Now we have Jon Jones at the top of the division, however, and I think the belt is going to stay in place for a long time. Jones has absolutely obliterated both Jackson and Rua, and now he'll get another former champion in Evans -- with, I believe, similar results.
So as we list the top light heavyweights in mixed martial arts, we're looking at an extremely talented division. But a division with one unique talent that stands far above the rest.
Top 10 Light Heavyweights in MMA
(Editor's note: The fighter's ranking the last time we did light heavyweights are in parentheses).
1. Jon Jones (1): There was never a moment during Jones' victory over Jackson at UFC 135 that I even thought Jones was in the slightest bit of trouble. Jackson is a great fighter who appeared to be in good shape and ready for a big fight, but he simply wasn't on Jones's level. I don't think anyone is.
2. Rashad Evans (2): Evans is finally close to the title shot that he's been waiting on for more than a year, but I don't think he has much of a chance of getting his belt back. Against Jackson, Jones did a great job of using his long legs to effectively fight at a distance, and if anything Jones will have an even greater reach advantage over Evans. It's hard to see anywhere that Evans has an advantage over Jones. That title fight will not go well for Evans.
3. Shogun Rua (3): Shogun has a very big fight ahead of him against Dan Henderson at UFC 139, and if he wins that he'll have a strong case that he's the No. 2 light heavyweight in MMA. But given how thoroughly Jones beat Rua, it's almost impossible to see the UFC giving Rua another shot at the title.
4. Lyoto Machida (4): Of all the light heavyweights in the sport, Machida is probably the one whose unorthodox stand-up style would present the greatest threat to Jones. If Machida wins his next fight, he'd make a lot of sense as an opponent for Jones in 2012.
5. Rampage Jackson (5): There have been times in Jackson's career when it was fair to question his motivation and preparation, but UFC 135 was not one of those times. Jackson was well prepared for the Jones fight, he's just nowhere near as good as Jones.
6. Dan Henderson (6): Henderson has left his Strikeforce light heavyweight title behind and will return to the Octagon to face Rua. A victory over Rua would give Henderson an excellent claim that he deserves a title shot against Jones, although as much respect as I have for Henderson I have an extremely hard time envisioning any way Henderson wins that fight.
7. Forrest Griffin (7): Griffin fights nothing but a who's who of the all-time greats in the sport: His last seven fights consist of two battles with Shogun sandwiched around bouts against Rampage, Evans, Anderson Silva, Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. The biggest question for Griffin now is whether he wants to keep doing battle with the sport's truly elite, or if now that he's in his 30s and a husband and a father, he'd rather take a step down in quality of competition. Griffin will always be a fan favorite and a draw for the UFC, but he may no longer be prepared to fight in the upper echelon of the UFC's light heavyweight division.
8. Rafael Cavalcante (10): Feijao looked very good in his victory over Yoel Romero Palacio on the September Strikeforce card. As long as he's with Strikeforce, Feijao's options for big fights are limited, but in the UFC there are any number of big fights for him at 205 pounds. MMA fans who just want to see the best fight the best should hope one of those big fights gets booked soon.
9. Phil Davis (8): The 27-year-old Davis was a great college wrestler who's a lot of fun to watch, and he seems destined to take on Jones some day. The problem is that for as young and talented as Davis is, Jones is even younger and more talented.
10. Thiago Silva (9): We're finally getting close to the end of Silva's one-year suspension for taking performance-enhancing substances. I hope he's stayed in shape and comes back hungry, because he's a 28-year-old who's a good enough striker that he can be a threat to anyone. He should be involved in some big light heavyweight fights in 2012.
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