(Lyoto may have put an entire weight class to sleep on Saturday. Photo courtesy of UFC.com.)
Over the last couple years, we’ve heard the same lines repeated about the UFC’s marquee weight-class: The light-heavyweight division is freakin’ stacked. Eight or nine of the top ten 205′ers in the world live there. It’s a shark tank, where any fighter could be champion on any given day. But after Lyoto Machida dethroned Rashad Evans in a lopsided sparring clinic at UFC 98, it suddenly didn’t feel that way any more.
If Machida can defeat Quinton Jackson later this year — and there’s no reason to think he won’t, since Jackson’s increasingly one-dimensional boxing style is virtually tailor-made for Machida — he’ll establish an Anderson Silva-like dominance over the light-heavyweight division; the contenders in his weight class will appear relatively weak since nobody can touch him. Or maybe the UFC’s light-heavyweights really have gotten weaker. Let’s run it down…
Chuck Liddell: Beaten into a forced retirement after consecutive losses to Rashad Evans and Mauricio Rua.
Mauricio Rua: The jury’s still out. He was good enough to beat Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell (who were both well past their primes) but he’s yet to face a young elite 205′er in the UFC and take home a win.
Keith Jardine: Forget about it. His performance against Rampage in March cemented his status as a high-level gatekeeper who wins one, then loses one, then wins one, then loses one.
Rashad Evans and Thiago Silva: Though they’re both highly talented fighters, they’d need to go on serious win streaks to justify another shot at Machida. For the time being, they’ll hang out near the top of the light-heavyweight ladder, fighting over the Dragon’s scraps.
So who’s left? Well, Forrest Griffin is still popular among fans, and all he’d really need to do to show he’s worthy of another title shot is beat the crap out of Anderson Silva at UFC 101. (Please, hold your laughter.) If he fails, he’ll join Evans, T. Silva, and Rampage in the brotherhood of awesome fighters who suddenly don’t look so awesome.
This isn’t to say that the UFC lacks any light-heavyweight prospects. Jon Jones and Luis Cane have insane potential, while Matt Hamill and Krzysztof Soszynski‘s recent wins have given their careers momentum again. But don’t expect any of those dudes to compete for the belt until next summer at the very earliest. (Cane will probably be first in line, if he can keep beating name-fighters.)
Any way you look at it, the so-called "Machida Era" will be a time of rebuilding in the light-heavyweight division. In the meantime, the UFC would be wise to push their surging lightweight and heavyweight classes even further into the spotlight.