The Least Wanted UFC Light Heavies

By Garth Hansen (

The picture in the UFC’s light heavyweight division is pretty murky right now, with legends of the sport like Chuck Liddell, Wanderlei Silva, “Shogun” Rua, and Tito Ortiz in varying states of viability, age, and injury. There’s also some up and coming fighters that can make a huge splash, a few that the UFC is putting some of their marketing muscle behind. So, I’m wondering, out of this crop, who are the fighters the UFC is friggin’ desperate to never see wearing their strap? The light heavyweights have a chunk of em: Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida leap to mind first.

Rashad Evans is probably the least-respected of the Ultimate Fighter winners, outside of Kendall Grove. He’s struggled finishing fights, with only two finishes since joining the UFC. One was of course the highlight-reel headkick KO of Sean Salmon at Ultimate Fight Night 8. It’s widely held at the sites I frequent that that KO is the only reason he’s still in the league. His excellent finish of Jason Lambert at UFC 63 is often overlooked (possibly because of Jason’s tendency lately to get finished…), but was an outstanding performance. His trouble is that since April 2004 he’s 9-0-1…with 8 decisions. While some of them, like his win over Brad Imes at the TUF Finale, were strong decisions, that’s not always the case, like his boring win over Michael Bisping. The maddening thing about Rashad is that he’s got the ability to finish. He’s powerful and fast, and his strikes are heavy. Something in his training or character is keeping him from sealing the deal, however, and that’s going to make the UFC very hesitant to give him a shot. Someone in a comments thread said it well (email me, whoever you are): The UFC has 9 or ten guys they’ll have fight Rashad for a title shot, if they beat him. I add that Rashad, unless he picks up another dominating win (and with Chuck his next fight as a large underdog, it seems unlikely), is not getting that shot.

Lyoto Machida has much the same issue as Rashad: people think he’s boring. And, to an extent, with reason. He has one finish in the UFC, arm-triangling highly-touted Rameau Thierry Sokodjou in the second round of their UFC 79 bout. Other than that, his other four UFC wins are decisions, and often slow-paced and methodical decisions. His fight against David Heath at UFC 70 was deemed so dull it was removed from the televised card. While some people get excited over technical, highly-accomplished fighters like Machida, the majority of MMA fans are still action junkies, and have no fun (or interest in) watching fights like Machida vs Ortiz at UFC 84. Machida outclassed Ortiz in every aspect of the game, earning an startlingly one-sided decision win. Ortiz mounted basically zero offense (including failing to touch Machida with ill intent AT ALL in the first round) until a near-submission at the end of the fight. The crowd went wild for Ortiz, I feel not only for his own popularity, but because they wanted Machida to lose.

Cautious fighters, however sound their reasoning, earn no love in the UFC. Now these two are on different planes of the fight game right now. I believe Machida could beat most of the fighters at the top of the LHW division right now at least three quarters of the time. He is amazingly quick and agile, and has a perfect awareness of where he is in the cage. His balance is superb, and he’s trained every form of martial art since four years old. He’d be and underdog to few fighters. Rashad, on the other hand, is nothing but question marks. He’s got a highlight reel KO, but no one believes he can strike. He was a top-level NCAA wrestler, but he doesn’t finish and gets labeled “lay and pray”. Evans is also a little undersized for the division. I firmly believe neither fighter will be given a sniff of a title shot unless they throw together some impressive finishes. The UFC constantly tries to meddle with who holds what belt, locking up fighters in long term contracts (thus the “no title shot til you renegotiate” rule). The coming months will tell. Machida faces a stiff test in Thiago Silva, and Silva’s pure aggression will likely make for a highly entertaining fight. Rashad faces the toughest fight of his life so far against Chuck Liddell, a fight which most see as a GSP-Serra 2 type mismatch. Rashad will have to find something inside him to reach the next level, which up until the Tito fight he had found, from TUF onwards. I look forward to finding out with the rest of you…fighters always change and evolve. Can anyone honestly say they believed Forrest Griffin could win the belt after he got torn apart by Keith Jardine? So let’s see, from today, where Machida and Evans end up a year from now.

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