Another pay-per-view main event fell apart for the UFC on April Fools’ Day when light heavyweight champion Daniel Cormier withdrew with a leg injury. Nonetheless, light heavyweight gold will be up for grabs as top pound-for-pound fighter Jon Jones and Ovince Saint Preux will vie for the interim belt.
Normally, interim titles aren’t the most popular inclusion in a division, but it makes plenty of sense at 205. Jones had been the champion for years before legal issues forced the UFC to strip him of the belt last year. Cormier, the last man Jones defeated, wound up winning the vacant title.
While Cormier has represented himself well in the cage since his championship victory, many still look at Jones as the true champion. That being the case, he’ll have the chance to reaffirm that notion on Saturday at UFC 197 and, eventually, against Cormier a second time.
Read on for a deeper look at the UFC’s 205-pounders. The fighters have been separated into descending tiers for convenience.
Daniel Cormier (17-1, 6-1 UFC)
The champion may have lost to Jones last January, but nobody else can boast of a win over Cormier in MMA. The former U.S. Olympic wrestler holds victories over Anthony Johnson, Alexander Gustafsson and Patrick Cummins, all of whom are among the top fighters in the division.
Not to be forgotten is that the bulk of his career was spent at heavyweight where he won the Strikeforce Heavyweight Grand Prix before the promotion folded. He has wins over ranked heavyweights Josh Barnett, Frank Mir, Roy Nelson and Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.
Anthony Johnson (21-5, 12-5), Jon Jones (21-1, 15-1)
Jones, at just 28 years old, already has assembled one of the finest resumes in MMA history. His four-year reign as champion included wins over Cormier, Glover Teixeira, Gustafsson, Rashad Evans, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. He also submitted Ryan Bader a month before he won the belt. Also of note is the lone blemish on his record, a disqualification in a fight he clearly was dominating against Matt Hamill in 2010.
Jones’ is a staggering resume that reveals a fighter who might already have cleaned out the division entirely by now if not for a run-in with the law last spring, leading to him being the first UFC champion to lose his belt for disciplinary reasons.
Johnson originally was to face Jones before the former champ’s troubles intervened. While he lost to Cormier last May, Johnson moved to 5-1 as a UFC light heavyweight after spending the bulk of his career at — incredibly — 170 pounds. He has defeated Phil Davis, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Gustafsson, Jimi Manuwa and Bader since returning to the UFC two years ago. Between UFC stints, he even topped former UFC heavyweight champion Andrei Arlovski.
Ryan Bader (19-5, 12-5), Alexander Gustafsson (16-4, 8-4), Glover Teixeira (25-4, 8-2)
Gustafsson is in an odd position. He’s lost three of his last four — all to the three fighters above him in these rankings. In two of those losses — title fights against Jones and Cormier — he was edged on the judges’ score cards in bouts many felt should have gone the Swede’s way. He also has defeated Rua and Manuwa over his last five fights.
Other than his two lopsided decision losses to Jones and Davis in 2014, Teixeira has not lost any other bout during the past 10 years. His wins in that time are impressive: a decision against Jackson, TKOs of Bader and Cummins, a technical submission against Saint Preux and a clean knockout of Evans last weekend. He’s likely only a fight away from another title shot.
Bader may have a tougher path to a first title shot. Despite wins over Evans, Davis, Saint Preux, Nogueira and Jackson, a knockout loss to Johnson in January was a major setback.
Rashad Evans (19-5-1, 14-5-1), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-7, 4-4), Mauricio Rua (23-10, 7-8), Ovince Saint Preux (19-7, 7-2)
It’s fair to question if Saint Preux deserved the interim title shot on merit, but he benefited from a willingness to step in on short notice. Although he lost to Bader and Teixeira, he (T)KO’d Rua and Cummins in recent bouts.
Evans and Rua each won UFC gold before Jones’ rise, but neither made a successful title defense. Shogun previously won the 2005 Pride Middleweight Grand Prix and seemed poised for greatness, but a series of injuries have hampered him throughout his UFC run. Neither is a championship-level fighter anymore.
Nogueira was a contemporary of Rua in Pride, but he has won just two of his past six bouts. His most recent win came against Evans three years ago.
Best of the Rest
Corey Anderson (8-1, 5-1), Jan Błachowicz (19-5, 2-2), Patrick Cummins (8-3, 4-3), Nikita Krylov (19-4, 4-2), Ilir Latifi (12-4, 5-2), Tom Lawlor (10-6, 6-5), Jimi Manuwa (15-2, 4-2)
The rest of the UFC’s relevant UFC light heavyweights have yet to break through. Cummins and Manuwa, for example, fair well against lesser competition but have lost to the more well-regarded fighters. They’re in their mid 30s, so time is running out to make a run.
Anderson and Krylov, in their mid 20s, have the highest ceiling once they face and defeat more relevant fighters. Anderson will face Rua in May, so he has a chance to throw his name into the broad contender conversation.
Blachowicz, Lawler and Latifi, each in his early 30s, fit the gatekeeper mold.
Outside the Octagon
Francis Carmont (24-11, 6-3), Phil Davis (15-3, 9-3), Quinton Jackson (36-11, 8-5), Liam McGeary (11-0, 0-0)
All of the best non-UFC 205ers compete for Bellator. Only McGeary, the promotion’s champion who defeated UFC Hall of Famer Tito Ortiz last year, has yet to compete for the top MMA outfit.
The best of the bunch likely is Davis, who left the UFC in free agency and has defeated Teixeira, Gustafsson Noguiera and Carmont. He’ll face former Strikeforce champion Muhammed Lawal in May.
After a messy contract situation was sorted out between Jackson, the UFC and Bellator, Rampage is officially a Bellator fighter. The former UFC champion has won four in a row, but losses to Teixeira, Bader, Jones and Evans during the past six years tell of a fighter who is in decline at 37 years old.
Carmont, who competed at middleweight for the UFC, is 2-1 as a Bellator light heavyweight. He lost to Davis in the final of September’s Bellator Light Heavyweight Tournament, but he does have a win over Lawlor from 2012.