Who’s No. 2 at 205?

By Ben Zeidler Mar 12, 2008
All too often, being No. 2 in the world just doesn't cut it. Go ahead and ask John Kerry or the New England Patriots, two recent examples that second place is really just the first loser.

In MMA, however, where the No. 1 light heavyweight spot has been defiantly claimed by a howling, chained figure called Rampage, second best will have to do.

MMA debates can rage on for decades -- just ask an old timer: Gracie or Sakuraba? -- and so it only makes sense that with a clear No. 1, the discussion of No. 2 begins. For the fighters, this isn't a discussion of second best (they all think they're the best) as much as it is a discussion of who's in line for the next title shot. With Quinton Jackson (Pictures) the undeniable top 205 pounder in the world, let's take a look at the potential candidates, in no particular order, for No. 2.

Forrest Griffin (Pictures)

Why he's not No. 1: He has a bad loss to another potential contender (Keith Jardine (Pictures)) and a valiant loss to the UFC's gatekeeper (Tito Ortiz (Pictures)). Griffin also lacks the résumé of other fighters like Chuck Liddell (Pictures) and Mauricio Rua (Pictures) who have beaten the best in the biz on multiple occasions.

Why he's No. 2: Where to start? Forrest's scintillating win over Mauricio Rua (Pictures) catapulted him into title contention, but he owned the fans' love way before that. It started with his groundbreaking fight with Stephan Bonnar (Pictures), during which ratings actually increased due to fans calling their friends and imploring them to tune in. The popularity continued with his fight against Tito, which even though he lost, ended up being a fight of the year candidate. The win over Rua, then ranked by many as the top 205 pounder in the world, just solidified what his fans already knew. The UFC also gave him a vote of confidence as the No. 2 with a title shot against Jackson.

Verdict: With a win over Quinton Jackson (Pictures), Griffin is No. 1, no questions asked. However, a loss probably pushes him toward the tail end of the top 10, where he resided prior to the Rua shocker. A discussion of Griffin as No. 2 isn't really worth the time.

Lyoto Machida (Pictures)

Why he's not No. 1: Other than Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou (Pictures), Machida hasn't beaten any UFC stars during his time with the company. Before that big win at UFC 79, all of his victories came via unanimous decision, which just won't cut it when Joe Silva has a roster of 200-plus fighters to balance. Additionally, the majority of Machida's fights have not been featured on the televised card, meaning that the mainstream fan has little idea who or what Machida is.

Why he's No. 2: Before his 4-0 stint in the UFC, Lyoto beat both Rich Franklin (Pictures) and B.J. Penn (Pictures) -- fighters who would go on to be two of the most successful in the company during its expansion. Back to that Sokoudjou fight: The African judo champ came into the bout as one of the most celebrated free agent signings in years. He had steamrolled two Pride favorites, and those who knew little about Machida expected him to suffer the same fate against Sokoudjou. Instead, Machida's methodical style downright embarrassed the Team Quest prodigy. Need more evidence? Machida is undefeated in his career, which dates back nearly five years.

Verdict: Machida is very good (my current No. 2), but a fight against Ortiz might be more to embarrass Tito than to raise Machida. Don't get me wrong: Tito is a quality opponent, but he's not the caliber of fighter Jardine is taking on. Even with a good win over Tito, Machida could be lapped by a fighter with a more impressive win.

Keith Jardine (Pictures)

Why he's not No. 1: For a guy with an endless upside (an unorthodox style and a proclivity for finishing fights), Jardine's shortcomings can be summed in one, unfortunate fight: an astounding first-minute knockout loss at the hands of Houston Alexander (Pictures). It wouldn't have been so bad if Alexander didn't get knocked out a few events later. Rather than putting Jardine on the wrong end of a new star, he simply appeared to be the victim of a good, not great Alexander.

Why he's No. 2: He has wins over two of the other potential snake eyes, Chuck Liddell (Pictures) and Forrest Griffin (Pictures). The victories were different in style but similar in importance. Against Liddell, more recently, Jardine used his kicks to disrupt Liddell's plan and maintain distance. In the Griffin fight, Jardine was simply the hungrier fighter, connecting on devastating combinations early and often. An upcoming win against legend Wanderlei Silva (Pictures) at UFC 84 would all but cement Jardine in that second spot, even if Machida is able to outlast Tito Ortiz (Pictures).

Verdict: Keith Jardine (Pictures) can easily lay claim to the No. 2 spot by defeating Silva, which would represent a personal sweep of two of the most popular MMA fighters of all time.

Chuck Liddell (Pictures)

Why he's not No. 1: Despite being the most popular fighter in the history of the UFC, Liddell is an uncharacteristic 1-2 in his last three fights, including a loss to Jardine (a fight he "should have won"). He's looked a little blank too, missing that air of confidence he easily displayed during his incredible seven-fight win streak.

Why he's No. 2: He has two wins against Tito Ortiz (Pictures) and Randy Couture (Pictures) (each!). Not enough to convince you? Liddell looked like his old self as he pounded away at the favorite, Wanderlei Silva (Pictures), during their UFC 79 fight. Nearly knocking out Wandy on multiple occasions, Liddell showed no fear as he pecked away for 15 straight minutes.

Verdict: Even an impressive knockout over Rashad Evans (Pictures) in their June 7 bout won't be enough for Liddell to challenge Jardine at that second spot. Evans represents a top-10 opponent, but he's no Shogun. A win would be Liddell's second impressive victory in a row, but the sheer fact that he holds a loss to Jardine would probably hurt him enough in the voter's eyes to keep him at third.

Mauricio Rua (Pictures)

Why he's not No. 1: A HUGE loss to Forrest Griffin (Pictures). No knock on Griffin -- the loss itself isn't that troubling. The problem for Rua lies in what the loss meant. The UFC booked him in the fight as a tune-up before an obvious title shot against Rampage. With Henderson just having been defeated and Wanderlei not yet ready to fight, the UFC expected to pit Rua against its newly crowned king. Griffin disrupted all that, emphatically tacking a loss on Rua's record and throwing him off the title path. This week, Rua was also sidelined with his second serious knee injury in six months. How can a fighter claim to be in line for a title if he never fights?

Why he's No. 2: Just take a look at Rua's career before the Griffin loss. Rua holds wins against Jackson, Ricardo Arona (Pictures), Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (Pictures) and a host of others. With the exception of a freak elbow dislocation at Pride 31, Rua hadn't lost since September 2003. I dare you to find a more impressive résumé among the other contenders. Although his upcoming fight with Liddell has been temporarily cancelled, the UFC won't waste its opportunity to put Rua against a contender. And when the promotion does, Rua will have the option of continuing his slide down the power ladder or reclaiming his spot atop the leader board.

Verdict: Rua can do much to improve his failed UFC reputation with a win against a top opponent, but he'll have to wait to get his chance. By the time he puts the gloves on again, you can bet that one of the guys above will have made his definitive case in the title hunt.

Ben Zeidler is a rankings panelist for MMAMadness.com, Fight Magazine and HDNet's Inside MMA
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