The light heavyweight division has been my favorite division since I started watching MMA. It’s what got me into MMA. Fighters like Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Rampage Jackson hooked me.
Unfortunately, the light heavyweight division has been stale the past few years. It is no one’s fault; there was just a dominant champion. It happens. Everyone knew Jon Jones was going to win every time he fought. With Jones vacating the belt and moving on to the heavyweight division, the light heavyweight is fresh again. The UFC has quietly been showcasing the future of the division as well, especially in 2020.
During the UFC’s first ‘Fight Island’ run, three new light heavyweights had their debut. Jiri Procházka (27-3-1), Modestas Bukauskas(11-3), and Roman Dolidze (8-0). All three of them had great debuts – knocking their opponents out.
Procházka became the clear favorite of the three by knocking out former title challenger and all-around tough fighter Volkan Oezdemir. Procházka shot up the UFC light heavyweight rankings with that win and now sits at No. 5. He has only had one fight in the UFC!
The UFC’s second ‘Fight Island’ run showcased three other light heavyweights making their debuts. Danilo Marques (10-2), Maxim Grishin (31-8-2), and William Knight (9-1).
Knight, a “Dana White’s Contender Series” alumnus, went to the judges’ scorecards for the first time in his career, showing that he can go 15 minutes if need be.
Speaking of the Contender Series…
“Dana White’s Contender Series” light heavyweight alumni also had a good 2020. Mike Rodriguez (11-5) rebounded from only his knockout loss by knocking out Marcin Prachnio in two minutes. He would have gone 2-0 last year if it wasn’t for a referee Chris Tognoni robbing him of a win.
Jamahal Hill (8-0) remained undefeated, winning all three of his fights last year. He capped off his 2020 by finishing former title challenger and UFC veteran Ovince St. Preux. He finally got ranked because of it and now sits at No. 15.
On top of all of these new prospects that made a splash last year, we had established names and ranked contenders in action too.
The dark horse of the division, No. 11 ranked Magomed Ankalaev (14-1), ended his rivalry with Ion Cutelaba by knocking him unconscious at UFC 254, leaving no room for any questions. If it weren’t for a literal last second hail mary submission loss to Paul Craig, Ankalaev would be undefeated and be looking unstoppable.
Wildman No. 9 ranked Johnny Walker (18-5) survived a first-round onslaught by Ryan Spann to come back and finish Spann with elbows in the first round at UFC Fight Night: Covington vs. Woodley.
Walker was defeated at the last event before the sports world went dark due to COVID-19 by No. 8 Nikita Krylov (26-7).
ESPN’s top MMA fighter under 25, No. 12 Jimmy Crute (12-1), earned a performance of the night by knocking out Bukauskas at UFC Fight Night: Ortega vs. The Korean Zombie.
No. 4 ranked Aleksandar Rakić (13-2) headlined his first UFC main event and did so in dominating fashion by defeating former title challenger Anthony Smith.
No. 1 ranked Glover Teixeira (32-7) turned back the clock and defeated Anthony Smith and Thiago Santos in 2020, both in dominating fashion. If it weren’t for a chance for another ‘champ champ,’ he would be fighting for the light heavyweight title for the second time.
Anthony Smith (34-16) bounced back at end of 2020 and reminded everyone he is still dangerous and can still compete with anyone as he defeated Devin Clark.
Of course, we got a new light heavyweight champion not named Daniel Cormier or Jones since 2011, at UFC 253, when Polland’s own Jan Błachowicz (27-8) finished the most recent title challenger Dominic Reyes in the second round.
Błachowicz defends his newly won belt against the middleweight champion Israel Adesanya (20-0) at UFC 259. Blachowicz has the chance to give Adesanya his first MMA loss, and Adesanya can become the fourth fighter in UFC history to hold titles in two weight classes simultaneously.
As you can see, the light heavyweight division is finally fun again. There is so much fresh blood in the division and so many fun matchups. Over the next three months, the division will see some fighters going up and down the rankings as there are fantastic matchups ready to go.
Which of these four light heavyweight matchups are you most looking forward to?
(Side note: I’m so glad the LHW division has life again) pic.twitter.com/g9QwAI7ZNu
— Alex Behunin (@AlexBehunin) January 5, 2021
The light heavyweight division is worth keeping your eye on again, I promise.