on his last legs in the UFC, and a Vera victory over Couture would stifle any opportunity at fighting Machida. The only hope for anything immediate would be Quinton "Rampage" Jackson returning in early 2010 for a showdown with Machida.
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One match-up that fans should keep an eye on is the rumored UFC 106 bout between former PRIDE fighter Antonio Rogerio "Minotoro" Nogueira and Luis Arthur Cane. It's interesting how this fight hasn't received a whole lot of mention considering Nogueira did battle Mauricio at PRIDE Critical Countdown 2005 during the Grand Prix and took him to decision, but he also hasn't fought any of the fighters in the top tier of UFC talent. While his style probably isn't ideal for fans to watch, it'd be interesting to see how a five-round war with either Machida or Rua would play out.
There is also a completely different underlying problem to all of this talk that the division has bought itself some time with the outcome at UFC 104. The division is beginning to slow down from what many consider to be a "stacked" division to one that has a lot of aging stars and not enough breakthrough talent. Constant revenue streams like Chuck Liddell and Randy Couture are either on the verge of being considered "done" in this sport, or only have a year or two left. It's time for the UFC to start building the new stars to replace PPV superstars like Liddell with guys like Machida and Rua, but at this point -- it's tough to see who will emerge from the pack to challenge competitively for the title.
Many fans would make the case that Forrest Griffin's win over Quinton "Rampage" Jackson was "flukey" or won on the basis of "Rampage" worked a horrible gameplan. Others might say that Griffin's skill level will never be on the level of a fighter like Machida. The same could be said for Tito Ortiz, Thiago Silva, and Rashad Evans.
The division completely breaks open with a Mauricio "Shogun" Rua win, and that'd probably be the more ideal situation for the fans and the UFC in terms of exciting match-ups. But defeating Machida in a second encounter won't be an easy task, and I'm a bit skeptical as to what the UFC will do with the division if Machida decisively beats Rua. If Couture loses to Vera, there could be a lengthy lull until either Jackson returns or someone breaks out.