• The MMA Landscape: Light Heavyweights

  • Jimi Manuwa 300x167 The MMA Landscape: Light HeavyweightsIt is widely accepted that the very best fighters on the planet, when it comes to Mixed Martial Arts, reside within the UFC. As such, you may as well start by looking at the UFC’s rankings themselves.

    Over the last few years these rankings have been introduced by the UFC and are voted upon by the media and update after every fight card.

    In this feature, we will look to examine the current top five fighters across every UFC division. We will look at their strengths/weaknesses and discuss what is next for each. Finally, we will then look to throw a UK based fighter into the mix with a view to measuring how the UK fighters measure up against the elite.

    This week we move on to the UFC Light Heavyweight Division.

    For the longest time, the UFC Light Heavyweight division has been considered the most attractive of any that Mixed Martial Arts has to offer although at the present time it looks to be somewhat thin with notable fighters either retiring or moving divisions in search of a fresh coat of paint on their careers.

    The Champion – Jon Jones

    Strengths: His ability to use his reach is often talked about and proclaimed to be the reason for his dominance, but in his fight against Alexander Gustafsson, we saw that Jones’ reach isn’t his only asset.

    In that fight, we saw a determination to pull through in adversity. That determination, combined with his array of skills honed under the tutelage of Greg Jackson and Mike Winkeljohn, make it hard to argue against him being the champion until he feels ready to make the step up to the heavyweight division.

    Weaknesses: For all of his many advantages in an MMA fight, Jones has not really shown the incredible punching power often associated with the higher weight divisions. However, he has managed to offset this lack of stopping power by simply being the better technical fighter, making his opponents succumb to a barrage of punches rather than one single punch.

    What’s next: Fresh off the back of his closely contested title defence against Alexander Gustafsson, Jones shunned the fans’ desire for a rematch and instead stated he felt that he had beaten the Swede convincingly enough to warrant a different opponent.

    As such, he is now set to face off against Glover Teixeira, who whilst on a long winning streak, is yet to really face an elite level fighter fighting in the prime of their career. Jones v Teixeira is set for UFC 172 on April 26th in Baltimore, Maryland.

    #1 – Alexander Gustafsson

    Strengths: In his fight with Jones, Gustafsson displayed his own ability to use his reach to offset his opponent’s attacks. During the course of the fight we saw Gustafsson utilise this perhaps more effectively than the champion. A key factor in making this happen was the footwork displayed by the challenger, which seems to have been copied from his training partner Dominick Cruz’s play book.

    Overall, Gustafsson is continually showing improvement and prior to the fight with Jones, no one predicted he would come that close to taking the title so you would expect to see a progression from “The Mauler” in the coming months, as he works back to the title shot many feel he should already have.

    Weakness: Prior to his last fight with Jones, it would have been easy to envisage that his problem would lie in the wrestling department, having been shown up by Phil Davis in this area earlier in his career.

    However, he now seems to have worked vigilantly on this aspect but there are no quick fixes when it comes to MMA, his wrestling is still not at the level of some top contenders he may come up against in the 205lb division.

    What’s next: Although he is not getting the rematch he craves, he is still going to be in the spotlight. Gustafsson is scheduled to be the face of the latest UFC experiment, headlining the first major show to air on “UFC Fight Pass” when he comes up against Jimi Manuwa. The talk is that if he beats Manuwa convincingly, he will face the winner of Jones v Teixeira.

    #2 – Glover Teixeira

    Strength: When competing in the higher weight classes it goes without saying that stopping power is pretty much a pre-requisite but Teixeira has shown that he has this in abundance throughout his UFC career. When looking at how you expect Teixeira to approach any fight, it is clear to see his plan is to land the type of power punches he is known for and end the fight quickly.

    Weakness: Whilst his striking is clearly his main attribute, it does not mean that he is infallible in this aspect. In each of his fights, you will see Glover get tagged by his opponent even if they are not considered to be striker’s themselves.

    When you reach the higher echelons of any division in MMA this is always a worry. In 2014, the top fighters are well rounded in all areas and if you have a tendency to get hit unnecessarily they will make you pay for it.

    What’s next: As stated above, Glover is set to face off against Jon Jones for the title at UFC 172. Glover has emerged as a contender in recent months without really facing a fellow contender for the title along the way.

    It seems as though the Glover is benefiting from the UFC’s love of promoting a winning streak as a means of justifying a title shot. To this end, Glover is on an impressive 20 fight win streak dating back to May 2005 when he lost a decision to Ed Herman, which gives the UFC marketing machine plenty to work with as we build up to April 26th.

