Nine months ago, the UFC light heavyweight picture was clear. There was Chuck Liddell on top and everyone else was miles behind him, but in the wild world of mixed martial arts rankings can change in the blink of an eye. Here is a look at the current UFC light heavyweight landscape and how we got here.
This year, four meaningful light heavyweight contenders have been added to the UFC coming directly or indirectly from Japan’s Pride organization. Of course I qualified that with meaningful as there are others like Kazuhiro Nakamura, but there isn’t room in one article to talk about all of the top contenders in the light heavyweight, let alone guys who don’t rank in the top ten. These light heavyweight contenders are Quinton Jackson, Dan Henderson, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Dan Henderson.
The best known fighter to join the UFC from Pride is Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Technically Quinton had a stopover in the WFA where he decisioned world top middleweight fighter Matt Lindland, but Quinton has spent the majority of his known career in the Pride organization. While in Pride, Quinton Jackson would fight for the title twice, both times against long time Pride light heavyweight champion Wanderlei Silva. UFC 249 live stream The first one was for the pride middleweight tournament title, the second was for the pride middleweight title. It’s worth noting that Quinton’s loss to Wanderlei was the same night as he defeated Chuck Liddell (the first time they met). Since then, Quinton has managed to defeat Chuck Liddell again, capturing the UFC light heavyweight title belt in spectacular fashion with a first round KO of the former champ. Quinton has also defended his belt once against “Dangerous/Hollywood” Dan Henderson.
Dangerous Dan Henderson is another top light heavyweight fighter to join the UFC from Pride. Dan held the Pride middleweight belt after knocking out former Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva. Henderson has since lost that belt when he faced Quinton Jackson in the first ever unification title bout between Pride and the UFC. Despite Dan’s loss to Quinton, he is still considered by many to be top five material in the UFC light heavyweight division.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua just had his UFC debut at UFC 76 and while most people believed that he would easily defeat his opponent, Forrest Griffin, he had a lot more trouble in the UFC cage than he has had in the Pride ring. Shogun holds victories in Pride over such top names as Quinton Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Kevin Randleman and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Despite having faced the superior competition over his career, Shogun was unable to adapt to the UFC and was dominated for the better part of his fight by Forrest Griffin.
The latest Pride fighter to join the UFC’s light heavyweight picture is long time Pride middleweight champion Wanderlei Silva. Wanderlei has fought in the UFC before and suffered a loss to Tito Ortiz. Since then he managed to hold onto the Pride middleweight title for five years, that is until Dan Henderson KO’d him in February 2007. Even with this loss, Wanderlei is considered one of the most dangerous fighters in the world at 205 lbs.
Chuck Liddell, the man who was on top of the 205 list just 6 months ago has now suffered two defeats in a row. The first one was a KO loss to Quinton Jackson, the second was a close split decision loss to Keith Jardine. Chuck’s future may be up in the air, but I’m guessing that he will come back and win a couple of more big fights before going into retirement.
So much for the new blood, where exactly do these guys rank in the UFC light heavyweight division? I have no idea. Most of the guys who I would have ranked top 5 have suffered losses in their last fight. These are (in no particular order) Mauricio Shogun Rua, Chuck Liddell, Dan Henderson, Wanderlei Silva. The last guy to round out that top five would be one of Tito Ortiz, Rashad Evans, Forrest Griffin, Keith Jardine and Houston Alexander. As you can see, most of the fighters I would have ranked in the bottom half of the top 10 have victories over the guys ranked in the top 5. It’s this element of the unknown which is going to keep the stacked UFC light heavyweight division exciting over the next twelve months. Truly any fighter in the top 10 can beat anyone else on any given night. Sure there are style matchups which are bad (Tito vs Chuck for instance), but for the most part this division is wide open.