UFC 98 Reflections: 205 Is Stacked, Other MMA Divisions See Shakeups
In the aftermath of UFC 98, a stellar card that produced a third new light heavyweight champion in as many defenses, one thing is clear about MMA's top promotion:
The balance of power, talent-wise, has switched back to the 205-pound division.
Normally, the kind of parity we are seeing within the light heavyweight division, in which the last two champions have been unable to successfully defend their titles and the one before that only notched one defense, might indicate a lack of dominant talent—resulting in a revolving door at the top.
In this case, there is an abundance of championship caliber fighters, many capable of defeating each other on any given night, with the proof being in the game of title-belt hot potato that the latest round of champions is engaging in.
More proof has come in the competitiveness in the fights in the 205-pound division of late, even those that were ended on sudden, definitive knock outs.
Former champion Quinton Jackson took all three rounds and one of his better overall efforts to defeat 205 wild card Keith Jardine, a man who has been on the receiving end of some brutal KOs but can still list former champions Forrest Griffin and Chuck Liddell as his own victims.
Liddell himself looked to be cruising against former PRIDE middleweight ace Mauricio Rua before being flattened at the end of the first by "Shogun," the second such fight in a row in which Liddell looked to be in charge only to meet his fate with a sudden knockout.
Griffin looked to be in control of Rashad Evans, but wound up being surprised by the now-former champion's power and pummeled into the mat in a similar fashion to how he was finished by Evans' teammate, Jardine.
Coming off that victory, which was preceded by his dramatic KO victory over Liddell, Evans looked to be riding a wave of success that wouldn't die down anytime soon.
Such is the case now for Lyoto Machida, the lone undefeated fighter at the top of the division who seems to have a style and tenacity that will keep the belt around his waist for some time to come.
If recent history is any indication, however, fans shouldn't label Machida unbeatable just yet, as dramatic upsets have become even more common in the 205-pound division than the recent title swaps.
Starting with Griffin's 2007 submission victory over Shogun Rua, then the consensus top light heavyweight fighter in the world, outcomes such as Houston Alexander over Jardine, Jardine over Liddell, Griffin over Jackson, and Machida over Tito Ortiz have made for a constant re-shuffling of the 205-pound rankings and proven that anyone is beatable in the division.
Except for, at the moment, Machida.
But his title reign won't be an easy one, considering the challenges he'll be facing not only in the aforementioned group of fighters, but with the likes of Brandon Vera, Luis Cane and former middleweight king Rich Franklin climbing the ladder.
Common sense has seemed to favor the 155-pound division as the one most stacked with talent since it returned to the UFC, but considering there is one incredibly dominant champion in the weight class (BJ Penn), and only two or three fighters that have truly shown thus far the potential to upset him at that weight (Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez), 205 looks to be the class of the UFC for now.
OTHER NOTES FROM UFC 98
Give Tito Some Credit
Speaking of Tito Ortiz, its time to give the former UFC poster boy his due for his spot amongst not only the all-time greats in the sport's history, but today's top fighters still.
Against the last three 205-pound world champions, Ortiz has a record of 1-1-1, defeating Griffin, drawing with Evans and losing to Machida.
His defeat of Griffin was a close contest and one that showed Griffin belonged with the UFC's elite, but also a fight in which Ortiz fought through a knee injury. The tie with Evans was a fight Ortiz largely controlled and one in which he was never really in danger, but a point-deduction cost him the victory.
And despite Machida's recent displays of dominance and devastation inside the octagon, he never really had Ortiz in danger either, rather winning the fight through effective counter-striking and octagon control.
Ortiz' one-sided defeats at the hands of Randy Couture and Liddell had many within the MMA world believing his best days were well behind him, and perhaps he wasn't keeping pace with the evolution of the sport.
But taking into account who has been at the top of the 205-pound division in the last two years and how several of them fared against "The Huntington Beach Bad Boy," its clear that Ortiz is still a tough match for almost anyone, even if he is more of a gatekeeper these days.
Major Shakeup at Lightweight
Frankie Edgar has made his career off soundly defeating favored opponents, but his latest upset victory was his greatest to date and is likely to keep him out of the underdog role in most of his future fights.
His entrance into the UFC was a tough indoctrination, but a test he answered by handing Tyson Griffin his first loss. He also soundly defeated former title challenger Hermes Franca, and Saturday night handled Sean Sherk in steady fashion.
Sherk might have reached his peak around the time he was suspended for steroids two years ago, but his recent performance against Tyson Griffin left the impression that he was still one of the most dangerous at 155 pounds.
Sherk may still be, but the future could lie in Edgar's hands.
The lone blemish on "The Answer's" record came at the hands of another blue-chip prospect at 155, Gray Maynard, but Edgar's exciting performances have him further in line for a push from the UFC brass than Maynard standard lay-and-pray outings, and Edgar has shown a growth and versatility that indicates he'll match up well with anyone in the division.
He could probably drop to 145-pounds with his small frame and dominate the division in WEC, but with the success the New Jersey native is having and the money that comes with it, Edgar should be a force in the UFC for quite some time.
Serra, Phone Home
Matt Serra's grudge-match with former welterweight ruler Matt Hughes proved two things about the Long Island jiu-jitsu ace: No one has an easy night when facing Matt Serra, and Serra needs to drop back down to his natural weight of 155 pounds.
How Serra managed to pack on 171 lean pounds to his short, stocky frame is surprising in the first place, but better fights and more success await him at 155.
The fact is, despite his short reign as world champion at 170, he only had one major victory at that weight, his upset of Georges St. Pierre.
After he was soundly defeated by a more focused GSP int he rematch, Serra really had no place in the 170-pound rankings, yet many publications left him there. He only moved to 170 in the first place because the UFC had dismantled the 155-pound division and the reality series offered comebacks at 170 pounds.
He's proved he can hang with the bigger boys at 170, but he would be better served cementing his legacy with one last run at 155.
No one has ever soundly defeated Serra at that weight, which includes current champion BJ Penn, who holds a decision victory over him that was hotly contested by fans and Serra at the time.
With his unfinished business with Penn, and Father Time awaiting to take his toll on Serra, he'd be wise to drop back down and give the fans more great match ups at that weight.