MMA’s Light Heavyweight Division: More Exciting than Ever!

By Mike Sloan Nov 18, 2003
In life, there are some things that get people’s heart racing at perilous rates. It can be anything, really, depending on the individual. For me, it’s the eager anticipation and eventual purchase of my favorite bands’ newest albums. Other times it is huge boxing matches like Trinidad/Vargas, Barrera/Morales 1 & 2 or Gatti/Ward 1-3.

At this point in time, however, something has replaced everything else as the mandatory thrill factor. What is it, you ask? It’s the unbelievably white hot division that leads mixed martial arts in terms of competition, star-quality competitors and, more importantly, the stellar matchups that can be made in infinite combinations.

That division, of course, is the light heavyweight (middleweight in Japan) class in MMA. With Randy Couture’s meteoric rise atop the UFC ladder and the massively compelling saga that was PRIDE’s Grand Prix, nothing comes close in terms of sheer magnificence and exhilaration that is the 205 lb. weight class. It’s more exciting, even, than meeting the gorgeous Jewel in person.

Right now, the debate that ravages the forums and media outlets is who the best in the class is. Is it Couture, the UFC’s undisputed light heavyweight king? Is it Wanderlei Silva, PRIDE’s unchallenged monarch? That is a debate that will burn deeply for ages until they actually meet face to face, providing neither loses in the near future.

On one side of the coin, one can argue that Couture is the world’s best at 205. He’s a former UFC heavyweight champ and after dropping in weight to face guys more or less his size, he beat the living snot out of world-recognized #1 contender Chuck Liddell in the main event of UFC 43 in June.

He was granted the interim title and was eventually given the chance to square off with recognized UFC titlist Tito Ortiz at UFC 44. As we all know, Couture dominated the cocky trash-talking Ortiz from start to finish, sweeping every round in the fight. Never before had Ortiz been so beaten and dismantled. Couture, everybody agreed, was the world’s best in the division.

On the other side, we have Silva, PRIDE’s king. While Couture suffered two consecutive losses just before dropping in weight, Silva has gone undefeated at 13-0-1 with 1 no contest over the past three and a half years. Since that last loss, a decision at the hands of Ortiz in UFC 25, Silva has been remarkable. He won decisions over Dan Henderson and Hidehiko Yoshida and drew with Mirko Filipovic, but he has also scored dramatic knockouts over such foes as Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Guy Mezger and most recently, Quinton Jackson.

Who is better; Couture or Silva? We can’t quite gauge who is, really, because they have to face each other in order to solve the mystery. The UFC has organized Couture to defend his title against the resurging Vitor Belfort, who is fresh off a brutal knockout of Marvin Eastman. If Couture can topple Belfort a second time (they met at heavyweight in UFC 15), it could be the deciding factor as to who really is #1. With the mass MMA public not sure on who Silva will face next, it’s surely open for debate.

Aside from Silva and Couture, the light heavyweight division is chock full of some of the most fervid matchups known to man. Liddell, though a loser by TKO in two of his last three fights, still commands respect and admiration and could easily find himself in against yet another top-rank fighter. Jackson, a younger dude with uncanny skills, still has a little way to go before he can take over as king of the hill, is an intriguing opponent no matter who he faces.

Let’s not forget about Henderson, who just trounced Murilo Bustamante, Yoshida off the strength of his gutsy performance versus Silva, Sakuraba who seems to never disappear by coming from behind to submit Kevin Randleman or Jeremy Horn, the iron horse of MMA who can beat anybody on any given day.

On top of those blokes, there is the recovering Ricardo Arona, the re-emerging Sobral and rising contender Rich Franklin. Even Eastman can fit into the mix somewhere on the strength of his traumatic striking ability. Picture any of the fifteen or so major light heavyweights just mentioned, toss them into a lotto machine and you have an instant jackpot no matter what matchups pops out.

Zuffa has already scheduled Ortiz/Liddell for March and Couture/Belfort for January. PRIDE is still secretive as of late, but it’s a sure bet that both Silva and Henderson will be facing top-flight foes, if not each other. With the rest of the litter, who can complain about possible showdowns between, say, Randleman vs. Franklin, Arona vs. Bustamante (if he stays at 205), Yoshida vs. Sakuraba, Horn vs. Arona, Franklin vs. Eastman, Jackson vs. Belfort, Ortiz vs. Horn, Couture vs. Jackson, Liddell vs. Franklin or the grand daddy of them all, the rematch between Silva and Belfort?

Bar none, the 205 division is the most exciting and important class in MMA. More so than the lightweights, a helluva lot more than the welterweights and easily more than the heavyweights. Right now in MMA, the light heavyweight division is more exciting than the heavyweights in boxing in the 1970’s and the middleweights in the 1950’s. Man, what a grand time to be an MMA fan/journalist!

Now, if only PRIDE and UFC can continue to work together to give us fans what we crave…

Mike Sloan ([email protected]) would NEVER photoshop and distribute a pic of him and his grandmother.
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