What to do with the UFC Light Heavyweight Division

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Simply put, the UFC‘s light heavyweight division finds itself in a state of disarray. Since Jon Jones‘ departure, the division has faced its fair share of challenges, ranging from injuries to vacated titles. In an attempt to bring clarity to the situation, we will assess the contenders and their positions within the title picture.

Our assessment will categorize them into four groups: “Title Ready,” “One Quality Win Away,” “Work to Do,” and “Extenuating Circumstances.” By doing so, we hope to provide a comprehensive overview of the division’s current landscape.

Title Ready – Just need an opponent and a date.

One Quality Win Away – One signature win from being placed in the title fight

Got Some Work to Do – Two or more fights from a chance at the belt

Extenuating Circumstances – Obstacles outside their control are preventing them from making strides toward a championship

Title Ready

Jiri Prochaka – #1 (29-3-1)

Another notable contender who had to relinquish the title is Jiri, who recently suffered a severe shoulder injury. This injury forced him to temporarily set aside the belt while focusing on his recovery. Prochaka has expressed his desire to make a comeback around September and, considering the current matchmaking, it seems fitting for him to square off against Alex Pereira after defeating Jan Blachowicz at UFC 291 to compete for the championship. Given the uncertainty surrounding the top of the division, this logical choice is difficult to dispute.
Dirty Secret: In-fight decision making. Jiri’s offense-focused style leaves him exposed to heavy hitters like Blachowicz, Pereira, and Walker. Relying on his chin may backfire, making a more balanced approach essential for success.
Potential matchup: Prochaka vs Pereira

One Quality win Away

Jan Blachowicz – #3 (29-9-1)

The former champion remains a constant presence in the MMA scene, defying age as he approaches 40. At UFC 291 on July 29th, Blachowicz faced Alex Pereira in his Light Heavyweight debut. Despite his age, “Polish Power” showed no signs of slowing down.  However, his last two fights had peculiar endings – Aleksander Rakic’s knee injury and an underwhelming draw against Magomed Ankalaev. Unfortunately, a third shot at the belt, will remain unseen, as Jan lose a very close split decision to Alex Pereira. One more win and he’ll have the opportunity he seeks.
Dirty Secret: His last win outside of an opponent injury was over 2 years ago vs Israel Adesanya
Upcoming matchup: TBD

Alex Pereira #2-MW (7-2)

What a difference a year makes. Just a year ago, Alex Pereira celebrated a knockout victory over Sean Strickland and had his sights set on a middleweight title shot, leveraging his connection with middleweight champ Israel Adesanya. Now, as a former champion, he embarks on a new quest for light heavyweight gold. Despite having fewer than 10 pro MMA fights, Alex finds himself with a remarkable opportunity to make history. With a victory against Blachowicz at UFC 291 he paved the way for a shot at the light heavyweight strap and avenged the only man (besides himself) who defeated Israel Adesanya in the Octagon. With just two more wins he can complete the UFC two-division champ speed run. May the cards forever be in your favor Alex
Dirty Secret: He has no light heavyweight wins
Upcoming matchup: Pereira vs Prochaka

Johnny Walker – #5 (21-7)

Johnny Walker finds himself in a fantastic position to make a big impact. With an impressive 3-fight win streak against tough opponents like Anthony Smith, Paul Craig, and Ion Cutelaba, he is undoubtedly one of the most thrilling fighters in the division. This excitement factor could be the crucial element in earning him a title shot. Walker’s remarkable 90% finish rate is undoubtedly appealing to the UFC, which has a soft spot for fighters who consistently deliver exciting finishes. His best course of action would be to secure a bout with a top-five contender and aim for a decisive finish. Impressing with style points will undoubtedly bolster his chances of vying for the title. Johnny Walker has the potential to make a significant impact in the division, and his electrifying performances with style points could be the key to unlocking a title opportunity.
Dirty Secret: As exciting as Walker is, he hasn’t had success facing other members of the top 5
Potential matchup: Walker vs Ankalaev

Magomed Ankalaev – #2 (18-1-1)

Ankalaev’s recent performances have failed to win over the UFC, leaving much to be desired. Undoubtedly, his top-notch strengths lie in his incredible top pressure and ground-and-pound skills. Additionally, he exhibits impressive counter-striking abilities, boasting remarkable power in both his hands and feet.

