It’s often boasted light heavyweight is one of the deepest divisions in Mixed Martial Arts. However, while there are certainly a number of skilled athletes exhibiting their talents in the ring at 205-pounds, most of which call the Octagon home, the weight-class is actually quite top heavy in nature and offers as many elite fighters as it does question marks. Granted, the group outside of the top eight or nine names on the following list is exceptionally gifted, but none of the involved individuals are necessarily clear-cut candidates for their positioning based on inconsistency in the division or a lack of comparable competition. As such, I expect quite a few people will feel differently than I do about certain placement.
That being said, you should never consider my rankings gospel. When two finely-tuned individuals step into a cage and let loose the difference between consciousness and looking up at the ceiling is a matter of milliseconds no matter who is ranked where. The individuality inherently involved in a subjective endeavor like ranking fighters, many of whom could easily be argued as deserving different spots based on personal criteria, is not only recognized on Five Ounces’ end but also encouraged in the form of offering your own lists in the “Comments” section below.
1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (19-4)
When healthy there is no better light heavyweight than Rua, though in fairness his overall durability deserves questioning based on a number of injury-related issues he’s had in his career.
2. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (31-8)
Jackson is as tough a draw as can be had at 205-pounds. He hasn’t been finished in more than five years, and both of his decision-losses in that period were extremely close results that could have gone either way. Though some may argue Machida deserved the judges’ favor at UFC 123 I felt Jackson did enough over the first two rounds in comparison to “The Dragon” to earn the win, and based on it in addition to his other past performances I think his body of work merits the “runner up” slot in these rankings.
3. Lyoto Machida (16-2)
If Machida had been able to pull out a clear-cut win over “Rampage” last weekend I think there would have been grounds for debate in terms of him potentially leap-frogging Rua. Compare their activity since 2007 and you’ll see what I mean. However, the dynamic Brazilian lost (mainly due to his slow-starting style) and went from sixteen straight wins to a two-fight slide.
4. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)
Evans’ wins may not always be as pretty as his custom-made suits, but he gets the job done with heavy hands, excellent footwork, and a rock-solid wrestling base. However, he’s been somewhat inactive over the past few years (five total fights) and nearly stumbled late in his bouts against “Rampage” and Thiago Silva after coming off a nasty knockout to Machida.
5. Jon Jones (11-1)
Jones is a downward-elbow away from being 12-0, so it’s hard to find fault in him for the DQ loss to Matt Hamill a year ago. At 23, he’s mature for his age and has yet to show any real weaknesses in his game. He is not only the future at light heavyweight, but also very much the present, and with the dominating victories he’s racked up thus far in his career it seems to be a given he’ll fight for a UFC title sooner than later.
6. Forrest Griffin (17-6)
The affable, original TUF champ has been out of action since November 2009 so he’s only holding on to his ranking by a thread. However, when he isn’t sidelined with an injury, Griffin has found a way to will himself to victory against the cream of MMA’s crop. He’s large for a LHW, has good hands and equally decent wrestling, and also possesses an underrated set of jiu-jitsu skills. While his year-long absence from the ring could be cause to remove him completely from this list it would only be a formality since he’s scheduled to fight in February 2011 against Rich Franklin.
7. Gegard Mousasi (30-3-1)
The next three athletes on this list are almost 7A, 7B, and 7C for me. However, Mousasi gets the official nod at “7” because he has ten more total bouts than Bader/Cavalcante combined. He’s beaten a number of talented opponents in various weight-classes and is 17-1 since August 2006. If he had 1-2 bigger wins at 205-pounds he’d be at “6” with Griffin sliding down a notch.
8. Ryan Bader (12-0)
Undefeated in twelve fights, Bader has had strong showings against ranked LHWs and rarely found himself in a compromising position at any point in his career. His overall package needs refining but has absolutely the raw skills to keep climbing the divisional ladder while ironing his weaknesses out.
9. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (10-2)
If it wasn’t for Cavalcante’s TKO loss to Mike Kyle in June 2009 he’d likely be a few spots higher than he currently is. The Strikeforce champ has great hands for a BJJ guy, but still needs to show his skills against a higher level of adversary before sniffing a “Top 5” nod.
10. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4)
“Little Nog” had won seven-straight before losing a close decision to Bader at UFC 119. With past wins over Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem, as well as his more-recent success in the ring, Nogueira is definitely still a “Top 10” LHW regardless of the defeat.
11. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (7-1)
In Lawal’s case I’m admittedly ranking him more on potential rather than what he’s actually accomplished in the cage. He’s extremely talented, but still fairly new to MMA and needs a bit of polishing. If he can put together a few injury-free years and keep working on his game I can see his natural ability and incredible mind for the sport taking him all the way to the top of this list.
12. Anderson Silva (27-4)
If Silva had another win or two at light heavyweight he would easily be part of my “Top 10”. However, until he makes a more-permanent jump to the division I have a hard time putting him amongst the best (though I don’t doubt he’d easily climb there with the move).
13. Thiago Silva (14-2)
Though Silva has fallen in two of his last three bouts, the losses came to #3 and #4 on this list. Beyond that he’s finished thirteen of the fourteen other foes he’s faced in his career. Unfortunately, he’s also fought injured a number of times and is only now getting close to being healthy after suffering a back injury. Perhaps it goes without saying, but without a doubt his upcoming scrap with Brandon Vera is definitely be one of the most-important fights in his career as far as determining his future in MMA.
15. Rich Franklin (28-5)
Franklin has only fought a few times at 205 but he’s looked good in nearly all of of his professional showings with the only stumbles coming against MMA’s elite (Silva, Machida, Vitor Belfort, and a controversial split-decision to Dan Henderson). Regardless of how bad his losses were to the Brazilian group on that list, I’d pick “Ace” over the majority of the sport’s 205ers based on what he’s done so far in the division and his overall offerings in the ring.
15. Matt Hamill (10-2)
This spot is a toss-up in a lot of ways for me, as there are definitely a few other LHWs who are nearly if not equally deserving of the “Top 15” distinction. Ah, subjectivity! However, Hamill stands out to me based on his heart, chin, and combination of wrestling/power. He can grind most opponents down to a pulp to procure a decision or knock them out, whether standing or in top position. His win over Tito Ortiz was impressive in the sense he out-wrestled the former light heavyweight champ and looked sharp on his feet as well. Clearly Ortiz is not be what he used to be, but “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” is still a game competitor and Hamill’s performance against him deserves to be respected.
Dan Henderson (25-8): “Hendo” has wins over a handful of respected 205ers, including PRIDE-era Wanderlei Silva and Belfort, as well as middleweights and even heavyweights including Antonio Rodrigo “Minotauro” Nogueira from a decade ago. The double-divisional champion’s wrestling credentials speak for themselves and he also packs enough power to have inspired a catalog of humorous, digitally altered shots of Michael Bisping’s separation from consciousness at UFC 100 (his eleventh win by way of strikes).
Renato “Babalu” Sobral (36-8): Though most of his biggest victories come more than five years ago, Sobral is an apt competitor who has solid stand-up and, with eighteen career submission wins, an obvious arsenal on the ground. He’s also one of the two men to have legitimately finished the top name on this list (a third-round Guillotine Choke of Rua coming in the second tier of a one-night tournament in 2003 after having already gone fifteen minutes against seasoned veteran Trevor Prangley).
Vladimir Matyushenko (25-5): Matyushenko, who has won twelve of his last fourteen bouts, is still seeking a career-defining win to show his decision victory over “Little Nog” eight years ago wasn’t the pinnacle of his journey in MMA. However, there’s no doubting “The Janitor” knows how to clean up in the cage from a success standpoint. He’s beaten a number of tough opponents while never having been submitted a single time in thirty total fights. The soon-to-be-40-year old also stopped rising prospect Alexandre Ferreira’s consecutive first-frame win streak at seven (with ten in his last eleven) after two minutes of action when they fought a few weeks ago at UFC 122, so clearly Matyushenko still has some gas left in his tank even after the loss he suffered to Jones last August.
PHOTO CREDIT – UFC