Sep 22, 2012; Toronto, ON, Canada; UFC fighter Jon Jones after defeating fighter Vitor Belfort (not pictured) during a light heavyweight bout at UFC 152 at the Air Canada Centre. Mandatory Credit: Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

UFC’s Messy Light-Heavyweight Title Picture set to clear up in April

If I were to tell you that the UFC light-heavyweight division was a bit of a mess right now, you’d probably think I was crazy.

To most fans, the UFC light-heavyweight division is just fine – there’s Jon Jones, and then all the other guys who aren’t Jon Jones.

When a guy like Jones can cast such a long shadow over the rest of the division, it makes it hard to accurately assess the state of said division.

But LHW is a bit of a mess at the moment, and you need look no further than Jones himself to see that. A year ago at this time, the champ was defending his title against Rashad Evans, and cementing his claim as not just the top 205-pounder, but one of the top five guys in all of MMA, period.

Then came the unfortunate DUI incident, where Jon’s $250,000 Bentley suffered a crushing KO loss at the hands of a telephone pole. That incident only ramped up the vitriol among Jon’s haters, who jumped all over Jones for portraying a “phony” good guy image to the press only to drive wasted into a telephone pole at 5 o’clock in the morning.

Then there was the whole UFC 151 fiasco, where Jon’s sensible and/or completely cowardly decision to not fight Chael Sonnen on a week’s notice led to the cancellation of the whole event. Jon bounced back from this to face Vitor Belfort, a middleweight who hadn’t fought at 205 in the UFC since 2005.

Now Jon is set to face Chael Sonnen, another natural 185’er, who also happens to be coming off a loss. To say his career trajectory over the last year has been “uneven” would be a giant understatement.

And it’s not just Jon – look at the rest of the LHW title picture. The consensus #2 guy in the division, Lyoto Machida, is technically coming off a win – albeit one so dreadful that he likely hurt his case for a title shot rather than help it. That he lost to Jones not all that long ago is also a strike against “The Dragon” as a potential title challenger.

Then there’s Dan Henderson, who just lost to the aforementioned Machida and derailed whatever hype and momentum he had been carrying. Rashad Evans, another perennial contender, just dropped an absolutely dreadful fight to Minotauro Rogerio Nogueira. Neither guy looks ready at this point for a world title fight. And “Shogun” Rua got absolutely dominated in his last fight (more on that later).

In short, the champion and the entire top half of the division are, at this particular moment in time, a complete freakin’ mess.

Luckily, I think that’s all about to change. We have two fights in the month of April that should go a long way towards providing some clarity in a muddled LHW title picture.

The first is the upcoming Alexander Gustafsson vs. Gegard Mousasi fight happening in less than two weeks. Even though this fight is happening on Fuel TV, make no mistake about it: this is undoubtedly a #1 contender’s fight in the light-heavyweight division.

Gustaffson is perhaps the greatest chance the division has of unseating Jon Jones as champion. The lanky Swede is on an absolute tear through the light-heavyweight division. His last four fights, he’s faced Matt Hamill, Vladimir Matyushenko, Thiago Silva and “Shogun” Rua – and beaten them all convincingly. He has an absolutely devastating combination of natural gifts and versatility in his MMA
game that’s matched only by Jon Jones himself.

And Gegard Mousasi was once seen as the future of the LHW division. I remember when he tore through the DREAM Grand Prix, started training with Fedor Emelianenko, and seemed like he was going to dominate the world for the next decade. Then came a crushing loss to “King Mo” Lawal on the infamous Strikeforce: Nashville card, and Gegard’s stock has never been the same since.

Despite that, he still has all the tools that made him such a red-hot prospect just a few years ago. He’s also racked up five wins since the loss to King Mo, with a draw to Keith Jardine being the only black mark on his recent resume. With a win here, he could easily reassert himself as the future of the division – and get the chance to prove it by taking on Jones.

Then a few weeks later, we get the LHW title fight no one wanted, but everyone will watch. Jon Jones vs. Chael Sonnen is a borderline freak fight, but there’s no denying it’s going to sell, and sell big. For Jones, the big thing here is that he has to take care of business, dispose of Chael, finally put the UFC 151 disaster behind him, and go back to fighting the absolute best guys in the division.

While facing Gustaffson or Mousasi doesn’t have the fan appeal of a guy like Chael Sonnen, there’s no denying the skills matchup is much better. Both of these guys are young, versatile, improving fighters who are made in the same mold as Jon himself. Both guys have the tools to challenge Jones, and both men bring the added allure of not having faced him before. And, you know, both guys aren’t natural middleweights moving up a weight class.

Either way, the next month should provide plenty of clarity for the UFC’s marquee division.

Tags: Chael Sonnen Jon Jones MMA UFC

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