After UFC 114, What’s Next For Light Heavyweight Division?

After UFC 114, where do we go next?

It’s obvious that the next marquee fight for the light heavyweight title will be Mauricio “Shogun” Rua vs. Rashad Evans, as UFC President Dana White had stipulated as much before the card had even begun. That in and of itself is a fairly intriguing matchup: two solid, athletic strikers with great grappling abilities paired up in what could be a defining moment for the division.

Rua, in the eyes of many, never lost the first fight to Lyoto Machida, the man who dethroned Evans in his failed title defense. Rua is a master strategist, who dominated the second fight and illustrated that he was the better fighter.

Coming into a fight of that magnitude, the onus would be on Evans. He received a shot at Forrest Griffin, himself a victim of the “first title defense syndrome” and his speed and striking ability proved to be too much for the “Ultimate Fighter” season 1 victor. Would Evans be faster than Rua? We saw that Evans was noticeably more agile than Machida, however, Machida was able to disrupt the rhythm and balance of Evans attempts with his unorthodox striking. It made for a compelling battle.

Rua has always been deserving of the accolades of being one of the top 205-pound fighters in the world. With his title victory, he secured a bit of his legacy. With a victory over Evans, he’d prove what many pundits have claimed for so long: He’s among the best overall fighters in the game.

But what’s next for the rest of the division? UFC has a strong history of matching up two recent big fight losers against one another. That makes the next prediction simple, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson into the Octagon against Machida. Both fighters would be in line, after that match, for revenge matches of their own with Rua.

Rampage has been carrying a grudge about his loss to Rua, one that’s been brewing since Pride 2005. He didn’t lose via TKO on punches or get submitted, he got his face and body kicked in by Rua. Since soccer kicks aren’t allowed in UFC, with his growth as a fighter and person, Rampage has us all convinced that the fight would go differently next time. Either way, it would make for a compelling build between two fighters and anytime you can show that highlight package from Pride is money well spent in the Fertittas’ eyes.

Other top contenders post-UFC 114:

Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

Little Nog is 7-0 since his shocking KO loss to Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou at Pride 33, but his performance at UFC 114 left true questions about his ability to contend at the top level. Jason Brilz had stepped up on short notice to replace the injured Forrest Griffin on the card and, in the eyes of many, did enough to earn the decision. Instead, the judges decided it was a split decision for Little Nog, and with that kind of controversy, one would assume a fight against a contender would be in the wings for Nogueira before any possible title shot. I see a fight with a Jon Jones or the originally scheduled Griffin fight in his immediate future.

Jon Jones

Speaking of Jones, the “next big thing” at 205, who wouldn’t like to see this kid get a shot? He’s refreshing, exciting and he finishes fights. The only downside to all this: He has only had 11 of them. Were it not for his DQ loss to Matt Hamill at the “Ultimate Fighter” finale 10, he’d be undefeated. He manhandled Brandon Vera who was able to keep tabs on a very, very game Randy Couture. Jones has an upcoming match with Vladimir Matyushenko at UFC on Versus 2, but with a win there and possibly a matchup against the winner of Chuck Liddell-Rich Franklin and we’ve created a bonafide superstar in the division.

Randy Couture

Randy merely needs to humiliate James Toney in order to write his own ticket. It’s “Captain America,” and he’s done so very much for the sport and for UFC in particular, he’ll get what he wants. After August’s bout, we still won’t know how much more Couture he has left against top flight competition. A loss to someone like Jon Jones or another up-and-coming contender wouldn’t help his image. I would throw him in with Little Nog in a “Pride-style” revenge fight (you lose to or embarrass one brother or camp member then take on another in your next big fight) because he has still got drawing power and if leveraged,

Chuck Liddell/Rich Franklin

June 12, we’ll get the fight that was substituted when Tito Ortiz had to pull out. There’s no video package in the world that could lead people to believe that these guys actually have any bad blood between them, but the implications on the fight are huge. Liddell needs a win or he’s probably done. Jens Pulver level done; resigned to commentary, signings, appearances and promotion. He has four losses in his last five fights and hasn’t been in the cage since April of last year.

Franklin has to get back on track after a loss to Vitor Belfort last September. It’s a compelling fight and the winner stays in the mix at 205. If it’s Liddell, we might have another super fight with Couture or even a match against Toney. With a win by Franklin and a title shot at 205, he’s got the opportunity to become another multidivision title holder in the UFC and establish a legacy greater than merely “the guy that Anderson Silva” tore through to win the middleweight title all that time ago”.

This brings us to the person that probably presents the strongest matchups and is the future of the light heavyweight division: Anderson Silva. Yes, “The Spider” has to get through Chael Sonnen at UFC 117 in August first, but this gives UFC plenty of time to begin clearing the division a bit. Belfort would be the last in line for a shot before White would force Silva to forfeit the title and move up to 205. While many would salivate at the idea of a 185-pound “Battle of the Silvas: Anderson vs. Wanderlei,” the speed disadvantage that Wandy would face would be insurmountable. With Anderson Silva at 205, a world of possibilities are opened and he’s strong enough to handle those fighters. If the middleweight division was effectively cleaned out, as a matter of pride alone, you would expect many of the biggest and best to step up at light heavyweight for a chance to tarnish the legacy or prove that the “unbeatable” can be beaten. Face it, we’re not going to see the Georges St-Pierre-Silva catchweight SuperFight.

White has the ball right now and could force Silva’s hand. Rua would be a class fight as well, so should things go as planned, sometime in 2011, I fully expect a Rua-Anderson Silva title bout.

At least we’d be sure to never see a performance like what happened at UFC 112 again.

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