by Jordy McElroy
UC Sao Paulo had to dig deep into the MMA vault for legends like Mauricio “Shogun” Rua and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza to carry a card in Brazil, while adding a fresh pinch of familiarity to a bland light heavyweight division dominated by one man: Jon Jones.
Not even a whimsical stroll down memory lane was enough to jog the nostalgic senses back into the thousands in attendance at the Ginásio do Ibirapuera on Saturday.
By the end of the night, there were relentless boos and innovative methods for the crowd to entertain itself. One of those methods was holding up multiple phones in unison throughout the dim-lit arena. Perhaps fans were trying to push the fighters into being more active, or maybe their heavy eyelids had drifted so far beyond the stages of REM they thought they were at a WWE event and “The Fiend” Bray Wyatt was walking out.
It’s time to tell the ugly truth about the UFC light heavyweight division.
Instead of light heavyweight, the weight class should be called “the no man’s land division” considering the vast and open landscape of contenders. The title picture is so muddled that even Jan Blachowicz thought it would be perfectly fine to campaign for a fight with Jones after beating a soon-to-be 40-year-old Souza by split decision in a forgettable fight.
Time has eroded the star-power of one of the most talent-rich weight classes throughout MMA history. It’s the same weight class that gave us Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Tito Ortiz, Vitor Belfort and Lyoto Machida, while legendary fixtures such as Rua, Wanderlei Silva, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Dan Henderson fought across the pond.
Jones is without question the greatest light heavyweight fighter of all time, but his star status is buoyed by the greatness he has already achieved, not the long list of questionable contenders standing in front of him.
Dominick Reyes, who is reportedly in talks to be the next No. 1 contender, has an undefeated record working in his favor, but he hasn’t done nearly enough to convince the casual fan-base he poses any real threat to Jones. After barely eking out a split decision win over Volkan Oezdemir in March, he dusted off a rapidly declining former middleweight champion in Chris Weidman.
That isn’t an attempt to completely dismiss the possibility of him pulling a Thiago Santos and giving Jones all he can handle. It’s simply an honest look into the starless state of the light heavyweight division. There is no Joe Frazier to Jones’ Muhammad Ali waiting in the pipeline. There isn’t even a Chael Sonnen to Jones’ Anderson Silva.
This is why the rumor mill was buzzing about a potential third fight with Jones and Daniel Cormier at heavyweight. It’s the reason why fans are so excited about the possibility of Anthony Johnson returning to light heavyweight to challenge for the title. He might have to amputate a limb or lose 60 pounds of muscle in the process, but there is enough weight behind his name to turn a mere championship bout into a certified blockbuster.
The problem is neither one of those fighters are current contenders in the division.
Jones stands on top of the UFC’s Everest overlooking a weight class primarily consisting of declining former champions and unfamiliar contenders with debatable resumes.
Perhaps that’s the sign that it truly is time for the No. 1-ranked pound-for-pound fighter on the planet to finally make the move to the heavyweight division, or it’s evidence of a better job needing to be done by the UFC to increase their efforts in building new stars.
Whatever the case may be, UFC Sao Paulo didn’t do the company any favors in relaying hope for the future at light heavyweight. It was just more disappointment in a murky and muddled mess with an all-time great discrepancy between champion and contenders.