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What happened to the UFC light heavyweight division?
The second biggest weight class in the UFC is looking mighty thin these days.
Once the most glamorous division in the world's most prominent mixed martial arts promotion, the UFC's light heavyweight division lacks depth. Part of that can be attributed to the normal ebb and flow of fighters (and sports in general), as well as the expansion of other weight classes.
Also, don't underestimate the dominance at the top -- Jon Jones has defended his title successfully six times in a row and has cleared out top contenders at a rate faster than the UFC can generate new ones.
This glaring hole became more obvious last week when the UFC expanded its rankings from 10 to 15 fighters. To be clear, this is not a bashing of the rankings sytem nor its expansion. It serves its purpose, and in the interest of full disclosure, I am a voting member of the media.
Let's take a look at the top 15 fighters (not including the champion Jones) in the light heavyweight division as of the latest rankings released Jan. 6, 2014:
1. Alexander Gustafsson
2. Glover Teixeira
3. Rashad Evans
4. Phil Davis
5. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
6. Dan Henderson
7. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua
8. Chael Sonnen
9. Gegard Mousasi
10. Ryan Bader
11. Jimi Manuwa
12. Thiago Silva
13. Vitor Belfort
14. Lyoto Machida
15. James Te-Huna
The division is top-heavy with Gustafsson and Teixeira, and the addition of Daniel Cormier from heavyweight could make things interesting. He fights Evans at UFC 170 next month. That will help determine the next title contender. Phil Davis has the potential to be something special as well.
After that, though, the dropoff is steep.
Nogueira fought once in the past two years, beating the worst-off-night-ever Evans in February 2013. Before that, he stopped Tito Ortiz and lost to Davis and Bader. With health always a factor for Nogueira, he's essentially a non-factor in the division until he can put together a few wins in a row . . . in the same year.
The sixth-ranked fighter -- Henderson -- hasn't won a fight since 2011 (he didn't fight in 2012 and went 0-3 in 2013). He's also 43 years old.
Shogun and Sonnen are next at 7th and 8th, even though Sonnen beat Shogun earlier this year. Rua's best days are likely behind him. Sonnen has lost three out of his last four and seems to flip between wanting to stay at light heavyweight or return to middleweight depending on which camera has the red light on at the time. Both fighters are still names in the division, as are others, but those names may play better on the resumes of up-and-coming fighters rather than those up the ladder.
Mousasi fought once last year, a decision win over last-minute replacement Ilir Latifi. His upcoming fight with Machida has the potential to be interesting. Of course, that fight will be contested at middleweight.
Bader began his career with much success but has slowed recently, dropping two of his last four. Whenever he gets near the top of the division, or at least has a chance to make waves at 205, things go the other way.
Manuwa (14-0) is 3-0 since arriving in the UFC, all stoppages. His fight against Gustafsson later this year has headline-making possibilties for him in the division.
Thiago Silva has as many overturned fights as he does wins (two) in the past three years. Digest that stat as you wish.
The 13th and 14th ranked light heavyweights -- Belfort and Machida -- don't even fight in the division anymore (although Belfort did fight Henderson in his last bout). Belfort's next fight will be for the middleweight title against champion Chris Weidman.
And rounding out the top 15 ranked UFC light heavyweights is Te Huna, who lost his last two fights to Rua and Teixeira.
Should Jones fall to Teixeira in his next title defense (scheduled for UFC 172), that won't open up the division as quickly as when Georges St-Pierre vacated his welteweight title last month. Jones would likely get the immediate rematch late in 2014.
The light heavyweight division is the third thinnest men's division in the UFC right now, behind flyweight and heavyweight. And that's just counting the actual number of active fighters. You may disagree with the top 15 ranked light heavyweights, which is entirely your prerogative, but understand this: there isn't much else to choose from right now. One more win could be enough for fighters such as Ovince St. Preux, Gian Villante and Fabio Maldonado to make a move into that top 15 next time around.
Tags: ufc , light heavyweight , jon jones , alexander gustafsson , glover teixeira , daniel cormier , rashad evans , antonio rogerio nogueira , chael sonnen , mauricio "shogun" rua , vitor belfort , dan henderson , phil davis , lyoto machida , gegard mousasi , james te-huna , gian villante , jimi manuwa , thiago silva , ryan bader