From 2008-2011 all-time greats ruled the UFC’s light heavyweight division, with champs including: Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Forrest Griffin, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida, Maurício “Shogun” Rua and Jon Jones in that order. These 205 lbs kings headlined a total of 7 pay-per-views in that span and helped to popularize the sport, while catering to a growing young fan base.
Once Jones secured the title in 2011, the division remained exciting but began to dwindle, with top contenders ageing out and others such as Phil Davis and Ryan Bader leaving for opportunities outside of the promotion. This state of flux, coupled with Jones’ legal and substance issues outside of the cage made for a tumultuous period from 2015 until early 2018. Daniel Cormier was able to cement his legacy in this period with three successful title claims; however the entirety of his reign was complicated by Jones’ title vacations, both interim and undisputed, due to a series of failed drug tests.
Then, in 2018 while Cormier chased his second belt at heavyweight and Jones continued to serve his then four year USADA suspension, a series of young and transitioning contenders emerged. Journeyman Anthony Smith went on an unparalleled run following a TKO loss to Thiago Santos in February, going on to defeat former champs Rashad Evans and Shogun Rua as well as former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir in order to secure a title shot at UFC 235. Suddenly, a glimmer of hope emerged for the once ailing division.
The aforementioned Thiago Santos then chose to forego his top 15 middleweight status and jump to light heavyweight with impressive results including finishes of Eryk Anders, Jimi Manuwa and Jan Błachowicz in the span of six months to earn a third place ranking in the pecking order.
Perennial contenders continue to bob and weave their way through the system, with UFC-vets Glover Teixeira, Ovince Saint Preux, Corey Anderson and Alexander Gustafsson maintaining position atop the division.
Perhaps the most intriguing fighters making their way up to the top are none other than Aleksandar Rakić and Johnny Walker, who burst onto the scene in 2018 (Rakić making his debut in 2017 with a unanimous decision win over Francimar Barroso). Rakić’s 263-28 strike advantage over Justin Ledet at UFC Hamburg as well as his spinning back fist knockout win over Devin Clark at UFC 231 have the Austrian striker poised to challenge Jimi Manuwa at UFC Stockholm in June according to ESPN’s Brett Okamoto.
Johnny Walker, currently ranked 13th, joined the promotion after his decision win over Henrique da Silva on Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series Brazil in August and has since dismantled opponents with three finish wins in 2:50 minutes of time in the Octagon. Dynamic striking and post-fight theatrics have set the Brazilian striker up for a bright future with many considering him to be a possible title challenger in 2019.
With prospects lining up to face the old guard, and Jon Jones returning to claim the 205 lbs throne, the UFC’s light heavyweight division is at its strongest position in recent memory.