    #3 – Rashad Evans

    Strength: Rashad has gone from being an unknown quantity on The Ultimate Fighter, to being the Light Heavyweight champion, but now finds himself in somewhat of a rebuilding process.

    Rashad’s strength has long been his athleticism and ability to explode in and out of range whilst mixing in takedowns to keep his opponent guessing. As we have seen on numerous occasions, Rashad has the kind of power in his hands and with kicks to finish his opponents in an instant. For instance, his head kick knockout over Sean Salmon will forever be a mainstay in the UFC highlight reel package.

    Weaknesses: As with any former champion, Rashad’s weaknesses are few and far between. In recent times, his main weakness has been himself in that he has had to consider whether he truly wants to remain in MMA as a competitor.

    At present, he seems content to remain in the Sport but the lure of an analysts position with Fox is a proposition that must look attractive for Rashad and one which doesn’t require the daily grind that comes with being an elite MMA fighter.

    What’s next: Of all of the top five, Rashad has perhaps the least attractive proposition for his next fight of any. Rashad is set to welcome Daniel Cormier to the 205lb division which is one of the most anticipated fights of 2014.

    The problem for Rashad is that “DC”, whilst being an elite fighter, is an unknown quantity when it comes to fighting at 205. Rashad has no point of reference to formulate a gameplan. The things Cormier is able to do at Light Heavyweight against fighters his own size is an unknown at this point and uncertainty in MMA is a recipe for disaster.

    Despite being a tough task, if Rashad can get by Cormier then it will surely catapult him towards the top of the division and put him one or two fights away from another crack at Jon Jones.

    #4 – Phil Davis

    Strength: Throughout his time in the UFC we have seen him beat quality opponents including Alexander Gustafsson and Lyoto Machida to justify his standing in the top five.

    In doing so, he has heavily relied upon his wrestling prowess, whilst slowly developing the other tools he will need to breakthrough and become champion.

    Weaknesses: Davis has relied heavily on his wrestling ability throughout his career, largely in part due to his striking ability having not been at the level of other top level fighters.

    However, he has had a long layoff since his last fight in August last year against Machida. As such you would expect him to have been working vigilantly to fix this aspect of his game, so that he can compete in all areas with the best of the division.

    What’s next: It was announced this week that Phil Davis will welcome Anthony “Rumble” Johnson back to the UFC after “Rumble” found his feet outside the UFC, in the Light Heavyweight division.

    With his weight issues now fully under control he has been impressive, most recently defeating Mike Kyle by knockout at World Series of Fighting 8 just a few weeks ago.

    This is a matchup of strong wrestlers with a lot of explosiveness in their game and both men seem to be fairly evenly matched overall on paper. From a striking point of view you would give an edge to Johnson, whilst from a grappling/submission perspective you would have to argue Davis is the likely winner.

    As such, the winner of this one will likely be the man who can prove to be the better wrestler on the night.

    The UK’s Best – Jimi Manuwa

    Strength: Jimi has perhaps the most impressive record of anyone from Europe entering the UFC in recent years. In his short time inside the UFC, he has seen all of his opponents be forced to quit due to the damage inflicted upon them by Manuwa.

    His clear strength is his striking prowess which is as good as anyone in the division when it comes to pure boxing.

    Weakness: As with many UK based fighters, the weakness will always be when it comes to the wrestling aspect of Mixed Martial Arts. Whilst the ability of all UK fighters in the wrestling department is growing steadily, we simply cannot match the ingrained ability of our US counterparts who begin to learn the wrestling game from an early age.

    What’s next: As stated above, Jimi is slated to fight other top European Light Heavyweight, Alexander Gustafsson on March 8th in London.

    This seems a strange fight for the UFC to book for Gustafsson as they are certainly hoping that he gets past Manuwa and sets up a high profile title rematch with Jones in the near future.

    However, Manuwa has the kind of power in his hands to make it an early night for the Swede and as such it is likely that we see Gustafsson look to control the distance against Manuwa and look to take the fight to the floor in an effort to nullify the power punching of his opponent.

    About The Author – Greg Byron

    Greg started training in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu after his brother introduced him to a local MMA fighter/coach when he was just 16 years old. Greg has trained for nearly a decade in both BJJ and MMA, competing in several grappling events within the UK. In addition to MMA, Greg possesses a law degree and works for a firm in northern part of England.

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