This post has nothing to do with Jon Jones's DWI
For years the Light-heavyweight division has been the showcase division for UFC. All the biggest names, Tito, Chuck, Randy, Rampage, Shogun, and now Jon Jones have been stars while ruling LHW. But when I look closely at the division, I see a division that is facing a pending crisis despite having a dynamic young champion who will likely rule the division for years to come. The UFC Light-Heavyweight division currently has 30 Fighters – Less than every weight class except Flyweight, and Heavyweight(Unless you count Cormier, and Barnett on the UFC roster, then there are 31 HWs).
The UFC website list 36 fighters, but they list Chuck, Randy, Hamill (all retired), Luis Cane, and Caio Magalhaes (both have their next fight at MW), and Aaron Rosa (Next fight outside of UFC in June).
What we see when we look closer is an aging weight class with very few high end prospects moving up the division.
Two have announced that their next fight will be their last (Tito, Rampage)
Three others are over the age of 40 (Hendo, Matyushenko, Perosh)
Seven are over age 34 (Bonnar (35), Nog (35), Diabate (38), Kruth (38), Soszynski (34), Vera (34), Griggs (34).
Thirteen fighters are between 30-34 – Evans (32), Shogun (30), Machida (33), Griffin (32), Kingsbury (30), Pokrajac (33), Nedkov (30), Te Huna (30), Teixeira(30), Penner (32), DeBlass (30), Maldonado (32), Jimmo (30).
I’m not saying that someone from this group cannot emerge as a title challenger age 28-32 is widely considered to be the physical prime for most athletes so I’m not saying someone at age 30 is washed up.
I am very excited to see Glover Teixeira in the UFC, and I think that James Te Huna could make a run if he can stay healthy and consistent, but time is not on the side of these fighters and they are coming close to an age range where many fighters start to slow down, and they are still a long way from the top of the division. None of the other prospects from this 30-34 group really have shown that they can make a sustained run to the top of the division.
- Machida (1-3 in his last four fights) and Shogun (2-3 in his last five fights) are in their primes age wise but with their recent records put them out of title contention for the near future. I think there is also considerable concern about how long Shogun will be able to remain in the top 10, as his body has been through numerous knee injuries, and he has been involved in two brutal fights (Jones, Hendo) in his last 3 fights.
- Forrest Griffin has openly admitted that get punched in the face is not as much fun now that he is financially secure, and has a family. I think it is safe to say that he is done as a title contender at this point in his career.
This all means that in the whole UFC Light Heavyweight division there are five fighters under the age of 30 – Jones (24), Bader (28), Gustafsson (25), Davis (27), and Silva (29). A closer look at this group shows that the Champion Jon Jones already holds a win over Ryan Bader, while Phil Davis, and Thiago Silva are coming off of losses, and not in the title mix at the moment. Silva has also battled numerous injuries and suspension over the last few years. Alexander Gustafsson will likely be in line for a title shot around the end of the 2012, or early 2013 with one more win.
To bring in the new, younger depth I think that Zuffa needs to make the call to dissolve the Strikeforce LHW division, and merge it into the UFC just how they did with the Heavyweight division. There are six fighters on the Strikeforce LHW roster that could come over to UFC right now - Gegard Mousasi (26), Ovince St. Preux (29), Rafael Cavalcante (31), Gian Villante (27), Guto Inocente (25), Mike Kyle (32).
Out of this group, Mousasi, and Cavalcante are automatically top 15 guys who could be 1 or 2 fights from a title shot.
OSP, Villante, and Inocente are prospects who could work their way into the top 15 and maybe higher.
Kyle is a solid veteran, who at times can put on some good fights.