Light heavyweight has a new overlord, and he’s just 23 years old.
Jon Jones’ destruction of Shogun Rua at UFC 128 signaled the end of the PRIDE years and heralded the rise of a new fighter who could dominate the division for years to come. Instead of speaking about potential challengers for the title, fans and journalists have been left trying to figure out who in the world could possibly present a stiff challenge for Jones. It’s hard not to get caught up in the hype train, but so long as Jones maintains the maturity he’s displayed thus far, he’ll be fine.
Will he be the first true mainstream superstar to come from the world of MMA? That remains to be seen. For now, he’s content with simply evolving. Oh, and ruling the light heavyweight division with an iron fist.
1. Jon Jones
Jones utterly dominated former champion Shogun Rua at UFC 128 in Newark which lands him atop this poll without any debate. Now comes a fight with Rashad Evans. What? He’s fighting Rashad Evans? It’s true. The former teammates had a falling out and will now square off for the light heavyweight strap sometime this fall.
2. Rashad Evans
Evans, a long time Greg Jackson student, has left the Albuquerque, NM camp and set up shop in Florida to prepare for newly crowned champ Jon Jones. Thought to be heading down to middleweight should Jones win the belt, Evans had a change of heart when “Bones” announced he’d fight his then teammate on national television.
3. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
Shogun’s last performance against Jones left much to be desired. You can blame it on cage rust or the pair of knee surgeries Rua underwent prior to the fight, but one thing is for sure: he didn’t look like the Shogun who made his legend during the PRIDE years. He’ll rematch Forrest Griffin in August at UFC Rio and try to avenge one of the losses on his UFC record.
4. Rampage Jackson
Jackson went from fighting Thiago Silva to fighting Rashad Evans to fighting Matt Hamill. No matter the opponent, Jackson is just a win or two away from another title shot. Hamill’s a tough kid, though, and Jackson will have his hands full with the kind of kryptonite wrestler that has given him problems in the past.
5. Forrest Griffin
Griffin gets another crack at Shogun Rua in August at UFC Rio. He won the first time around, but a healthy Shogun could present more problems than he did two years ago.
6. Lyoto Machida
Machida could put an end to the career of Randy Couture at UFC 129 later this month. It’s a distinction Machida probably doesn’t want, but he’ll have to win the fight in order to remain relevant. Dana White told HeavyMMA.com that Machida wouldn’t be cut with a loss, but it would leave him on the outside looking in.
7. Phil Davis
Davis is taking some much-deserved time off after beating Antonio Rogerio Nogueira last month. The former Penn State wrestler is resting and rehabbing injuries, all while helping Jake Shields train for his fight against Georges St. Pierre.
8. Dan Henderson
Henderson looks to be heading into a heavyweight dream bout with Fedor Emelianenko this summer. There are few credible challengers for him in the Strikeforce light heavyweight division, so don’t be surprised if a few choice UFC talents make their way over to give Henderson a shot.
9. Ryan Bader
Bader faces Tito Ortiz in July. It’s a bad fight for Ortiz and one that Bader should win handily. He’s a great prospect, but like Phil Davis, has quite a long way to go before being considered a top fighter in this stacked division.
10. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira
Little Nog could be on his last legs as a top UFC light heavyweight, but he’d be considered a top contender in Strikeforce. He’ll get one more shot in the UFC, but after that? He may have to make the move to San Jose if he wants more opportunities in the limelight.