Five Ounces of Pain Ranks the Light Heavyweights

It’s the “Return of the Rankings”, as the fellowship featuring senior staff writer Brendhan Conlan and grizzled editor T. E. Halterman decided it was time to take a look at a division in turmoil in an effort to sort out our take on who’s hot – and who’s not – among the light heavyweights in MMA.

Light Heavyweight Rankings (186 to 205 lbs.)

Conlan and Halterman put together their lists and face off here:

Conlan’s Fine Fifteen -

1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (19-4)

When healthy there is no better light heavyweight than Rua, though in fairness his overall durability deserves questioning based on a number of injury-related issues he’s had in his career.

2. Lyoto Machida (16-1)

If Machida beats “Rampage” Jackson at UFC 123 there’s a significant chance he’ll supplant Rua in my rankings. Compare their activity since 2007 and you’ll see the grounds for debate.

3. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)

Evans’ wins may not always be as pretty as his custom-made suits, but he gets the job done with heavy hands, excellent footwork, and a rock-solid wrestling base. He has a single loss in his career and it came to the #2 fighter on this list. Need I say more?

4. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (30-8)

Jackson is as tough a draw as can be had at 205-pounds. He hasn’t been finished in more than five years, and both of his decision-losses in that period were extremely close results that could have gone either way.

5. Jon Jones (11-1)

Jones is a downward-elbow away from being 12-0, so it’s hard to find fault in him for the DQ loss to Matt Hamill a year ago. At 23, he’s mature for his age and has yet to show any real weaknesses in his game. He is not only the future at light heavyweight, but also very much the present.

6. Forrest Griffin (17-6)

Griffin has been out of action for nearly a year so he’s only holding on to his ranking by a thread. However, when he isn’t sidelined with an injury, Griffin has found a way to will himself to victory against the cream of MMA’s crop. He’s large for a LHW, has good hands and equally decent wrestling, and also possesses an underrated set of jiu-jitsu skills.

7. Gegard Mousasi (30-3-1)

The next three athletes on this list are almost 7A, 7B, and 7C for me. However, Mousasi gets the official nod at “7” because he has ten more total bouts than Bader/Cavalcante combined. He’s beaten a number of talented opponents in various weight-classes and is 17-1 since August 2006. If he had 1-2 bigger wins at 205-pounds he’d be at “6” with Griffin sliding down a notch.

8. Ryan Bader (12-0)

Undefeated in twelve fights, Bader has had strong showings against ranked LHWs and rarely found himself in a compromising position at any point in his career. Still needs refining but has the raw skills to keep climbing the divisional ladder.

9. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (10-2)

If it wasn’t for Cavalcante’s TKO loss to Mike Kyle in June 2009 he’d likely be a few spots higher than he currently is. Great hands for a BJJ guy, but still needs to show his skills against a higher level of adversary before sniffing a “Top 5” nod.

10. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4)

“Little Nog” had won seven-straight before losing a close decision to Bader at UFC 119. With past wins over Dan Henderson and Alistair Overeem, as well as his more-recent success in the ring, Nogueira is definitely still a “Top 10” LHW regardless of the defeat.

11. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (7-1)

In Lawal’s case I’m admittedly ranking him more on potential rather than what he’s actually accomplished in the cage. He’s extremely talented, but still fairly new to MMA and needs polishing.

12. Anderson Silva (27-4)

If Silva had another win or two at light heavyweight he would easily be part of my “Top 10”. However, until he makes a more-permanent jump to the division I have a hard time putting him amongst the best (though I don’t doubt he’d easily climb there with the move).

13. Thiago Silva (14-2)

Though Silva has fallen in two of his last three bouts, the losses came to #2 and #3 on this list. Beyond that he’s finished thirteen of the fourteen other foes he’s faced in his career.

14. Rich Franklin (28-5)

Franklin has only fought a few times at 205 but he’s looked good in all of the showings minus an opening round TKO loss to Vitor Belfort in September 2009. Still, I’d pick “Ace” over the majority of the UFC’s 205ers based on what he’s done so far in the division and his overall skillset.

15. Matt Hamill (9-2)

This spot is a toss-up in a lot of ways for me, as there are definitely a few other LHWs who are nearly if not equally deserving of the distinction. However, Hamill stands out to me based on his heart, chin, and combination of wrestling/power. He can grind most opponents down to a pulp to procure a decision or knock them out, whether standing or in top position.

Halterman’s Fine Fifteen -

1. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (19-4)

Shogun sits atop the pile for one reason: everyone else is unproven or coming off some sort of adversity.

2. Lyoto Machida (16-1)

The Dragon is still the Dragon, but the question is, does he still have the requisite fire to compete at the top level in this hungry division?

3 Jon Jones (11-1)

Has all the tools – explosive and creative – and most important for a fighter, he has youth on his side in a division filled with veterans.

4. Rashad Evans (15-1-1)

Evans’ comeback is progressing nicely, but he’s not huge and seems reluctant to play to his wrestling strength when the heat is on.

5. Quinton Jackson (30-8)

Movie star? Fighter? Not sure he knows, and that’s an issue. If Rampage is sick of training, well, you know what you get – gassed.

