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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.