Number One Contender: Mauricio “Shogun” Rua. Rua is a threat to Machida. I really am among those who believe Shogun beat Machida in their first match. He competed so well against Machida that he was given an immediate title re-match. On May 8th it should be settled. Shogune is number one contender and some would even put an astericks behind Machida as champion.
Other Contenders: There are sveral other fighters “in the mix”. There are several fights that have to play out before a new contender can be named. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Rashad Evans are set to square off on May 29th in what may determine the next contender. Also, that same night a light heavyweight bout between Forrest Griffin and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira will take place, which will put the winner seriously near a title shot. Obviously, with his win over Mark Coleman at UFC 109 Randy Couture is seriously in the title picture and could very well earn the next title shot. I believe he needs one more win, but don’t be shocked if we see him face Machida or Shogun in 2010. These handful of guys seem to be the most likely ones to face the Shogun/Machida winner. However, there are plenty of other guys who could become serious contenders with a big win. Guys like Thiago Silva, Luis Cane, and Rich Franklin are all marketable guys in the hunt still and top 10-15 in the world. Brandon Vera is still a threat to anyone and his March bout with Jon Jones is a big fight for the division as the winner will jump up into top 10 talks and could be near a title shot. Keith Jardine could string a few wins together and move up in the rankings, but he has to get by Ryan Bader at UFC 110 who has become somewhat of a contender himself. Persoanlly, I think Vladimir Matyushenko can still hang with the big dogs, maybe not a title contender, but a few wins could put him “in the mix”. Fans can always hold out hope of a guy liek Anderson Silva jumping up and taking fights in this division. Quite honestly, if Shogun were to defeat Machida in May this is very possible. Anderson may be a smart bet for the number one contender spot.
Watch Out For: There are several prospects in the UFC who are on their way, but are not quite there yet. Jon Jones is the one that stands out the most and is probably ahead of other prospects because of his popularity and convincing performances against Bonnar and Hamill. Another guy who really imrpessed was Phil Davis. He dominated Brian Stann at UFC 109. He has a ways to go and needs to notch a few big wins, but he is a big part of the future of the division. I do not know if Ryan Bader belongs here or the above category, but a win against Jardine this month could catapolt him into the top tier in the world. Also, keep your eye of Alexander Gustafasson. He looked good in his UFC debut and could emerge as a challenger. Furthermore, watch for the UFC to continue to snatch up serious prospects as they did with Jones and Davis.
The UFC light heavyweight division is the best in the world. The lists above did not even take into account guys like Matt Hamill, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell, but the division is stacked. In my opinion, the top 20 in the UFC can all be a threat to the title holder on a given night.