Other than Jon Jones, no light heavyweight in mixed martial arts has been more impressive than Dan Henderson in the last 12 months.
Henderson brutally knocked out Renato "Babalu" Sobral in December, won the Strikeforce light heavyweight title with a TKO over Rafael "Feijao" Cavalcante in March, took another TKO victory over Fedor Emelianenko in July as a light heavyweight fighting against a heavyweight, and then beat Shogun Rua in an all-time classic at UFC 139.
So where does that put Henderson? He's certainly in our light heavyweight Top 5, but it's still tough to justify Henderson going higher than fifth. Henderson did, after all, lose to Rampage Jackson, who lost to Rashad Evans, who lost to Lyoto Machida (who also lost to Rampage). The light heavyweight division has been so competitive for so long, with so many of the top fighters picking each other off, that after Jones, any of the next five guys could easily be put in any order. My order is below.
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): The light heavyweight champion has easily separated himself from the pack, with two dominant wins over two other Top 10 light heavyweights, Shogun Rua and Rampage Jackson. Jones will try to make it three dominant wins over three other Top 10 light heavyweights when he takes on Lyoto Machida on December 10 at UFC 140.
2. Rashad Evans (2): Evans is a tough one to rank because he's been so inactive of late: He's only fought three times in the last two and a half years. But he's been impressive in all three of those fights, beating Tito Ortiz, Rampage Jackson and Thiago Silva, and he has earned the light heavyweight title shot that he'll supposedly get whenever he and Jones are healthy and able to fight at the same time.
3. Lyoto Machida (4): Machida is a tough one to rank: Should he be below Evans, even though he brutally beat Evans? Should he be above Rampage and Shogun, even though both of them beat him? There's really no fair way to rank them, since Evans, Machida and Jackson all went 1-1 in their fights against each other. Machida will get a chance to show where he belongs in the light heavyweight division when he takes on Jones.
4. Rampage Jackson (5): Jackson has fought all the best of the best in the light heavyweight division, beating Machida and Henderson in the UFC, and losing to Jones, Evans and Forrest Griffin in the UFC and Shogun in Pride. It's impossible not to put Rampage behind someone he's beaten and above someone he's lost to, but given the totality of his career No. 4 sounds about right.
5. Dan Henderson (6): As great as Henderson has looked in the last year, I can't rank him ahead of Rampage, given what happened when Rampage and Henderson fought. I'd sure love to see a rematch of that one, though.
6. Mauricio "Shogun" Rua (3): Shogun is only 2-3 in his last five fights, but it's about as impressive a 2-3 record as a light heavyweight could possibly have: The two wins were brutal first-round knockouts of Machida and Griffin, while the three losses were close decisions against Machida and Henderson, and a loss to Jones in which he admittedly looked bad -- but then again Jones makes everyone look bad.
7. Forrest Griffin (7): The biggest question about Griffin is whether, at age 32 and having a wife and kid, he's still interested in completely committing himself to MMA. When Griffin is on, he's good enough to beat high-quality opponents like Rich Franklin, Rampage and Shogun. He looked decidedly off in his rematch loss to Shogun in August, however.
8. Rafael Cavalcante (8): Feijao bounced back from his loss to Henderson and beat Yoel Romero Palacio in September, and now would be a good time to see him in the UFC, where there are a lot more good fights for him.
9. Phil Davis (9): The 9-0 Davis was pulled from a fight with Evans in August because of a knee injury, and there's still no word on when he'll be ready to return. A former NCAA wrestling champion, Davis is one of the most talented athletes in the light heavyweight division, and he'll be fighting for the belt eventually.
10. Thiago Silva (10): I've been waiting for someone to step up and take the bottom spot in the Top 10 from Silva, who's been suspended all year for taking performance-enhancing drugs. But no one has really been able to do that, and so Silva stays. He should return early in 2012.