(Well, this explains that full rack of “Machida Era” T-shirts at the Montreal Salvation Army. Pic: Knucklepit)
Once long trumpeted as MMA’s marquee weight division, the 205-pound class has had a bit of a rough go in recent years. Call it light heavyweight’s awkward teen phase. The consistency of Tito Ortiz’s early dominance and the glory days of the Chuck vs. Randy trilogy have faded into the uncertain mediocrity of the Rampage-Forrest-Rashad-Machida-Shogun Era. Frankly, what we have here is a division in desperate need of stability. If only someone would come along to restore the 205-pound class to its former awesomeness … someone enormous, with unrivaled athleticism and really, really long arms … someone possessing of unwavering spirituality and wicked Greco throws … someone who could capitalize on the misfortune of his training partners and vault directly into a title shot after just a handful of wins over middling opponents … Anyway, if that guy’s out there somewhere, we can’t possibly imagine who it might be.
Right now, light heavyweight rankings are anybody’s best guess. After the jump, find the current top fives, according to CP’s editorial staff along with our dubious justifications of our crappy opinions. Check out our lists and let us know how badly we screwed them up, would you please …
1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: Shogun briefly looked like his old, brain-scrambling self in back-to-back fights against Lyoto Machida during 2009-10 before suffering yet another of the semi-regular knee injuries that have plagued his otherwise stellar career. Historically, rehab and delayed returns have not been good to him, though Dana White assures us Rua’s past problems were largely due to the Brazilian witchdoctors who were tinkering with his knee. This time, the champ had his operation in ’Merica, so we’ll see if he’s at full steam next month at UFC 128. Kind of seems like he better be.
2. Jon Jones: I realize there’s no way for me to say this without looking like an overzealous fanboy, but I have a hunch that Jonny Bones is the best 205-pounder in the division right now. Nobody else has anything close to resembling his physical tools and his unorthodox style must be next to impossible to prepare for. Still, good sense prevails in keeping Jones at No. 2, because he still has to go out and prove it next month. God is good, people! Well, unless your aspirations conflict with those of Jon Jones … then God seems like kind of a vindictive prick.
3. Rashad Evans: In the wake of his own knee injury – again, a sprain that reportedly would take just 6-8 weeks to heal – White (speaking of vindictive pricks) did everything he could to punish Evans besides taking a crowbar to his dad’s Corvette in the middle of the night while yelling, “This is what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass, Suga!” Anyhoo, the UFC apparently thought Evans was good enough to fight for the title before the injury and, in my opinion, nothing has yet happened to change that status.
4. Lyoto Machida: No, you’re right, it’s hard to logically justify ranking Machida behind Evans (who he beat) and in front of Rampage Jackson (who he lost to), but you know what? This is my list and I’ll do whatever I damn well please with it. Truth is, compiling these rankings has made me realize what a wasteland 205-pounds is right now. Either that, or the UFC’s so-called “glamour division” is just so competitive and the fighters are all so good that nobody can put together a respectable win streak … except, don’t you get the impression that if the UFC middleweight champ really wanted to, he could be an instant Top Five 205-pounder? … so yeah, I’m sticking with wasteland.
5. Quinton Jackson: Which adjective best describes my attitude about including Rampage in the top five? Begrudging. I look at this guy’s record over last five years and all I see is smoke and mirrors, but if not him, then who? Feijao? Thiago Silva? FoGriff? I’m not crazy about any of those options, either. The crappiest part is that Jackson is probably going to beat Matt Hamill at UFC 130, thereby depriving me the opportunity to relegate him any further. Seriously, though, how awesome would it be if Hamill beat Jackson and Randy Couture beat Machida at UFC 129? Then we could really start having some fun with these meaningless lists.
1. Jon Jones: Okay, let me explain. I know you’re supposed to automatically give the champion the No. 1 spot in these sorts of exercises, but consider the level of dominance that Jon Jones has displayed while battling contenders like Ryan Bader, Vladimir Matyushenko and Matt Hamill. Meanwhile, Mauricio Rua‘s first-round blitz of Lyoto Machida in their rematch at UFC 113 represents his only victory in the Octagon over an opponent who wasn’t a past-his-prime shell. When you add them up, Bones’ accomplishments over the last two years have been far more impressive than Rua’s (in my opinion, anyway). Jones has more weapons as a fighter, undeniable physical advantages and scary momentum. He’s the favorite against Shogun for good reason.
2. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: See above. When Rua and Jones meet at UFC 128 next month, Shogun could very well kick Jones’ ass and I’ll look like a moron for ranking the veteran killer below the young contender — but that’s just not the way I see it going down.
3. Rashad Evans: Evans, Quinton Jackson, and Lyoto Machida have this weird little recursive loop going between themselves — Evans beat Jackson, who beat Machida, who beat Evans — which makes ranking them a somewhat complicated task. Of the three, Evans is the only guy who has won his last two fights (Thiago Silva and Jackson). That’s enough for me to give him the edge.
4. Quinton Jackson: During the short-lived Machida Era, the general consensus was that Rampage would get absolutely wrecked by the finesse counter-attacks of the Dragon. Jackson surprised everybody by actually fighting smart. It wasn’t really a decisive victory, but it proves that he’s still an elite 205′er — who might be able to learn from past mistakes.
5. Lyoto Machida: Machida’s dramatic fall from having his own MMA era named after him to being one fight away from being canned has been nothing short of shocking. But while there are several other fighters currently closing in on the top five, I think Machida’s past accomplishments justify him hanging in the top 5 for one more fight.
1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: A healthy, focused Shogun is a dangerous Shogun. Just ask Machida.
2. Rashad Evans: Rashad has beaten *most* of the top guys in the division (including Rampage, Forrest and Thiago Silva) and he sent Michael Bisping scrambling to the middleweight division after a smothering loss. He probably would have picked up a few more wins if he hadn’t decided to wait for a year on the sidelines for his promised shot at Shogun and gotten injured as soon as he trained full bore for the first time in a long time.
3. Jon Jones: Jones has a very good shot at beating Shogun and becoming the UFC light heavyweight champion, just not yet. With a bit more seasoning and a lot less attitude, he’ll be a viable contender.
4. Lyoto Machida: Machida could work his way back on top, but Captain Gameplan … er… America is likely going to drive him into the fence for three rounds in April and quite possibly push him out of the UFC.
5. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante: “Feijao” beat King Mo, who beat Gegard Mousasi, who was on the top of everyone’s 205-pound rankings a year ago. Sure, he lost to Mike Kyle, but Kyle’s a heavyweight and being undefeated in MMA is like winning the lottery; you get a bunch of people claiming to be your friends and advisers coming out of the wood work to fuck up your career, steal your money, make ludicrous contract demands and … Wait. That’s Fedor… or Mike Tyson.