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MMA Top 10 Light Heavyweights: Who's No. 2?

When you're trying to rank MMA fighters, it's easy to say you'll just rank them based on who they've beaten and who they've lost to inside the cage. It's a lot harder to actually create the rankings when you realize that it's mathematically impossible to rank every fighter ahead of the guys he's beaten and behind the guys who have beaten him.

That's the challenge of picking the No. 2 light heavyweight in the world right now. UFC light heavyweight champion Shogun Rua is No. 1, but there are three candidates for No. 2: Rampage Jackson, Lyoto Machida and Rashad Evans. And there's simply no way to rank those three without putting one of them behind someone he's beaten, and another one ahead of a man who has beaten him. Machida beat Evans, Evans beat Rampage, and Rampage beat Machida. Any way you slice it, someone has to get ranked ahead of someone who beat him in the cage.

So who's No. 2? I make my choice below.

(Editor's note: The individual fighter's ranking the last time we did light heavyweights are in parentheses).

1. Shogun Rua (1): The man who holds the UFC belt gets top honors, even though it's frustrating that injuries have prevented him from fighting very often. His knockout of Machida will go down as his only fight of 2010, and he didn't fight at all in 2008. Here's hoping Shogun, who fought as often as five times a year in Pride, can get healthy and get active again in 2011.

2. Lyoto Machida (3): In the Machida-Evans-Rampage triangle, where everyone is 1-1, the most impressive win belongs to Machida, who dominated Evans en route to a second-round knockout. And the closest loss also belongs to Machida, who in my opinion deserved to beat Rampage at UFC 123. So he's got my vote for No. 2. (I should note that I had previously ranked Anderson Silva as the No. 2 light heavyweight, but I'm no longer counting Silva as a light heavyweight because he hasn't fought at 205 pounds in a year and a half and has no plans to do so any time soon.)

3. Rashad Evans (4): Evans now sits and waits for Shogun to get healthy. If Shogun can't get healthy soon, a Rampage-Rashad rematch would make a lot of sense for an interim title fight.

4. Rampage Jackson (6): Whether you think Rampage deserved the split decision win over Machida or not, any concerns that Jackson had lost his focus during his year away from the sport while filming The A-Team can be put to rest: He looked good physically and seemed to be in a good place mentally, and he should have big things coming his way in 2011.

5. Jon Jones (5): UFC President Dana White has said Jones is about a year away from title contention. That, of course, assumes he keeps winning. He has his toughest test to date against Ryan Bader at UFC 126 in February.

6. Ryan Bader (NR): The 12-0 Bader is a heavy underdog to Jones, but don't count him out. In two fights in 2010 he handily defeated two solid veterans, Keith Jardine and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, and it's entirely possible that he'll get the better of Jones and that Bader will be the one who's in title contention in a year.

7. Thiago Silva (8): Silva is easily overlooked because he's been injured and out of action for a year, but he's better than many people realize. In 16 pro fights Silva has 14 dominant victories, one narrow loss to Evans and one knockout loss to Machida. If he's finally healthy, look for him to bounce back in a big way against Brandon Vera at UFC 125.

8. Forrest Griffin (9): We'll finally get to see Griffin back in the Octagon against Rich Franklin at UFC 126. Griffin hasn't fought in more than a year, and he's just 1-2 in the last two years, with the win being a lackluster decision over Tito Ortiz. But Griffin's status as one of the sport's most popular fighters, and his victories over Rampage and Shogun, mean that he could easily get back in title contention if he can beat Franklin.

9. Dan Henderson (NR): Henderson fights Babalu Sobral on Dec. 4 in a bout that will tell us whether he has much left at the age of 40. If he wins, he fights for the Strikeforce light heavyweight title next year. If he loses, his signing will be remembered as a major disappointment for Strikeforce.

10. Rafael Cavalcante (NR): We haven't heard much of anything from Feijao since he won the Strikeforce light heavyweight belt in August, but he should be ready to take on the Henderson-Babalu winner some time early next year. That would represent the biggest fight of his career.

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