BlogKick: 6 Light Heavyweight ContendersPosted on January 16, 2011, 01:38 PM by overhand right
UFC Light Heavyweight king, Mauricio 'Shogun' Rua, has been sidelined since first winning the title back in May. The Brazilian suffered a serious knee injury which required surgery and thus delayed his scheduled title defense against Rashad Evans. Now back training following reconstructive surgery, he will look to defend his Light Heavyweight gold at UFC 128 in New Jersey. Regardless of the bout's outcome, there will be a few potential contenders waiting in the wings for their chance to take the top spot amongst what is arguably the promotion's most competitive division. With the recent announcement of two new exciting match-ups, the identity of the next championship contender is anyone's guess. Here are three fights, one of which will provide a new challenger for the 205 belt:
Jon Jones vs Ryan Bader, UFC 126
Two young lions that are hungry for an opportunity to prove themselves. Jones has been the happy recipient of an almost unfathomable amount of hype and expectation since his dismantling of former TUF contestant, Stephan Bonnar, and since has been hailed as the future of MMA. He looked seemingly unstoppable before suffering a minor setback in his fight against Matt Hamil, when he was disqualified after knocking 'The Hammer' out with illegal 'twelve-to-six' downward elbow strikes. Ever the humble competitor in victory and defeat, Jones accepted his mistake and sought to learn from it. He has worked his way back into the title mix and an opportunity to prove himself against the elite at his weight. Were Jones to beat Bader, it would be understandable for the UFC to grant him a title shot. With so much hype and excitement around the Greg Jackson student, it would be a sharp business move to sell a title fight between him and the winner of Evans vs Shogun while he's still red-hot. Personally, I would rather see Jones fight once more before getting a title shot. He's still a very young athlete and to throw him in with the wolves so hastily could be detrimental to his development as a fighter, were he to lose. The last thing we want is for him to follow down the same road as a Brandon Vera or Houston Alexander.
Bader was the winner of the heavyweight season of TUF and is currently unbeaten in MMA. He's riding a twelve fight win streak, with his most impressive win to date coming in his last encounter against the veteran and dangerous Antonio Rogério Nogueira. Bader has an impressive wrestling pedigree and is certainly heavy handed. He seems the less marketable contender of the two, but a win over Jones would certainly spark an interest among fans and could sway the powers towards considering him as a challenger for the belt.
Rampage Jackson vs Thiago Silva, UFC 130
Perhaps the most deserving fighter mentioned here, Quinton 'Rampage' Jackson recently went the distance with former champ and supposed future king of 205, Lyoto Machida. The judge's decision came as a surprise to some (including Jackson himself) but a win is a win. I believed that Rampage would be given his chance for championship redemption almost immediately after beating Machida. Instead, the UFC has decided to pair him up with the savage and always exciting Thiago Silva, in a fight that is sure to entertain if nothing else. The fight itself doesn't make an awful lot of sense from a rankings point of view (with some not even considering Silva as top ten worthy), but it is nontheless a great matchup that's sure to sell tickets and PPVs. If Rampage beats Silva I would assume that he'd be more than ready for another taste of title bout action. But you never know with UFC matchmaking. Perhaps they'd prefer to keep him around to fight the loser of one of the matchups mentioned here in order to sell another exciting fight.
Silva was once a rising star in the UFC but his progress has been halted by inconsistent results. He's won and lost on and off, beating guys like Jardine and Vera only to fall at hurdles like Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida. Such results would lead one sometimes wonder if perhaps Thiago is simply a midlevel mixed martial artist, a guy that continuously fights his way into title contention but then folds when presented with an elite opponent. I certainly hope this is not the case. I'm a fan of Silva and would love to see him win a few big fights to get himself back on the road to MMA glory. Can he beat Jackson? Of course. Will he? Well I suppose it will come down to the mindset he takes into the fight with him and the tactics he employs. I actually believe that both these men are quite evenly matched and it may come down to who has trained harder and wants it more. If Silva beats the former Pride star, I would take great pleasure in seeing him get his chance to show the world what a great fighter he is, but he will likely still have to prove himself once or twice more.
Randy Couture vs Lyoto Machida, UFC 129
What can be said about 'The Natural' that hasn't already been said? He is the epitome of a champion. Some may look at the grizzly veteran's record and scoff at the losses he's suffered throughout his storied career. The truth is, Randy has always sought to test himself against the best out there. As a result, he hasn't always come out on top. He's fought the likes of Liddell, Belfort, Sylvia, Rizzo. He even sought a legendary matchup against heavyweight great, Fedor Emelianenko, a fight that never materialised but still showed a decent effort to compete on Randy's part. People have always doubted Randy because of his age, even back when he first got into MMA, in his late 30's. But Randy has never let the aging process slow him down. He often outworks and outmuscles his fellow training partners and, of course, his opponents. The oldest fighter to win a UFC championship, Randy came out of retirement to win the heavyweight belt again and did so in rousing fashion against Tim Sylvia. While it's true that much of his attention of late has been centred around the movie industry, be under no illusion that Randy will not be taking this fight as seriously as any other in his career. It is never a good idea to count Couture out, especially in a fight that could give him one last chance to further cement his already glistening and heroic legacy. I fervently believe that if Couture beats Machida, all other candidates for the contender spot will be pushed aside in place of one more Rocky-esque comeback and ultra-marketable fight for Randy. A loss would most probably spell retirement for the legend. But, I'm picking Randy to shock the world once again and beat Machida by controlling him with his powerful Greco-Roman style and get the fight to the ground, where he will grind his way to a decision.
Machida is in another boat altogether. A loss against Couture would be his third straight and could signal his departure from the UFC, what with the recent trigger happy finger of Dana White at play. Joe Rogan once referred to Machida's win over Rashad Evans to capture the championship as "the beginning of the Machida era". This statement proved to carry little weight, with Machida's first title defense going to an extremely controversial decision which more or less robbed Rua of the title, one could argue that he's already on a three fight losing streak. His second outing as champ proved even less successful. Shogun exacted his revenge and crushing any questions surrounding the first fight by knocking his fellow countryman out in the first round. Machida found himself on the wrong end of a decision against Jackson and is now in MMA limbo and in dire need of a win to give himself and his career a much needed revival. Obviously one of the most talented fighters in the world, he needs to start backing it up again with victories. A conclusive win over a legend and dangerous-as-ever Couture would do just that. Some believe that Machida will oust Randy in the striking department and finish him early on. My feelings dictate that it will not be quite as easy as some predict but 'The Dragon' will still be the favourite regardless. If Machida retires Couture he probably won't get a title shot but will certainly be back in the contender pool and ready to kick-start the Machida Era hype once more.