The UFC’s Light-heavyweight division is stuck in a rut.
The indefinite absence of Jon Jones. Daniel Cormier’s move up to Heavyweight and looming retirement. The loss of top contenders to other organisations and most of all a general lack of talent have all combined to make the division one of the shallowest and least compelling in the UFC.The most prominent issue affecting the division is the lack of young/new fighters bursting through the ranks. The veterans, gatekeepers and perennial contenders in the division have continued to block the small amount of new talent from rising through the rankings. Fighters like Glover Teixeira, Jimi Manuwa, and Shogun Rua, who at this point in their careers are not championship caliber, have remained part of the divisions top 10 and even top 5 as a result of the division’s lack of depth.
With Jon Jones, Daniel Cormier and Alexander Gustafsson (now just DC and Gustafsson) largely maintaining a stranglehold on the division, the UFC is left with two choices. Either they: A) Create rematch fatigue by pairing off the top 3 guys as often as possible. or B) Force new fighters through to a title shot well before they are ready or proven.
With this issue in mind, I compiled a list of the 5 most compelling Light-Heavyweights outside of the current top 10. The criteria for the list is simple, to qualify the fighters must be; Currently signed to the UFC, not ranked in the Top 10 and have never fought for the title.
Last Fight: May 13, 2017 at UFC 211 – Against Joachim Christensen
Next Fight: TBD
Gadzhimurad Antigulov is one of the many brilliant Dagestani fighters to enter the UFC in recent years. Similar to his countrymen, Antigulov brings a dominant wrestling/sambo based style to the cage and is a dangerous submission threat. He is currently riding an incredibly impressive fourteen fight win streak that includes thirteen finishes. Gadzhimurad is 2-0 in the UFC so far and surprisingly already ranked in the top 15. Although he has not competed in almost year, Antigulov is one of the dark horses at Light-Heavyweight and could quite easily make his way into the upper echelon of the division.
Anthony ‘Lionheart’ Smith
Last Fight: February 3, 2018 at UFC Belem – Against Thiago Santos
Next Fight: June 9, 2018at UFC 225 – Against Rashad Evans
Finally putting an end to his tenure as the worlds biggest Middleweight, Anthony Smith will be making his Light-Heavyweight debut in June against former Champion Rashad Evans. This is a move that is long overdue for Smith, who at 6’4 with over forty fights to his name and yet to turn 30 is going to be a tremendous addition to the thin Light-Heavyweight division. Smith has all tools and experience necessary to be successful in the division and will likely be a future top 10 contender.
Dominick ’The Devastator’ Reyes
Last Fight: December 2, 2017 at UFC 218 – Against Jeremy Kimball
Next Fight: May 19, 2018at UFC Chile – Against Jared Cannonier
Sitting on an 8-0 record with seven first-round finishes, including two in the UFC, Dominick Reyes has had an almost flawless MMA career so far. It is hard to foster any complaints with his career so far other than the fact that he is yet to be truly tested – leaving us with more questions than answers when it comes to his potential. His upcoming matchup with Jared Cannonier will serve as the perfect indicator of what the coming years will hold for Reyes. If he is able to defeat Cannonier in dominant fashion, I believe he will become one of the most promising Light-Heavyweight prospects in recent years and be well deserving of a shot at a ranked opponent.
Gokhan ’The Rebel’ Saki
Record: 1-1 (83-12 KB)
Last Fight: September 22, 2017 at UFC Japan – Against Henrique Da Silva
Next Fight: July 7, 2018 at UFC 226 – Against Khalil Roundtree
At 34 years of age with minimal MMA experience, rebounding from a serious knee injury, it is unlikely that we will ever see Kickboxing legend Gokhan Saki fight for a UFC title. That being said, every single time we see him fight in the UFC it is going to be artistic chaos. Saki is light years ahead of everyone in the division when it comes to his striking and with that one attribute alone is going to be able to test and even beat most of the fighters in the division. It is inevitable that we will someday see Saki defeated due to his lack of grappling experience but in the meantime, he is going to be one of the toughest, most exciting and most dangerous fighters in the UFC.
Last Fight: February 10, 2018 at UFC 221 – Against Saparbek Safarov
Next Fight: June 23, 2018 at UFC Fight Night 132 – Against Ovince St. Preux
Despite being very inexperienced when he entered the UFC (4-0), Tyson Pedro has been extremely impressive in his career so far. Pedro has been victorious in seven of his eight bouts, all of which he finished in the first round, including wins over quality opponents; Paul Craig and Khalil Roundtree. Although he was handed his first defeat in September of 2017 against the now top 5 contender Ilir Latifi, Pedro has lost very little stock and will continue to be one of the most promising young contenders in the division.