Heavyweight has been and always will be the glamour division of any combat sport, but for the better part of the last ten years the deepest division in MMA has been at the 205 lbs limit. The division's reputation was built on the backs of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, and Wanderlei Silva, and with a solid supporting cast of Quinton Jackson, Ricardo Arona, Dan Henderson and a handful of others.
As 2011 approaches, the only two fighters with any divisional relevance out of that group are Jackson and Henderson, the former charging on in the UFC and the latter wading through Strikeforce. Although the highest cluster of talent in the division remains under contract to Zuffa, an interesting group of fighters exist on the margin outside of the UFC.
The Known Commodoties:
Dan Henderson is undoubtedly the most known light-heavyweight outside the UFC and has just staked a claim as Strikeforce's #1 contender with a brutal KO of Renato "Babalu" Sobral. The loss was a definitive ending to Sobral's decade-long stint as a top competitor at 205 lbs. Holding Strikeforce's title is Rafael Cavalcante who has regained his momentum following an upset loss to Mike Kyle last year. Back in August, the Brazilian brawler showcased bone-crushing power and solid takedown defense in winning the championship from decorated wrestler Muhammad Lawal.
Former Strikeforce champion Gegard Mousasi won the DREAM Light-Heavyweight Grand Prix this summer with a pair of victories over Jake O'Brien and Tatsuya Mizuno. The young Dutch-Armenian is set to return stateside next year, and if his stamina and takedown defense have developed at all he be a threat to anyone in the division. Jeff Monson continues to fight every month and his stifling, ADCC-winning grappling would pose a threat to most fighters at light-heavyweight, if he only he could get with the top fighters in the UFC or Strikeforce. But, such is life for an anarchist in the 21st Century...
The Fresh Faces:
I know I listed Mousasi as a "Known Commodity" and that listing him here is sort of cheating, but Mousasi is truly a fighter we know a good bit about but are still waiting to learn more. He has 34 bouts (a record of 30-3-1) under his belt but is still only 25 years old, a work rate highly uncommon at the highest levels of modern MMA. He won his first DREAM Grand Prix at middleweight, a division where he's beaten respected fighters such as Denis Kang, Melvin Manhoef, Cyborg Santos, current Strikeforce champion Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza and current Bellator champion Hector Lombard.
With dominating victories over Babalu and Sokoudjou upon moving to light-heavyweight, many considered him a top-5 talent. The hype died when King Mo smothered him for five rounds in a grinding decision. It was an affair determined solely by Mousasi fading in the championship rounds and being unable to stop Lawal's shot.
As for the man who took Mousasi's Strikeforce belt, Lawal was clobbered by Cavalcante in his first title defense. King Mo is going to need to develop a striking game that can disguise his powerful takedowns if he wants to make waves in the division. He has a good chin and a solid gas tank, but is almost 30 years old and needs to solve his issues quickly if he wants to stay in the highest levels of MMA.
Roger Gracie is perhaps the world's best BJJ player and his presence in Strikeforce's LHW division is quite intriguing. We still need to find out more about him that what any fight with Kevin Randleman can do these days.
In our next installment, we examine the middleweight talent.