The UFC light heavyweight division has long been considered the shark tank division of the company, a pool with incredible depth and a number of dangerous fighters populating the waters. Each of these predators waits for an opportunity to strike, decimating weaker foes in an effort to move up the food chain.
Looking at the division now, however, it might be time to switch up the metaphor.
Welcome to Black House’s Club 205.
To get beyond the doors, you have to get passed the two imposing figures standing out front.
With the dominant debut of Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last Saturday night at UFC 106, the ultra-impressive Black House team now has three of their members in the upper echelon of the 205-pound division: Nogueira, reigning champion Lyoto Machida, and UFC Middleweight champion Anderson Silva.
As soon as the light heavyweight title was placed around the waist of the undefeated Machida, people began voicing their desires for a superfight between best friends Machida and Silva. Almost as quickly, the two champions emphatically stated their lack of interest in indulging fight fans fantasies. Regardless of how many times Dana White insists he’ll make that fight happen, don’t hold your breath.
Now that Nogueira has entered the picture as well, expect the same disinterest in fighting fellow Black House members Machida and Silva to hold true for the 2007 Pan-Am Games bronze medalist as well.
Despite what “Lil’ Nog” said following his debut win, being willing to fight Machida and pursuing a fight with Machida are two very different things, and expecting a fighter coming off his first win in the UFC to start talking about who he won’t fight is a stretch.
With two of the top contenders in opposition to challenging for the championship right now, the UFC could be put into a difficult position moving forward.
If Lyoto Machida was to emerge victorious from his May rematch with Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, anyone interested in testing the champion could theoretically have to get through the two talented bouncers blocking their path.
Looking at the top ten challengers to the light heavyweight title, not including Nogueira and Silva, Machida has already earned victories over Rua, Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva, who meet in January in what looks a lot like a #1 contender match in the absence of one Quinton Jackson.
Of the remaining seven fighters, Silva has already stopped two of them, embarrassing Forrest Griffin in August and twice stopping Rich Franklin at middleweight, while Nogueira just disposed of Luis Cane.
That would leave Keith Jardine, Jon Jones and Brandon Vera as the three remaining fighters without a loss, save for the aforementioned “retiree” known as Rampage, and none of those three fighters is within reach of a title shot at this time.
Nogueira isn’t going anywhere; he’s fought at 205 for the duration of his career and a move in either direction puts him in a similar position with his brother at heavyweight and Silva at 185.
While Silva could certainly cease fighting at 205, chances of that are slim, especially considering he’s cleaned out the middleweight division once already, with Vitor Belfort in the wings as the only viable challenger remaining.
Though the most deserving fighter hasn’t always been the one standing across from the champion over the history of the UFC, Dana White and company would be hard pressed to push a fighter who hadn’t scored a win over a marquee opponent into a matchup with Machida any time soon, meaning someone is going to need to get passed Nogueira or Silva and that’s no easy task.
The idea of teammates fighting is something that comes up quite often in this sport, as a more and more of the top contenders in each division migrate to a select few teams that routinely produce champions.
While some outsiders wonder what the big deal is, think about spending every day working with someone, guiding them, trying to help them improve at what they do and then being asked to stop them from reaching those goals? No think about what it would be like to have to stop them from achieving those goals by punching them in the face…
For the UFC, the best case scenario would be a “Shogun” Rua victory next year; the championship changes addresses and both Silva and Nogueira become instant contenders, while a trilogy fight with Machida would be all but guaranteed. Additionally, Rua already holds a win over Nogueira, so the rematch angle would certainly work for promotional purposes.
But defeating Lyoto Machida is easier said than done, as we’ve learned over the last few years. Controversies aside, “The Dragon” still has the belt around his waist and if Rua can’t pry it away from him when they meet again, it may just stay there for quite some time, in part because Machida is an incredible talent and a handful for anyone who stands across from him.
Having two incredibly talented bouncers cleaning out the competition in front of him certainly wouldn’t hurt either.
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