As one of the most storied titles in all of MMA history, there’s not much doubt that the UFC light heavyweight championship has gone through a what we’ll call an “up-and-down” 2015 after dominant longtime former champ Jon Jones was arrested for a felony hit-and-run in Albuquerque, New Mexico, this April.
His archrival Daniel Cormier would go on to earn the vacant strap by putting an end to the bulldozing momentum of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson, and “DC” only solidified himself as the one deserving and true champ last Saturday (October 3, 2015) in the main event of UFC 192 when he beat Alexander Gustafsson, the only man to give “Bones” a true run for his money in the octagon.
In reality, the establishment of Cormier as the official champ (at least for the time being) is a new and refreshing take that was growing a bit stagnant as Jones knocked off top contender after top contender on his way to a record-setting streak of title defenses.
True, Jones will return sooner than later after pleading his way to a conditional discharge involving several charity appearances, and its more than obvious that a rematch with “DC” is the biggest and best bout the promotion can stage at 205 pounds.
And while the division isn’t exactly stacked with elite contenders who pose a threat to Jones or even Cormier, there are some strong bouts that can be booked in the wake of a divisional mini-reshuffling in UFC 192’s biggest fights. Let’s take a look at the six best.
6.) Rashad Evans vs. Jimi Manuwa:
With both of these fringe competitors suffering losses recently, each will have to rebound quickly if they want to stay relevant even in the light heavyweight division.
Neither of them are spring chickens, and the36-year-old No. 6 former champ Evans looked his age against Ryan Bader at UFC 192, seemingly stuck in quicksand as he mounted little to no offense. Clocking in at 35 years of age, “Poster Boy” didn’t look all that much better in a dominant knockout loss to “Rumble” at UFC 191, so a bout between these two aging names could be just what the doctor ordered to make one last run.
The loser would be relegated to perhaps mid-level gatekeeper status, but hey, that’s the fight game, and both of these men need a win soon.
5.) Alexander Gustafsson vs. Glover Teixeira:
This bout between two former title contenders could vault the winner back into contention in a relatively shallow division. Teixeira recently got back into the win column, submitting No. 5-ranked Ovince St. Preux in August after a down 2014 that included two one-sided losses to Jones and Phil Davis.
Gustafsson needs no introduction, as there’s not a fighter who’s lost three of his last four that’s gained more respect from his peers. He’s simply a warrior, and while he just can’t seem to get over the hump against the absolute best, “The Mauler” is an excellent test for any light heavyweight title hopeful looking to get over the cusp.
He could also win the title any given day if he won the opportunity, and a bout with Teixeira would not only provide some explosive fireworks but prime bargaining position in terms of the rankings.
4.) Glover Teixeira vs. Anthony Johnson
The second fight to feature Teixeira, this one provides just a bit more firepower due to the fact that “Rumble” absolutely demolished Gustafsson earlier this year. Both Johnson and Teixeira have rebounded well from recent losses, with the Blackzilian stopping Jimi Manuwa at UFC 191 and the Brazilian beating St. Preux, so this fight would again put the winner right on the edge of a title fight.
On paper it could also be a bit less competitive, as “Rumble” still looks like a destroyer of worlds despite the setback to Cormier earlier this year. To a lesser extent, the same thing could be said about Teixeira judging by his only performance of this year, so this is another exciting bout that would justifiably shake up the top of the 205-pound rankings.
3.) Glover Teixeira vs. Ryan Bader
The third and final fight featuring Teixeira on this list would quite possibly be the most boring of the three, but all that could be thrown out the window if Bader and Teixeira throw down with reckless abandon lie they did in their first meeting at UFC Fight Night 28 back in August of 2013.
Teixeira won that fight by knockout to earn his title shot at Jones, but not before “Darth” wobbled him with some huge punches, only to become careless and get blasted. Now on a five-fight win streak, the No. 3 Bader is undoubtedly looking for revenge on Teixeira, and this is the perfect time and scenario to get just that.
2.) Anthony Johnson vs. Ryan Bader
This fight, which was teased by “Rumble” this week, is probably the one that makes the most sense in terms of a title eliminator.
Bader is on his aforementioned five-fight win streak and on the cusp of contention, and “Rumble’s” only setback in his last ten fights was against the champion. It simply makes sense, and would prove or disprove “Darth’s” true ability to take on the absolute elite peak of the division.
If he were able to beat the scary power of “Rumble,” albeit most likely by decision, it would be tough for the UFC to deny Bader his shot at gold, even if it has to happen when Cormier and Jones have their anticipated rematch.
This is a clear fight to make because it provides the path for the next challenger in a division that desperately needs an obvious one.
1.) Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
No other bout than this blockbuster title rematch could top this list, as Cormier vs. Jones II comes with a bad-blood-fueled backstory pre-installed thanks to their now-infamous UFC 178 Media Brawl last year and an eventual hard-fought win for Jones that followed at January’s UFC 182.
The former champ had a leg up on “DC” then, but it’s unknown just what state he is in after a long and arduous battle with the law that saw his title stripped and his reputation highly sullied. Cormier was nearly finished by Gustafsson at UFC 192, but showed the heart of a true champion by persevering to earn a split decision nod over the super-tough Swede.
This is a fight that could headline the UFC’s planned April 23 show at New York’s Madison Square Garden, and it could also potentially headline July’s massive UFC 200. It’s arguably the biggest fight the UFC could book right now; even though Ronda Rousey vs. Cyborg may have more mainstream appeal, there’s no doubt that Cormier vs. Jones II is a monumental bout that could be one of the biggest and best in UFC history.