However, Ankalaev’s reliance on counter-striking can be a double-edged sword, as it hinders his ability to initiate exchanges. This tendency often results in slow-paced fights with limited activity, which may not always resonate well with the promotion and fans alike. To reach his full potential, Ankalaev may need to find a balance between his counter-striking prowess and proactive engagement to create more exciting and dynamic fights in the future.
Dirty Secret: He laid an egg in a recent title fight because of his fight style. He needs to shine in a fight where the opponent initiates action.
Potential matchup: Ankalaev vs Walker

Got Some Work to Do

Nikita Krylov – #5 (30-9)

In his most recent outing at UFC Fight Night 277, Krylov showcased his impressive grappling skills in a thrilling victory over Ryan Spann, engaging in an exciting scramble-filled contest. Despite possessing an underrated level of excitement in his fights, many fans are still unaware of his true potential.

To gain recognition and secure a chance against a top-five fighter, Krylov must seize the opportunity to display his thrilling fighting style once again. A victory in his upcoming fight would be the perfect way to make a strong statement and catch the attention of fans and the UFC alike. With the right performance and a well-deserved win, Krylov can finally shine in the spotlight and demonstrate the excitement he brings to the Octagon.
Dirty Secret: No wins over top 5 competition. He does own a victory over Johnny Walker but Walker was ranked eleven prior to that fight. He’s offense-minded but he’s not always defensively responsible.
Potential matchup: Rakic vs Krylov

Aleksander Rakic – #4 (14-3) injured

On May 14, 2022, Aleksander suffered a torn ACL during his bout against Jan Blachowicz at UFC on ESPN 36. Given the nature of the injury, the typical recovery period is around 9 months.
Despite being on a 2-fight win streak leading up to the fight with Blachowicz, Aleksander now faces the task of re-establishing himself in the title picture. While a victory with style points could fast-track his path, it’s worth noting that he hasn’t secured a finish since 2019. Therefore, it’s more likely that he will need to string together a couple of wins to position himself for a potential title shot. With dedication and consistent performances, the opportunity to contend for the title could eventually present itself for Aleksander.
Dirty Secret: The possibility of ring rust in his eventual return. His choice of opponent will be very important when he makes his return to the Octagon
Potential matchup: Rakic vs Krylov

Extenuating Circumstances

Jamahal Hill (Former Champion) (12-1) injured

After relinquishing the belt, Jamahal Hill faces the reality of a year-long recovery period while rehabilitating from surgery. The procedure was skillfully performed by Dr. Neal ElAttrache, renowned as the team doctor for the LA Dodgers and LA Rams, with a notable portfolio that includes surgeries for Kobe Bryant and the Las Vegas Aces’ Kelsey Plum. Presently, Jamahal Hill’s status doesn’t place him in the title picture. However, there’s an exciting prospect awaiting him once he completes his healing journey. He will be granted a direct title shot, a testament to the respect and recognition he has earned within the organization.
Dirty Secret: Not really a secret, the ruptured achilles rehab road is long and arduous.
Potential matchup: Hill vs Future Title Holder

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Antwyn Jackson is a freelance writer hailing from Dallas, TX. He holds a B.A. in Economics from the University of North Texas. His fascination with MMA was ignited during the WEC days, watching legends like Urijah Faber and Donald Cerrone. With a background as a feature writer for Bleacher Report, Antwyn currently shines as the host of the up and coming show, Making the Walk MMA on Youtube. In 2023, he joined the esteemed MMA Sucka family. When he's not immersed in the world of combat sports, Antwyn enjoys indulging in his passion for music and other sports such as basketball, football, and track. Stay connected with him on Twitter @walk_mma, Instagram @makingthewalk.mma, and on YouTube through Making the Walk MMA.

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