Currently the UFC has 31 light heavyweight fighters on roster. However, this does not tell the whole story. There are probably 12 of those 31 fighters who have retirement somewhere in their mind. A look at the age of some of those fighters will tell us more.
Dan Henderson – 41 years old
Vladimir Matyushenko – 41 years old
Anthony Perosh – 39 years old
Cyrille Diabate – 38 years old
Tito Ortiz – 37 years old
Jorgen Kruth – 37 years old
Rich Franklin – 37 years old
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira – 35 years old
Stephan Bonnar – 34 years old
Lyoto Machida – 33 years old
Rampage Jackson – 33 years old
Forrest Griffin – 32 years old
“Shogun” Rua – 30 years old
I am aware that several of those fighters are still relevant in the division and are still active in their fighting careers, but the point is that most of those fighters are probably past their fighting prime. Also, several of these guys have publicly mentioned the possibility of retirement. Some may wonder why “Shogun” is listed here. He is not listed because he is old, he is listed because of the possibility of him retiring. No, guys like Machida and Rampage may not retire in 2012, but I would be shocked to see them go much longer. Rich Franklin, Vladimir Matyushenko and Tito Ortiz have all indicated that they only have a few more fights left. Yes, Dan Henderson looks great, but how much longer can he really go?
If my assessment is correct then there are 13 fighters who are on their way out the door due to age and the UFC needs to replace them. It is a problem because those are some big names and big draws. I am aware that there is Jon Jones who is a star. Yes, guys like Ryan Bader, Alexander Gustafsson and Phil Davis are great additions, but the UFC needs more like them. There are also several guys who are on the chopping block in the UFC because they aren’t winning.
I see two solutions to the UFC light heavyweight impending problem. First, the UFC could absorb the Strikeforce light heavyweight division. The Zuffa brass is adamant that Strikeforce is going to stick around as a separate entity. However, they did decide to fold the Strikeforce heavyweight division into the UFC. Why couldn’t they do that with the light heavyweights as well? Doing this would not be a huge fix, but it would add several top tiered guys. The division would really be bolstered with the addition of Gegard Mousasi, Rafael “Feijao” and King Mo Lawal. Not to mention solid additions like Mike Kyle, Roger Gracie, and Ovince St. Preux. Strikeforce also has three prospects that they are greatly mishandling in that division in Marcos Rogerio de Lima, Guto Inocente and Yoel Romero. How are they mishandling them, you ask? By not using them. I think the longer the UFC waits to absorb this division from Strikeforce it is a mistake. I say graft these guys in now.
The second option is through new and young signings. There are desirable prospects in the light heavyweight division. If I was Joe Silva I would try to sign Ring of Combat light heavyweight (and heavyweight) champion Tom DeBlass. Eventually, they will be able to sign Robert Drysdale who is locked into a three fight deal with Legacy and Jimi Manuwa who has three fight left in BAMMA. Jan Blachowicz is a guy they should look at. Steve Bosee is another guy who could infuse some talent into the division. I still think though that to fix the problem they need to think younger. Al the above mentioned “prospects” could do very well in the UFC light heavyweight division today Perhaps a look at 25 year old Misha Cirkunov or Wagner Prado would do some good. New signings like Nick Penner and Glover Teixeira are a move in the right direction, but the reality is the UFC needs to builds new stars at light heavyweight. The reality is that the longer they wait to implement these fixes the worse shape the division finds itself.