UFC’s Questionable Matchmaking is Harming Light Heavyweight Division
Until recently, the UFC light heavyweight division was by far the most dynamic division in MMA.
In 2011, when Jon Jones took the title from Mauricio Rua at UFC 128, things began to change. Instead of the division becoming even that much more interesting, a string of terrible matchups quickly tarnished the prestige of fighting in the light heavyweight division.
As champion, Jones started out with a bang. He walked through Quinton Jackson, Lyoto Machida, and Rashad Evans, and was primed to take on the next contender in Dan Henderson at UFC 151. Henderson, however, suffered a knee injury causing the fight to be scratched.
Instead of waiting for the next contender to be ready to fight for the title, the UFC panicked and put two over-matched middleweights in front of Jones for his next fights. Although both Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen put up valiant efforts against Jones, the remaining light heavyweight contenders remained stuck in a logjam of top 10 contenders. Without any big fights between top light heavyweight fighters, fan interest quickly waned in the division.
A simple solution to recapture fan interest would have been to put on tournament-style contender elimination fights to keep those fighters busy. The UFC, however, chose to match two counter-punchers in Machida and Henderson, then followed that questionable fight by having Evans fight the much lower-ranked Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. Both fights turned out to be disasters for the organization. Machida grinded out a boring decision victory and Evans, who had nothing to gain by fighting Nogueira, came out flat and was soundly defeated.
Despite those matchmaking debacles, two exciting light heavyweights remained without opponents in Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira. Instead of matching the two of them up in what would be a dynamic fight between fast-rising prospects, the UFC matched Gustafsson with Strikeforce import Gegard Mousasi and Teixeira with unranked James Te Huna.
With Jones suffering a gruesome foot injury against Sonnen, the belt will remain on ice for up to six months. With no big names fighting each other in the division, the UFC can expect its light heavyweight division to continue losing significant drawing power.