When Jon Jones returned at UFC 214, he brought an obvious boost to the Light Heavyweight division. A division, in which had been in good hands by Daniel Cormier, but obviously missed having whom many consider to be the greatest mixed martial artist of all-time. That statement held true, as Jones successfully recaptured his belt by defeating Daniel Cormier by knockout. It was a rivalry like no other, perhaps the best in UFC history. However, all good things seemingly come to an end.
On August 22, 2017, Jones was flagged by USADA for a potential violation. That violation would wind up being for a steroid named Turinabol. A major blow, considering the result of his comeback and the fact that he just returned from a one year suspension handed down from a previously violation by USADA. Now, this second violation could result in a four year suspension, which would all but end the career of Jones. A man whom was the greatest at his craft and in route to immortality among the combat sports greats. A legacy that will always be talked about in “What if’s”.
With Jones looming suspension, the result of his victory over Cormier was overturned and he was stripped of his Light Heavyweight Championship. The belt was returned to Cormier, who was set to move on and make a title defense against Volkan Oezdemir in the first quarter of 2018. However, yet again, Cormier seems to have been dealt a bad card. On November 19, 2017, Oezdemir was arrested on aggravated battery charges. The arrest all but shelves Oezdemir for the time being and puts Cormier in a precarious position. So what should he do?
Well, I’ll tell you that and how to get this Light Heavyweight division back on track. However, let’s first see what upcoming fights are already booked, along with their significance.
Glover Teixeira vs. Misha Cirkunov (December 16, 2017 – UFC on Fox 26)
– This is a big fight in the Light Heavyweight division, as Teixeira looks to maintain his status as a contender, while making one more push for gold. Meanwhile, Cirkunov looks to rebound from his first defeat in five years, as well as crack the top five in the Light Heavyweight division. Given the lack of depth within the Light Heavyweight division, the winner of this bout could very well be fighting in a number one contender fight next.
Ovince Saint Preux vs. Ilir Latifi (January 27, 2018 – UFC on Fox 27)
– At UFC 217 in Madison Square Garden, Ovince Saint Preux returned to contender status, as he knocked out Corey Anderson in the third-round. It was a closely contested fight, however the judges had Anderson winning heading into the final round. A timely head kick disposed of any need to go to the scorecards and extended Saint Preux’s winning streak to three. Previous to the streak, Saint Preux had lost three consecutive fights, which caused many to write off the former title challenger.
As for Latifi, it must of been somewhat of a shock to be called out by Saint Preux given their recent trajectory and the fact that Saint Preux is ranked ahead of him. Make no mistake about it though, Latifi is steadily climbing the Light Heavyweight division. With a 6-3 UFC record, Latifi has cleaned up the bottom of the division. It’s the the top of the division that he can’t crack, as his last defeat to Ryan Bader was a golden opportunity missed. Latifi would bounce back at UFC 215 against Tyson Pedro and now has another golden opportunity to make noise against Saint Preux.
The winner of this bout will no doubt line themselves up for something special, but it’s Ovince Saint Preux who could potentially earn a title shot.
Jan Blachowicz vs. Jared Cannonier (December 16, 2017 – UFC on Fox 26)
– This should be an exciting fight, as both men are strikers whom happen to have legit power in their hands. Blachowicz might be a little craftier when it comes to submissions, as he showed in his last fight against Devin Clark. Also, Blachowicz’s vastly improved takedown defense has turned him into a legit threat. If you think about his four UFC losses, he was taken down and smothered in three of them. That includes Alexander Gustafsson, who Blachowicz was getting the better of on the feet.
As for Cannonier, this is a big opportunity at building a streak and having some consistency in the UFC. With a 3-2 UFC record, the heavy-handed brawler hasn’t quite took the UFC by storm. Perhaps fighting Glover Teixeira in only eleventh professional fight, fourth in the UFC, was a bit too soon. However, Cannonier still has potential and his style always will have a place inside the octagon. Can he get back on track? We’ll see!
Much like the UFC Heavyweight division, the Light Heavyweight division lacks depth. It’s a top heavy division that features aged fighters, with most coming over the age of 32. That’s an issue now and potentially a real problem in five years when the division’s best are retired. Now I know part of the issue regarding the depth of the division stems from losing Ryan Bader and Phil Davis to Bellator, but there’s plenty of talent out there. Guys like Rashid Yusopov, Batraz Agnaev, Viktor Nemkov, Tomasz Narkun, Stephan Puetz are top tier talent out there. Even bringing back Nikita Krylov should be an option.
