Jeremy Botter: Rua went from being the top dog in the division to the underdog against a 23-year-old prospect. Instead of facing Rashad Evans, Rua will defend his title against Jon Jones, and the oddmakers have installed Jones as the favorite.
Jeff Cain: Shogun has accomplished more than any light heavyweight in the world. The only thing that keeps him from being higher is that he’s been plagued with injuries over the last several years.
Matt Brown: How will the champ respond coming back from yet another major surgery? That is the question. When he’s on, the talent is phenomenal. When it’s off (see Mark Coleman and Forrest Griffin fights), he’s merely average. We’ll find out in March.
Jeremy Botter: Cruz’ next challenger will likely come in the form of Urijah Faber, providing Faber gets past Eddie Wineland next month. For now, he’ll continue to nurse his badly broken hands.
Jeff Cain: Cruz is undefeated as a bantamweight and no one is coming close to beating him.
Matt Brown: There’s something about Cruz. You hear that from everyone that has faced the bantamweight champ. His footwork and head movement have separated him from the competition at 135lbs so far. We’re sure Urijah Faber will have something to say about that should he beat Eddie Wineland at UFC 128.
Jeremy Botter: Jones’ breakthrough superstar moment came at UFC 126, when he walked right through Ryan Bader and then received a title shot in the cage after the fight. He’s the favorite going into the Rua bout, and for good reason.
Jeff Cain: Jones has run through the light heavyweight division leaving a mound of finished fighters in his wake. The scary part? We don’t know how good he’s really going to be.
Matt Brown: Ryan Bader can attest that all the hype surrounding Jon Jones is warranted. Easily the hottest prospect in MMA today, Jones will get his chance to add “champion” to his list of accolades on March 19 as he steps in for an injured Rashad Evans to face Shogun Rua.
Jeremy Botter: Diaz just keeps on finding ways to win. A submission win over Evangelista Santos kept the Strikeforce welterweight title around his waist, and bouts with Paul Daley and others don’t seem to present much of a challenge for the Stockton kid.
Jeff Cain: Nick Diaz just wins, and he’s done it in three different weight classes. A difficult match up for anyone, Diaz has become the most notable fighter outside of the UFC with the exception of Alistair Overeem.
Matt Brown: Love him or hate him, the dude can flat out fight. It’s not always flashy and it’s not always pretty, but Diaz just keeps getting it done. He’s quietly put together a nine-fight win streak, last losing in November of 2007.
On the cusp: Gilbert Melendez, Fedor Emelianenko, Cain Velasquez