UFC Light Heavyweight Division State of the Union

UFC 135 at the Pepsi Center on September 24, 2011 in Denver, Colorado. via UFC.com

With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.

At UFC 140, Jon Jones will defend the UFC Light Heavyweight title against former champion Lyoto Machida (currently ranked #6). With this defense, Jones will attempt to do what none of the previous 5 champions since Chuck Liddell have done - defend the title more than once and stop the game of musical chairs around the belt. But no matter who wins on Saturday, there is a strong line of contenders lying in wait, just as there always is in this stacked division. Let's take a look.

Next in Line:

After the Jones vs. Lyoto match, there's two options I see for the next shot.

Option #1 - Dan Henderson (currently ranked #2). He's the last Strikeforce champ, the last Pride champ, and a UFC veteran. But most importantly, he's also coming off a win in what some are calling the greatest fight in MMA history when he defeated Shogun at UFC 139. Momentum is huge, and no one in the entire sport has the momentum of Hendo right now.

Option #2 - The winner of #3 Rashad Evans vs. #7 Phil Davis set for the UFC on Fox 2 show on January 28. Evans will be the clear favorite here, and a Jones vs. Evans fight is the one with the most backstory, but I think any combination of Henderson/Davis/Rashad vs. either Jones or Machida would make for an exciting title fight.

Key Match Ups:

It seems like there is not so much scheduled after the end of the year and UFC 141, but still some big upcoming Light Heavyweight fights to watch out for:

  • #16 Tito Ortiz vs. #12 Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 140) - Alright, I'll be honest, this one really doesn't have a big impact on the top of the division, as neither man is going to be challenging for the belt, well, ever. Sorry. But it's still a fun fight between two veterans, and the winner will at least keep fighting the upper echelon for now.
  • #13 Alexander Gustafsson vs. #18 Vladimir Matyushenko (UFC 141) - This one is all about Gustafsson. The 24 year old is 12-1 overall, 4-1 in the UFC with that only loss coming to Phil Davis. He just retired Matt Hamill, looking spectacular in the process, and seems poised on the verge of the uppermost ranks of the division. The Janitor is a great gatekeeper, and if Gustafsson moves past him, I expect a big fight in his future.
  • #20 Stanislav Nedkov vs. Fabio Maldonado (UFC 142) - Not a major match-up here, but Nedkov is an undefeated fighter making his way up the ranks. If he keeps winning and keeps rising, he'll find himself against a big name soon.
  • #5 Quinton Jackson vs. #17 Ryan Bader (UFC 144) - It's going to be hard for Bader to live down the Ortiz loss, but if he can somehow pull off the win over Rampage, that will certainly do the trick. Rampage is always at the top of the division, even if he is coming off a loss to Jones, and could be back to title contention at any moment if things line up right.

In The Mix:

A couple others are near the top, just without any fights currently scheduled:

  • #4 Mauricio Rua - Another former champion, Shogun has been written off pretty much since the moment his UFC debut ended, but he's managed to win the title and stay near the top ever since. I'd love to see him against Bonnar, or Lil Nog once more.
  • #21 Stephan Bonnar - He's riding high off that Kingsbury win, and is in the best spot since the days just after TUF 1 ended. I wish he had been given the Rampage fight in Japan, but I'll be interested to see what is next for the UFC warhorse.

Others to Consider:

And finally, a few names that may not find themselves in the title picture any time soon, but should be mentioned:

  • #7 Forrest Griffin - It pains me to say this, as I was once a huge Forrest fan, but he has not looked good lately. I don't know what he has left to offer at this point, or when he'll be back at all. But if he does, his name and history alone guarantees him another fight close to the top.
  • #14 Thiago Silva - The forgotten Silva will be eligible to return to action early next year. How the UFC handles him, and if he can come back from a two year period of only one fight remain to be seen.
  • #15 Rich Franklin - The former Middleweight champion has been in limbo for ages, and has been sidelined for a long time now. He's another veteran that will always draw a marquee match-up.
  • #22 Ryan Jimmo - Probably a bit early for this list, but he's on a solid 16 fight win streak and set to debut against Karlos Vemola at the UFC on FX 1 show. A big win there will make a strong first impression.
  • #9 Gegard Mousasi, #10 Rafael Cavalcante, #11 King Mo, Ovince St. Preux - The best of the Strikeforce bunch, available at any time if the UFC needs them. Mousasi vs. OSP is on Dec. 17, with Mo and Feijao both sidelined.

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