Anyways, even with the lack of depth, there’s fights to make and names to build. So let’s get to it…
Daniel Cormier vs. Alexander Gustafsson II
– With Volkan Oezdemir getting arrested on aggravated assault charges, his guaranteed title shot is all but gone. The most logical replacement would Alexander Gustafsson, who fought Cormier to a split decision loss at UFC 192. Since that defeat, Gustafsson has reeled off two straight victories. The last performance was spectacular, as he thoroughly out-struck Glover Teixeira for the better part of five rounds before finally knocking him out. It’a pretty clear that this is the fight to make now.
Volkan Oezdemir vs. Winner of Saint Preux vs. Latifi
– With Oezdemir’s legal issues up in the air, I think it’s safe to say he’s not fighting Daniel Cormier in late January as expected. I don’t foresee an overly lengthy absence from the octagon, but I would have to assume upon returning it will be against someone else. The most likely scenario would be against the winner of Ovince Saint Preux and Ilir Latifi. It would be especially hard to deny Saint Preux a number one contenders fight if he gets by Latifi, as four wins in a row would be the longest in the division. I could also see a scenario in which Glover Teixeira should he defeat Misha Cirkunov get this fight.
Mauricio Rua vs. Winner of Teixeira vs. Cirkunov
– As stated above, I could see a scenario where Teixeira fights Oezdemir, but this fight would make a lot of sense too. Rua has stringed together three consecutive wins and is line for a higher profile fight. The winner of Teixeira against Cirkunov would be just what the doctor ordered in terms of that.
Jimi Manuwa vs. Winner of Blachowicz vs. Cannonier
– Manuwa must be besides himself, as he most likely would of been fighting Daniel Cormier in late January. However, he took Volkan Oezdemir lightly and paid for it, as he was knocked out in the first round. The war of words leading up to his fight against Oezdemir, was solely with Cormier. He had seemed to look past the fight rather than focusing on what was in front of him. So, now it’s back to the drawing board and great fight back would be against the winner of Blachowicz versus Cannonier. Both men are strikers, which is ideal for Manuwa and the fans.
Patrick Cummins vs. Gadzhimurad Antigulov
– In 2017, Cummins has stringed together two consecutive wins, one coming via majority decision and the other via split decision. Perhaps a little luck, but it’s two wins and it’s got Cummins in a good position to go on a run here. A perfect fight would be against Antigulov, whom has won fourteen consecutive fights, two of which have come in the UFC. Antigulov boost a four year unbeaten streak and has taken the UFC by storm, winning both those UFC fights in the first round via submission. For Cummins, this would be an ideal opponent, as it’s not against a power puncher. Something in which Cummins has problems with.
Corey Anderson vs. C.B. Dollaway
– Corey Anderson was less than four minutes away from defeating Ovince St. Preux and getting back on track. However, Saint Preux had other plans, as he knocked out Anderson via a vicious head kick. The loss would be Anderson’s second in a row and third in his last four fights. The Ultimate Fighter 19 winner initially began his UFC career with an impressive 5-1 record, but has now tailed off. Make no mistake about it though, Anderson has all the talent to be a contender and I think he should be properly rebuilt.
A fight that comes to mind would be against veteran and a fellow wrestler in C.B. Dollaway. The 18-fight UFC veteran has recently made the move up to the Light Heavyweight division, defeating Ed Herman. A fight against Anderson would be ideal, as it could catapult Dollaway into the top fifteen. Also for Anderson, he wouldn’t be fighting a knockout artist, which has haunted him in his last two fights.
Jordon Johnson vs. Jake Collier
– Johnson is a perfect 8-0 in his career, with two of the wins coming inside the octagon. The former Division collegiate wrestler looks like he could be something special, but it’s time to get tested. An opponent that comes to mind is Jake Collier. He’s an aggressive pressure fighter, who isn’t afraid to go toe-to-toe in the pocket. Collier is also durable, but his style often leads him wide open to getting tagged, which eventually takes it toll. Collier has had issues with wrestlers, so this would be a perfect fight to exercise those demons. For Johnson this fight would be ideal, as it’s against a fairly notable name, which is essential in his rise among the ranks.