UFC Light Heavyweight Division: State of the Union

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.

This weekend, the UFC Light Heavyweight title is on the line as Jon Jones faces Rampage Jackson at UFC 135. It's a great fight full of interesting stories. On one side is Rampage's quest for redemption as he attempts to be just the second man in the history of the division to regain the title. On the other side, Jon Jones tries to break the revolving door of champions we've seen since Rampage ended the Chuck Liddell era.

But looking past Saturday paints a surprisingly stagnant picture of the Light Heavyweight division. There's almost no notable action scheduled in the division at all in the coming months, and a lot of men waiting to find out what's next.

Next in Line:

One man who knows what's next - Rashad Evans. The former champion was promised a title shot after his defeat of Tito Ortiz, and a showdown with either Rampage or Jones will make for a very compelling contest. Look for Rashad in a post-fight staredown on Saturday.

Of course, Rashad's been in this position before - patiently waiting for his shot. And it hasn't come. So while that's the next theoretical fight, no one knows better than Rashad that it's not a done deal until the bell rings.

Key Match Ups:

  • Dan Henderson vs. Mauricio Rua (UFC 139) - This one was just announced, and though it's still not 100%, it looks like this will be Strikeforce champion Henderson's return to the UFC. Considering Shogun's recent destruction of Forrest Griffin, I'd say the winner here is next up after Rashad.
  • Tito Ortiz vs. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (UFC 140) - I almost didn't include this, but don't forget that Tito was miraculously just one win away from a potential title fight earlier this summer. I'd be shocked to see either of this men as an actual title challenger, but you never know.

Future Contenders:

After Evans and the Hendo/Shogun winner, things get incredibly jammed. You have a mix of veterans and younger stars all stuck together, with no one clearly asserting themselves at the top, and few fights booked to help figure that out. Some possibilities:

  • Phil Davis - Mr. Wonderful was one big win away from a possible title shot when injury forced him out of the Rashad Evans fight. He's still not yet set for a return, but when he does, he will likely again be in a big fight situation.
  • Rich Franklin - Like Tito and Rogerio, he's highly unlikely to get a title shot, but his status all but guarantees him a big fight every time out. 
  • Alexander Gustafsson - Too early to put him at the top, but he's getting there. His last win was an impressive beat down of Matt Hamill, and another lopsided victory will really push him up.
  • Lyoto Machida - The former champion has lost a ton of momentum with his back to back loses to Shogun and Rampage, and his win over Randy Couture, while a highlight reel moment, wasn't enough to move him back up far. Still, he's a force in the division, and could get a shot very quickly.
  • King Mo Lawal - The #2 Light Heavyweight in Strikeforce looked good with his KO of Roger Gracie. He's got a very strong wrestling base, plus a flamboyant personality, and those two factors could easily take him right up to contention in the UFC.

Others to consider:

Not contenders, but two fighters to keep an eye on, for very different reasons:

  • Forrest Griffin - Another former champion now far outside the title picture. But unlike the others above, Forrest seems like a shell of himself these days. What do you possibly do with him at this point?
  • Ovince St. Preux - Lots of folks are high on this Strikeforce prospect. I'm not sold yet, but he's worth a look.

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