6. Forrest Griffin (17-6)

Wants nothing to do with Jon Jones. Hard to blame him for that, no one does. Griffin does have the one thing a fighter needs to make him truly dangerous, and that’s a ton of heart.

7. Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante (10-2)

Certainly a wild card, but his win over King Mo answered a raft of questions.

8. Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal (7-1)

I’m thinking the loss to “Feijao” was a blip on the radar screen for Lawal, and that he’ll learn from the defeat and come back stronger

9. Ryan Bader (12-0)

He just wins, and that’s good enough, but his list of victims isn’t hugely impressive.

10. Gegard Mousasi (30-3-1)

Mousasi got some redemption with his DREAM title, but looked overmatched against “King Mo,” and he should find that worrisome.

11. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (19-4)

I like “Little Nog,” but he’s getting a little too long in the tooth to compete at the top level of this division. The loss to Bader is, sadly, the signal of less impressive things to come for this tough and skilled journeyman.

12. Anderson Silva (27-4)

Why is he on this list, you ask? Because he’d blow through this division like he he’s hammered nearly every middleweight. The Sonnen fight, while entertaining as hell, proved that there’s no giveup in the champ.

13. Hector Lombard (27-2-1)

While I’m ranking fighters out of their true weight class, as with Anderson Silva, Lombard is as tough as anyone on the division a step above. He would be small for a LHW, but packs a ton of punching power and his full frontal stylistic assault would make him dangerous against larger, slower opponents.

14. Rich Franklin (28-5)

Ace is the man. The consummate professional, his training habits and technical ability make him a match for anyone at middleweight and LHW. He may be nearing the end of the line, but anyone he’s in with will know they have a fight on their hands.

15. Matt Hamill (9-2)

Wrestler. Tough guy. Hard worker. If you haven’t noticed, that’s a formula for success in MMA.

15 COMMENTS
  • JabCrossHook says:

    Mousasi looked overmatched against King Mo? Sorry but landing takedowns and barely doing anything with them while getting your face pounded by hammer fists from the bottom and upkicks, almost getting KOed in the process, and winning the fight akin to a wet blanket. That’s hardly overmatching someone, if this was Pride judging Mousasi would’ve won but you the judges and the rest of the MMA community have a hard-on for takedowns even though they don’t go anywhere.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 2

  • boomnutz says:

    i wasn’t going to comment, but you’re supposed to be an editor?!? you should know the material you cover, because Mousasi did not looked overmatched, he got robbed as a matter of fact. Jab’s got it right, he did a ton more damage off his back than King Mo did. King Mo couldn’t see out of his eye, shit was swollen shut…

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 9 Thumb down 1

  • Rece Rock says:

    I don’t understand why there’s so many guys from outside the weight class when there’s plenty of fighters in the weight class to make mention of… I just hate rankings anyway.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  • Not going to make a habit of this, but yes, I am supposed to be an editor and am in fact just that. I watched that fight and saw it this way: Mousasi has no takedown defense. That is a huge flaw in his game and one which will wipe you off the map in modern MMA.

    In terms of judging a fight, I’ll always give the edge to someone who controls the action over a fighter who lays on his back and hopes ear slaps will win a decision.

    I agree that Lawal looked pretty bad after taking a big shot in the second round, but Mousasi ultimately gassed and had no answer for Lawal’s wrestling. To me, that says Lawal made the correct strategic decisions and moved the needle in his favor. As I recall, there was no great hue and cry that it was a bad decision at the time, because it wasn’t a bad decision, just a not-so-exciting fight. Just one man’s opinion…

    http://www.sherdog.com/videos/videointerview/King-Mo-Me-Against-the-World-2388

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 4

  • Spoken says:

    i can already see that this is going off topic from the original post, but here goes…

    i think that guard needs to be viewed as neutral position in mma, similar to standing or over-under clinch. any bjj fighter can tell you that having someone in your guard is equally as dangerous as being the one in guard. what they lack in striking advantage they make up for in hip control and submission options. few submissions are available when you’re locked up in guard, while the possibilities from the bottom are vast. the bottom fighter has control over the hips of his opponent with his legs, while the top fighter needs to break that guard to establish control of the bottom. i really have a hard time seeing bottom position in guard as a disadvantageous. it should be scored as standing and over-under is, in that points lie in how you use the position, and not just the fact that you have said position. takedowns should be valued in scoring, but so should effective use of the guard bottom position. thats my 2 cents.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  • Creature says:

    Not 2 many pics that id disagree with except on having king mo above ryan bader, and not having rich franklin top 10, i believe he should be # 10 and would beat king mo, hes got better stand up no doubt and has ju jitsu skills 2 sub him more times than not, rich continues to be underrated, just my oppinion tho.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  • JabCrossHook says:

    Yeah what’s the deal with adding Lombard anyway? What happens when Shlemenko knocks him out? Though unlikely, its still possible.

    And if you’re going to put in Lil Nog and MATT HAMILL, and not put in Jason Brilz then I really don’t know what to say. Honestly Matt Hamill looked terrible against Keith Jardine.

