The UFC LHW division is THE deepest division in the UFC and arguably in the world. There are some HUGE fights taking place in the division over the next 3 months. We'll get to find out if some fighters are contenders or pretenders. Below we will take a look at the division and decide who's a contender and who has gatekeeper written all over them. We'll also look at the upcoming match ups and what a win or loss will do for each particular fighter.
Champion-Forest Griffin is slated to defend his title against Rashad Evans in December at UFC 92. Griffin is coming off two impressive wins in defeating 'Shogun' Rua and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson, two of the best LHW fighters in the world. With his position as champion in MMA's deepest division, he is about to embark on the toughest stretch of fights in his career.
#1 Contender-Rashad Evans MMA4Real's #3 ranked LHW and is coming off a devastating KO win against UFC legend Chuck Liddell. Evans is undefeated in his MMA career and brings a lot of tools to the table that he still hasn't fully tapped into yet. The only question mark in regards to Evans is his stamina, and the ability to impose his will on his opponents during his fights. If he comes into a fight in shape and ready to go...he can beat anyone in the LHW division. The fight against Griffin is very intriguing and is difficult to foresee how it will go.
Rampage Jackson-Jackson is MMA4Real's #2 ranked LHW in the world. I still believe Jackson deserves an immediate re-match against Forrest Griffin. However, with his legal problems I can understand why that isn't happening, and I'm definitely not complaining about getting to see Rampage/Wandy 3 at UFC 92! A win against Wandy pretty much solidifies him as the next logical challenger to the winner of Griffin/Evans. A loss would be devasting as it would be his 3rd loss to Wandy in his career.
Lyoto Machida-Machida is MMA4Real's #4 ranked LHW coming off a dismantling of Tito Ortiz at UFC 84. It's either you love the guy or hate the guy, and I personally like to watch him fight. Then you have the pundits/fans that believe Machida is getting shafted because he hasn't received a title shot yet. However, the fact of the matter is...Machida hasn't beaten anyone to deserve a shot at the title. He beat Ortiz and stopped Sokoudjou and then a long list of nobodies prior to that. Neither Ortiz nor Sokoudjou are even top 5 in the division. Machida has Thiago Silva as his next matchup, Silva's an up and coming contender. However, defeating him still will not earn Machida a title shot because Silva is largely unproven as a fighter in that he hasn't defeated anyone of note. However, that fight will answer a couple of questions like can Machida defeat a very aggressive opponent, and is the hype Thiago Silva getting deserved?
Wanderlei Silva-One of my favorites...Silva is MMA4Real's # 5 ranked LHW and is coming off a 36 second destruction of contender Keith Jardine. Silva's next match up will be against Quinton "Rampage" Jackson as mentioned earlier. A 3rd win over Jackson would catapult him past Machida in terms of who is closer to a title shot. I know Griffin and Silva train together at Extreme Couture, and Silva has mentioned he wouldn't want to fight Griffin. However, that fight could definitely be on the horizon provided both of them win their respective fights.
Brandon Vera-Vera is 1-0 in the LHW division after dropping down from HW. However, that win was very unspectacular and left a lot to be desired. Up next for "The Truth" is Keith Jardine at UFC 89, and that fight will prove one of two things. Establish Vera as a true contender over a legit opponent, or shed the title of 'gatekeeper' I presently have for Jardine at the moment.
Sokoudjou-Sokoudjou is MMA4Real's #9 ranked LHW...he burst on the scene in PRIDE destroying top ten opponents(at the time) Ricardo Arona and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. I'm still not particularly sold on Sokoudjou because those fights lasted all of about 3 minutes combined and he's still relatively inexperienced along with a setback loss to Lyoto Machida. Sokoudjou has a VERY dangerous fight at UFC 89 as he takes on relatively unknown Arthur Luis Cane. Cane is legit with all of his wins coming via TKO or Submission. A win for Sokoudjou here sets him up for a fight against a possible top contender.
Shogun Rua-Rua is MMA4Real's #7 ranked LHW and is coming off at submission loss to Forrest Griffin and multiple surgeries on his knee(s). The former PRIDE standout will face UFC hall of famer Mark Coleman in early 2009. This fight is basically a gimmie fight in my opinion(provided his knee is healed) and should put Shogun right back in the mix with a fight against a 'big name' opponent in his next fight.
Thiago Silva-Silva is an undefeated up and coming prospect that many people have fell in love with for some odd reason...even ranking him as high as the #7 LHW in the world in some places. He's has a very exciting style, yet hasn't defeated anyone of note at the moment(unless you are counting Houston Alexander). Up next is Lyoto Machida, and as I mentioned earlier this fight will answer a lot of questions. A win over Machida instantly catapults him up the ranks. I would list him as a top ten fighter if that happens...exactly where would depend on how he won.
Rich Franklin-Franklin is coming off a TKO win over Matt Hamill at UFC 88 and will be facing Dan Henderson in early 2009. Henderson was ranked at LHW before he dropped down to the MW division. A win for Franklin here puts him in line to face one of the top dogs in the division.
Dan Henderson-Henderson is coming off a unimpressive win against Rousimar Palhares at UFC 88 in the MW division. Henderson will venture back up to LHW to face Rich Franklin in early 2009. A win over Franklin puts him right back in the mix in a stacked LHW division.
Keith Jardine-Jardine is MMA4Real's #8 ranked LHW...poor Keith...he wins a big fight then either gets beat by a nobody or absolutely destroyed by Wanderlei Silva. However, Jardine is a legit fight and will face Brandon Vera at UFC 89. While Vera's not a top contender at the moment(he was at HW), a win over him would put Jardine right back in the mix of things and help him shed the gatekeeper tag I have on him right now. However, a loss to Vera would be devastating and he would definitely be nothing but a gatekeeper then.
Chuck Liddell-The former champ comes in as the # 6 ranked LHW after his crucial KO loss to Rashad Evans at UFC 88. That loss pushes him at least 3 wins away from a title shot. He has the gatekeeper label simply because anyone that beats him now gets instant credibility and a win over him would catapult them up the LHW ranks. Liddell currently doens't have a fight scheduled at the moment.
Jon Jones-Is an exciting up and coming prospect who made his UFC debut at UFC 87 defeating former IFL fighter and favorite Andre Gusmao. Jones currently doesn't have a fight scheduled, but be on the lookout as the guy is fun to watch.
Antonio Mendes-Yea, I know he lost in his UFC debut to Thiago Silva at UFC 84...but the guy showed he has some skills and is aggressive. He rocked Silva twice with kicks that were partially blocked and is currently 14-3. It's rumored that he'll be fighting again early next year.
Arthur Luis Cane-As I mentioned early Cane is legit and will be facing Sokoudjou at UFC 89. All of Cane's wins have come via either submission or stoppage. A win over Sokoudjou definitely puts him on the map so to speak. Keep an eye out for this guy.
So hold on to your seats....we have big LHW matches happening at UFC 89(we'll get to see them for FREE on Spike) and a huge LHW fights at UFC 92. It's a great time to be a MMA fan.