Well, since I last visited the LHW division things have shaken out pretty well. Rashad still holds the title, and despite the common belief that Rampage Jackson was the next challenger, the relatively short recovery and preparation time made ‘Page pass on the title shot, opening the way for Lyoto Machida to step in. If Rampage gets the next shot, I really fell like we’ll see the three best Light Heavyweights in the UFC go after each other in the next year. We’ll probably see the belt change hands once, and come early 2010 we’ll see Chuck Liddell taking a shot at Lyoto Machida for the belt.
I don’t generally get into predictions, so that’s pretty bold stuff for me. But it looks like the likely path of the UFC’s premier division. There’s too many stars in there right now, even with Wanderlei Sliva moving a little bit down to meet Ace Franklin (before landing at middleweight). There’s also a limited number of young challengers…Jon “Bones” Jones is at least a year away from being a legit challenger, despite his nice showing against Stephan Bonnar. Matt Hamill has quite a ways to go. His matchup with Brandon Vera is really a battle for relevance at this point, kind of a micro-echo of Liddell vs Rua coming up. Jason Brilz, Steve Cantwell, Luiz Cane…there don’t seem to be any clear-cut up and comers, not since Rashad took that strap from Forrest, anyways. Notice you don’t hear a lot of people squealing about Rashad not finishing anymore? I guess knocking the champ into next week will do that for a guy.
Rashad-Machida coming up is a giant fight. It shows off two of the best athletes in the UFC, two of the smartest fighters in the UFC, and two of the best overall fighters in MMA today, both on the upswing of their powers. This is an amazing matchup. I love ‘Page, and I look forward to seeing him fight for the belt, but I honestly couldn’t wait to hear this matchup announced. We’re going to get to see two guys with featherweight hand speed, amazing balance and quickness, thunderous power, and excellent grappling. I feel like Machida is a very special athlete who’s going to come into his own in this fight and take the belt, but given that Rashad has stepped up to every challenge thus far (barring a gift draw against Tito), I wouldn’t be surprised if he pulled this off too. Either way, an amazing fight coming up.
Liddell-Rua is a battle for relevance, but featuring fighters with unmatched credentials outside of guys named Randy, Anderson, or Georges. The winner will be catapulted to the short list for a title shot. The loser won’t fade to nothing, but it’s going to be hard for them to say they deserve a shot for a while. Given Chuck’s age, this may be his last chance to make it into the hunt. Rua still has time to work out whatever the hell happened to him. His showing against aged Mark Coleman was relatively sad. I see Chuck coming in focused, prepared, and deadly, and knocking out the once-fearsome Shogun. Look for a possible Rua-Rampage rematch in 2010.
Speaking of Rampage, I see him matching up with Rua for a big-draw fight between two guys coming off losses, Rua to Chuck and ‘Page to Machida. Rampage is a special athlete himself, who hits like a semitruck. He could catch Machida, but in a matchup there it looks to me like Machida regresses a little and takes a unanimous decision win.
One guy who’ll be competing in the LHW division who’s hard to place is Rich Franklin. He’s got an excellent skillset to dominate fights, especially against younger, smaller, or less-experienced fighters…his dominance at middleweight was often against guys much smaller than him. Will he still be able to push people around once he readjusts his body to 205? After his marquee matchup with Wanderlei, there’s a fight that’s just begging to happen, provided both fighters win: Brandon Vera vs. Rich Franklin. Vera will take a huge step up in competition at 205, fighting to keep his spot in the list of title contenders, and Franklin can test his “new” body against a striker with a clinch game who comes in as big or bigger than him.
There’s a big question in the LHW division: Does Dan Henderson really intend on staying at middleweight? Right now he’s on a reality show with a former LHW who he’ll fight at middleweight, I’d presume for a big jump up the title shot ladder. But does Hollywood still hold hopes of grabbing both belts? I think he does, and I think we see him going to LHW one more time, next summer or so, for another run, especially if he finds a way to rematch with Silva and gets the championship.
The next eighteen months of light heavies should be a blast.