    Not to mention, Mousasi is great off his back, maybe he was planning on submitting King Mo but Mo pretty much stood over him trying to land BS GnP shots while getting upkicked and hammer fisted in the face. King Mo avoided the guard of Mousasi as much as possible and never really tried to pass his guard or mount him because he knew Mousasi would transition into a submission. Not to mention, the real question behind that fight is simple, who did more significant damage? That upkick that knocked Mo down for a second already seals the deal.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 3

  • Creature says:

    and where is randy couture in this? not even top 15 u gotta be kidding me lol, both of you r meaning 2 tell me matt hamil, king mo, and even bader r better than randy? i believe bader and randy would be a close fight but still.. note even top 15, did you just forget about the natural or something?

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  • Swing Em says:

    1. Shogun Rua

    2. Lyoto Machida

    3. Rashad Evans

    4. Jon Jones

    5. Rampage Jackson

    6. Gegard Mousasi

    7. Ryan Bader

    8. Randy Couture

    9. Thiago Silva

    10. Anderson Silva

    11. Rich Franklin

    12. Rafael Cavalcante

    13. Mo Lawal

    14. Rogerio Nogueira

    15. Forrest Griffin

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  • Brendhan Conlan says:

    With the exception of a VERY questionable decision against Brandon Vera, Randy Couture hasn’t beaten a relevant opponent in three years (Gabriel Gonzaga) or a relevant light heavyweight since 2004 (Vitor Belfort). He’s borderline “Top 15″ and one of the many people I considered giving Hamill’s spot to.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 0

  • Whoa, my bad, Brendhan thinks I’m a dick, but missing The Natural on the list was an error…

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  • Creature says:

    Randy may not have “beaten” anyone “relevent” lately but he has put on great fights with top guys, the lesnar fight he was holding his own against a much bigger guy, did alot better than mir did on the 2nd fight or heath herring did. and the nog fight is in my oppinion 1 of the best fights of 2009. and hes a multi time 205 champ who has shown he still has what it takes 2 compete with the best. def should have him in there before hamil without hesitation. who was the last relevent fighter hamil beat at 205?? def not jardine lol not 2 pick a fight just stating my oppinion brandon.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 4 Thumb down 1

  • MCM says:

    Creature is right, Randy and Ace get no love.
    Apparently neither does Thiago Silva. Really? Matt Hamil over Thiago Silva?

    Thanks for doing the rankings again though, I’m definitely looking forward to seeing the rest of the weight classes.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 1

  • Sykotick says:

    Ok 1st off, Lyoto Machida at #2…

    The dragon is coming off a loss in his last fight and before that one he won a VERY questionable desision against Shogun. Now, I’m all for him being too 10 but anyone coming off a loss means you’re not #2, rankings should be about skills and wins, IMO.

    Now, the lack of Couture.

    I personally love captain America but no he don’t, deserve to be top 15 because aside from Brandon Vera I don’t think he has any victories at 205. Beating Brandon Vera doesn’t mean your In the tops. Yes he is a multiple time champ, yes he probably can beat most of the bottom tier top 10ers, but he hasn’t and hasn’t consistantly fought enough competition at LHW.

    Finally, King Mo ranked at all.

    Isn’t King Mo like 7-1? Who has he beaten besides Gegard? Against higher levels of competition he is like 1-1 and that somehow makes you top 10? No way, at best he is top 15.

    Oh, one more, how is Jon Jones in the top 5 on that one list?

    Yes Jonny Bones is a BAAAD MFer and could probably smash most top 5 guys in EVERY division, but truth be told, he has beaten 2 guys that are AT BEST gatekeepers in Vera and Matushenko, but that doesn’t bump you up to top 5 when people like Page, T. Silva, Griffen, and Bader make up the meat of that ranking and he hasn’t taken on a one of them.

    I think when ranking fighters things need to not be about how good a fighter is and more about how have they done lately, but those are just my 2 cents

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

  • Dufresne says:

    I love Randy, but he hasn’t done anything in the LHW division lately that makes me put him in the top 10 of the most dynamic weight class in MMA. Definitly top 15, but I can’t justify top 10.

    Rich Franklin has done more than Randy at 205 lately, and I think he should be in the top 10 probably around the #7-8 spot.

    I thought Mousasi won against Lawal, and I was upset but not surprised by the decision loss there. I still think he’s better than Lawal as his submission game and striking are much more advanced than Lawal. If Mo takes the initiative and works on his standup a bit more, their roles could be reversed in the next year or so.

    Rampage is actually the fighter I’m having the most position placing. He’s gone 2-2 in his last 4 with one of those wins being over Glass Joe Jardine and the other against an aging Wandy. But at the same time his losses were both decision losses against a title challenger and then a former title holder. So his wins aren’t overly impressive to me, but his losses are. It just makes it impossible for me to figure out where to put him. It’s like paper/rock/scissors but it’s Evans/Rampage/Machida. I guess if he manages to beat Machida it’ll make it a lot easier to figure out.

    Agree or Disagree: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 1

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