To describe the latest information cycle inside blended martial arts over the previous month as something from shocking to disturbing can be an understatement.
Among the various levels of surprising headlines, nevertheless, was the event throughout the heavyweight division as longtime 205-pound king Jon Jones grew to become a de facto savior of kinds for the UFC by ending his three-year layoff and saying a March 4 title bout towards Cyril Gane simply as defending champion Francis Ngannou selected to exit the promotion as a free agent.
Although battle followers will possible miss out on the prospects of an Ngannou-Jones superfight as a part of the fallout, the UFC promotional machine can profit from the return of Jones’ enigmatic star energy simply when it wanted it most (supplied Jones can preserve his usually tumultuous private life in examine). But what in regards to the division Jones left behind after vacating his title in 2020 and saying his intentions of rebuilding his physique and transferring up?
To put it bluntly, the UFC gentle heavyweight title image is an absolute mess in the intervening time heading into Saturday’s UFC 283 pay-per-view occasion in Rio de Janeiro, marking the top of the promotion’s personal three-year hole, fueled by the coronavirus pandemic, in bringing dwell fights to Brazil.
For as barren and unstable because the post-Jones period has been at 205 kilos, it hasn’t been and not using a few memorable moments, together with late profession title surges from Jan Blachowicz and Glover Teixeira, each of which had been as inspiring as they had been unlikely, and an all-time nice championship conflict between Teixeira and Jiri Prochazka that produced 2022’s battle of the yr.
But for anybody in search of stability following such a memorable reign from Jones — which included him being stripped of the title on three events amid a historic rivalry with Daniel Cormier — there was no such factor.
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The UFC’s best-laid plans concerned Teixeira and Prochazka having a rematch of their violent duel on Dec. 10, which fell aside when Prochazka badly injured his shoulder and was pressured to vacate his title forward of what’s anticipated to be a one-year restoration. Teixeira was nonetheless prepared to battle at UFC 282 to avoid wasting the occasion however declared he would solely battle Blachowicz on quick discover and never high contender Magomed Anakalaev until Teixeira was given a further month to organize.
Instead, UFC selected to take the beforehand scheduled Blachowicz-Ankalaev battle at UFC 282 and elevate it to a title bout. The downside was that neither fighter received out of first gear towards each other, permitting the belt to stay vacant following a disappointing draw.
Still needing a title bout to headline its return to Brazil this weekend, UFC made the troublesome choice to easily match Teixeira (33-8), the 43-year-old ageless marvel who will battle in entrance of his house followers for the primary time since 2014, towards the following contender in line, which turned out to be red-hot slugger Jamahal Hill (11-1, 1 NC), who’s using a three-fight knockout win streak.
This is not an indictment on the deserves of Teixeira-Hill being a probably thrilling battle, neither is it a sequence of complaints aimed on the title parity that has turn out to be the norm within the aftermath of Jones’ exit, following a run that lauded him standing as probably the best fighter within the sport’s historical past.
In truth, parity has performed an enormous half in gentle heavyweight changing into the true glamor division for UFC throughout a pair of consecutive eras that had been largely accountable for the promotion reaching the kind of success that has allowed UFC to cross over to the mainstream stage whereas reaching the type of monetary success nobody exterior of Dana White and his preliminary companions, Lorenzo and Frank Fertitta, may’ve ever imagined.
The 205-pound title rivalries between Tito Ortiz, Randy Couture, Ken Shamrock and Chuck Liddell created the promotion’s first mainstream stars because of the heated battles between them from 2002 to 2006. That period gave method to a good crazier one from 2007 to 2011, through which the title was handed round like a scorching potato between future Hall of Famers like Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua.
Even the one battle that considerably bridged the hole between the 2 eras, the 2005 season 1 finale of “The Ultimate Fighter” pairing Griffin towards the late Stephan Bonnar, an all-out conflict on cable tv credited with rescuing the model from inevitable chapter, was contested at 205 kilos.
The mixture of world class fighters with large personalities producing one memorable title battle after one other for practically a full decade till Jones assumed dominance in 2011 (by destroying most of the former champions listed above) was sufficient to declare the division because the sexiest and most enjoyable within the sport’s historical past. It’s a degree solely corroborated by the truth that among the biggest moments in Pride historical past, the final MMA promotion that actually competed with UFC on a head-to-head stage (though Strikeforce got here shut), got here of their middleweight division throughout the identical period, which is equal from a weight standpoint to gentle heavyweight within the UFC.
The post-Jones period has seen parity with out the identical stage of star energy together with it. Even worse, the UFC’s dealing with of who fights for the championship and when, together with the way it dealt with the fallout of Blachowicz-Ankalaev, has conspired to water down the integrity of the particular title.
This is throughout a time within the 205-pound panorama globally the place rival promotions like Bellator MMA, which just lately concluded a $1 million Grand Prix match gained by Vadim Nemkov, have brazenly claimed they have already got the division’s finest fighter on the planet. But the potential issues go even deeper than that.
The worst factor a promotion can have, from an optics standpoint, is a divisional champion whom followers do not acknowledge as the very best within the division. Sometimes, that is an inevitable place based mostly upon matchups and upsets, and few are blaming the UFC for accidents it may possibly’t forestall. But the hasty choice to prioritize selling a title battle of some variety, in any respect prices, leaves much more potential for Saturday’s fallout to turn out to be wonky.
As wonderful of a battle as Teixeira-Hill is, there’s not a lot of an argument to be made that it ought to even be headlining UFC 283, not with a historic flyweight title bout within the co-main occasion as Deveison Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno meet for the fourth time of their all-action rivalry. But for as unsatisfying because the Blachowicz-Ankalaev consequence was, there are two potential situations this weekend that might produce comparable emotions.
What if Teixeira regains the title in entrance of his adoring followers in one more conflict and decides to return on his phrase and instantly retire with the title? Or what if Hill wins however does so in a way that’s something however convincing?
Or what if the 2 battle to one more unthinkable draw? Would Blachowicz and Ankalaev merely battle once more for the title or may the UFC look even deeper down the rankings to attempt to reward the following two fighters in line?
For certain, that is not your father’s gentle heavyweight division (even when your father is identical age as Teixeira), though it could be troublesome to cry poor for a division that has largely recognized nothing however pleasure and legitimacy all through its historical past.
The neatest thing that may occur for UFC is that the very best gentle heavyweight within the division reveals up on Saturday and wraps the gold round his waist inside Jeunesse Arena following one more memorable duel, even when some nonetheless imagine the brand new champion will merely be a transitional one till Ankalev is able to declare it.
It’s simply laborious to not query who that finest fighter really is and whether or not or not he will likely be in attendance at UFC 283.
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