Saturday’s UFC 192 event in Houston puts the light heavyweight division at the forefront with a pair of important bouts, one of which is for the championship. Recently crowned champion Daniel Cormier will defend his title for the first time against Alexander Gustafsson in the main event. Earlier in the evening, Ryan Bader and Rashad Evans will tangle for the chance to potentially fight the champ in 2016.
The division has, traditionally, been the showcase for the UFC with past champions such as Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture and Tito Ortiz — all UFC Hall of Famers — among the promotion’s most popular draws. Cormier has yet to establish himself as a household name, but a convincing victory against a credible challenger like Gustafsson will go a long way to helping his case.
Read on for a deeper look at the UFC’s 205-pounders. For conveniences, the fighters been sorted into descending categories based on standing in the division.
Daniel Cormier (16-1, 5-1 UFC)
It’s not that Cormier is a poor representative of the sport. On the contrary, he’s one of Fox’s go-to analysts during events in which he isn’t competing, and he’s a former U.S. Olympic wrestler. But in the eyes of many, his loss to then-champion Jon Jones earlier this year makes it difficult to regard Cormier as the true champion.
Regardless, he’s arguably the No. 2 guy at both light heavyweight and heavyweight. He’s defeated top contenders at both weights and only dropped to 205 pounds to avoid a clash with friend and teammate Cain Velasquez, the heavyweight champion at the time. He won the vacant championship with a stoppage of Anthony Johnson, who was originally scheduled to face Jones.
If he gets through Gustafsson on Saturday, he’ll likely get a second chance against Jones in 2016.
Jon Jones (21-1, 15-1)
Jones gets his own category because he’s a unique case. If not for his legal troubles — culminating in an 18-month probation sentence earlier this week — Jones likely would still be champion and Cormier would be relegated to the next tier. Jones has defeated Cormier, Gustafsson, Bader, Evans, Glover Teixeira, Quinton Jackson and Mauricio Rua. All of those men remain high-level light heavyweights.
Another sign of his dominance: His only career loss came via disqualification during a bout he was dominating, so he’s never been bested in the cage by an opponent. Truly, Jones’ worst enemy during his career has been himself.
Alexander Gustafsson (16-3, 8-3), Anthony Johnson (20-5, 11-5)
No 205er came closer to winning a decision against Jones than Gustafsson. Many felt the Swede did enough to claim the belt in 2013, but the judges didn’t see it that way.
Alas, he lost momentum in his latest outing, a vicious knockout in January on his home soil at the hands of Johnson. It’s unusual for a fighter to be granted a title fight immediately following a loss, but he is the highest-ranked fighter available.
That’s after Johnson, of course, who had his shot in May and squandered it thanks to a shoddy gas tank. What isn’t shoddy is the power of “Rumble,” a former welterweight — yes, welterweight — who finally gave up dangerous weight cuts and found success against fellow big men. He beat Jimi Manuwa last month and has defeated Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Phil Davis, Dave Branch and even heavyweight contender Andrei Arlovski during the past three years. Quite a run.
If he keeps winning and Jones reclaims the title, he’s a strong candidate to finally fight the former champion.
Ryan Bader (19-4, 12-4), Rashad Evans (19-3-1, 14-3-1), Glover Teixeira (23-4, 6-2)
The winner of Saturday’s bout between Evans and Bader easily could be elevated to true contender status. Evans probably deserves to be there, but injuries have kept him out of the cage since a Nov. 2013 win against Chael Sonnen. In fact, his last win against anyone in these categories came over Davis in Jan. 2012, close to four years ago. That’s why the former champion must prove he belongs on more than reputation by beating Bader.
Bader has won four in a row, but his last loss came at the hands of Teixeira two years ago. Without question, the Evans fight is the biggest of his eight-year career and puts him as close to a title fight as he’s ever been.
Teixeira belongs in the title mix too, but he’ll probably need one or two more convincing wins to earn a second title shot, even against a fresh champion. He did snap a two-bout skid by choking out Ovince Saint Preux in his opponent’s home state of Tennessee in August, so that’s a good start.
Patrick Cummins (8-2, 4-2), Quinton Jackson (36-11, 8-5), Jimi Manuwa (15-2, 4-2), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-7, 4-4), Mauricio Rua (23-10, 7-8), Ovince Saint Preux (18-7, 6-2)
Half of this group is comprised of Pride’s finest. Jackson, Rua and Nogueira have been top-flight light heavyweights for more than a decade, but they are in decline these days. That they remain relevant in 2015 says more about the lack of depth in the division than it does about the staying power of this trio.
Cummins and Saint Preux each could ascend the ladder and compete for a championship one day, but they’ve both proved to be unready for the next level at this time.
Manuwa isn’t exactly a prospect, but he would seem to have quite a bit of time left in the sport. However, his progress has stalled thanks to a faulty chin against high-quality 205ers.
Best of the Rest
Fabio Maldonado (22-8, 5-5), Nikita Krylov (19-4, 4-2), Tom Lawlor (10-5, 6-4)
Maldonado and Lawlor are action fighters who would seem to be solid divisional gatekeepers who are unlikely to make any semblance of a championship run.
Krylov is a different story. He’s often fun to watch, for however long his fights last — just one of his bouts went past the opening 5 minutes — but at 23 he’s still young enough to improve drastically. He’s now 3-1 at 205 in the UFC after dropping from heavyweight and is due a step up in competition. He’s an interesting prospect.
Outside the Octagon
Dave Branch (17-3, 2-2), Phil Davis (15-3, 9-3), Teddy Holder (9-2), Liam McGeary (11-0), Emanuel Newton (25-9-1), Thiago Silva (16-4, 7-3)
Davis, who holds a recent win over Teixeira, is a bona fide upper echelon light heavyweight. He left the UFC as a free agent this year after a narrow defeat against Bader, then followed that with two wins in one night last month for Bellator.
The other five men likely rank somewhere in the latter two UFC categories, with Bellator champion McGeary seemingly the highest of the bunch. Silva was a successful UFC talent who was derailed by suspension and domestic violence allegations, and Holder beat him earlier this year for World Series of Fighting. Branch defeated Holder last month to win the WSOF title, which he has paired with WSOF’s middleweight crown. Newton has lost to both McGeary and Davis this year.