UFC: Future of the Light Heavyweight Division

On Saturday June 1st, fight fans in Stockholm, Sweden were treated to an excellent fight card at Ericsson Globe. The UFC Fight Night 153: Gustafsson vs Smith card was full of intriguing fights. However in the aftermath of the event, two ranked light heavyweight competitors called it quits and announced their respective retirements. And while there is some level of certainty that Jon Jones the champ of that division will stay put for a while, barring any unforeseen issues, it is unclear who will emerge as an equal to try and compete with him.

Manuwa Hangs up the Gloves

The co-main event at UFC Fight Night 153 featured light heavyweights Jimi Manuwa and Aleksandar Rakić. Manuwa was ranked number 11 in the division and Rakić was unranked coming into the fight. However Rakić proved that he shouldn’t be overlooked. He finished the fight with a left head kick 47 seconds in, to knock Manuwa out cold. The victory put Rakić into the number 11 spot, with Manuwa falling out of the rankings completely.

The following Tuesday after the fight Manuwa announced his retirement via social media, giving a heartfelt thanks to all those who supported him along the way. He started his MMA career with a bang, going 15-1. But after four consecutive losses and going 2-5 in his last seven fights, the 39 year old decided it was time to call it quits. He finished his career with a 17-6 record.

Although Manuwa was not a top 10 ranked fighter in the light heavyweight division, his retirement leaves a void. The division is now down one power hitter. But it also leaves the door open for someone else to take his place. Rakić finished the night with a 12-1 record. Nine of those victories were via knockout. He proved that he belongs in the UFC with the elites, and he might very well be be a competitor for the title soon!

The Show is Over for Alex “The Mauler”

The main event at UFC Fight Night 153 between Alexander ” The Mauler” Gustafsson and Anthony “Lionheart” Smith was a bout between two fighter who had just competed for the UFC Light Heavyweight title. Both had fought Jones in their last fights and lost. And this fight was perhaps a redemption bout. The winner would have a chance to work his way back to title contention. The fight went mostly Smith’s way for the first two rounds. But Gustafsson had a good third round. And then in the fourth round, Smith went for a rear naked choke and ended up winning the fight by submission. During the post-fight octagon interviews, Gustafsson thanked his home crowd of Stockholm for their support. He then proclaimed “The Show is Over Guys” as he dropped his gloves onto the octagon canvas.

That proclamation by Gustafsson signaled that his UFC career was over. Although he pushed all-time great fighters like Jones and Daniel Cormier the distance, he had three chances at the UFC Light Heavyweight title and was unable to win it. There would not likely be a fourth shot. And rather than be a gate keeper in the division for younger fighters, he chose to leave on his own terms. He was number two in the division, but went down to four after the loss. So with his departure a top five competitor leave the ranks.

Is it Smith?

Smith moved from number four to number three in the rankings with his victory. His whole career he has been proving himself. And after the victory against Gustafsson he may have to prove himself yet again. He will take some time off to heal from his injuries, but when he comes back he will likely have to defeat another top fighter in the division before he can get another crack at the title.

Bright Shining Reyes

Jon Jones defends his title against Thiago Santos at UFC 239 on Saturday, July 6th. Jones is a heavy favorite. And if he wins as most predict will happen, a new competitor would need to step up and challenge him. And his next opponent may not be someone who previously fought against him. It may be an up-and-comer. One individual who could potentially fill this role is Dominick Reyes.

Reyes has an 11-0 professional MMA record and sits at number five in the division. Eight of those 11 fights he finished either by knockout or submission. In his last fight he defeated Volkan Oezdemir (ranked number seven) by split decision back in March. He has a bright future, but might need one more fight before he is ready to face off against Jones. All the fighters ahead of him in the light heavyweight division are either booked for an upcoming fight, or are on a hiatus. So a logical fight would be against Corey Anderson, who sits at number eight in the division. Adding a victory against another top ranked light heavyweight would surely vault Reyes into title shot talks.

Next Man Up

Jones still has not found another light heavyweight that can defeat him. As he has defeated most of his contemporaries in the division, it is up to a new fighter to step up to the challenge. Jones needs a new adversary. Will it be Smith that comes back stronger than ever and pushes him in a rematch? Will it be Rakić or Reyes that become the future of the division? Stay tuned and find out!

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