April 10, 2017

UFC 210: Losing "Rumble" Johnson Hurts Already Barren UFC Light Heavyweight Division

By Adam Martin

The main event of Saturday night’s UFC 210 card in Buffalo featured UFC Light Heavyweight Champion Daniel Cormier in a rematch against Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. Cormier defended his belt via second-round submission, but all everyone’s talking about is what Johnson said after the fight.
At 33 years old and seemingly at the top of his game, Johnson shockingly announced his retirement from MMA in his post-fight interview with UFC commentator Joe Rogan. According to Johnson, who wrote a message on his Facebook fan page, he is “tired” and feels like this is the right time to move on to the next chapter of his life.

On one hand, good for Johnson for knowing when to call it quits. We all know how many health problems he had with his former brutal weight cuts to 170 lbs. When you think about it, the fact that this massive man used to fight as a welterweight is one of the most astonishing aspects of MMA history. But those weight cuts came at a cost, and Johnson eventually had to keep moving up from 170 to 185 to 205 to 265 then finally settling on 205, where he became a top-three fighter in his division, behind only Cormier and former champ Jon Jones. Still, there’s no doubt those weight cuts took their toll on Johnson’s body over the years, and now he’s stepping away. So in that respect, good for him.

On the other hand, losing Johnson from the UFC’s light heavyweight division makes one of the weakest divisions in the sport even weaker. Johnson was easily one of the most well-rounded and dangerous fighters at 205 pounds, and losing him in the wake of Ryan Bader signing with Bellator -- not to mention the previous loss of Phil Davis -- has turned the division into a laughingstock. The promotion’s Top 15 is a joke at this point. At the top of the division, Jones and Cormier are elite, then you have Alexander Gustafsson and Glover Teixeira who are excellent, and Jimi Manuwa who is fighting at a high level right now. That’s the top five, and it’s pretty solid overall (though clearly lacking Johnson’s presence, and even Bader’s. After that though, things get very dicey.

Next you have Mauricio “Shogun” Rua who is nothing more than a gatekeeper at this point of his career, and close behind him is Corey Anderson, who Rua and Manuwa beat. Then it’s Volkan Oezdemir, who has only a lackluster split decision win over Ovince Saint-Preux. Misha Cirkunov, a top prospect, is deserving of his top-10 spot, but Ilir Latifi has shown some massive flaws in his UFC career.

The bottom end of the top 15 features Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, who is ancient, Jan Blachowicz, who is 2-4 in the UFC, Patrick Cummins, who has been knocked out four times in nine UFC bouts, Gian Villante, who is only in the top-15 because he knocked out Anderson a few years ago, and prospect Tyson Pedro, who is unproven. This is just a really bad division right now, and while losing fighters like Johnson to retirement is something the UFC can’t control, some of the promotion’s previous decisions to let go of free agents has come back to haunt it.

Losing Bader really hurts, and letting Davis go has proven to be a massive mistake, and worst of all, both men went to Bellator, which actually has a decent light heavyweight division all of a sudden. Another guy who the UFC recently lost from 205 is NIkita Krylov, who was a borderline top-10 guy. The company almost lost Cirkunov because of Dana White’s ego, but thankfully UFC matchmaker Mick Maynard negotiated a new deal for him. In addition, over the years, the UFC has lost Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Chael Sonnen, Wanderlei Silva, and Tito Otiz to Bellator, all older light heavyweights who, despite their flaws, were still fighters fans wanted to see and who have proven to be quite the ratings draws for Bellator. Plus fighters like Rashad Evans and Lyoto Machida dropped down to middleweight.

During the UFC’s golden years, the light heavyweight division was its big money weight class. Fighters like Chuck Liddell, Randy Couture, Rashad, Rampage, Tito, Forrest Griffin, Rich Franklin, Silva, Machida, and Dan Henderson were popular stars for the company and made the division exciting. Over the years, guys like Jones and Gustafsson have emerged as stars, but the UFC hasn’t been able to replace its former starpower at 205, and it’s made the current version of the division very boring.

Johnson decided to retire after losing in the UFC 210 main event, and we all have to respect his decision, but the UFC light heavyweight division is worse off without him. Hopefully someone like Cirkunov can emerge as a legitimate light heavyweight contender, and Jones’ return will hopefully spice up the division, but overall, 205 pounds is as weak as it has ever been.


UFC 210: Cormier vs. Johnson 2 took place April 8, 2017 at KeyBank Center in Buffalo, New York.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC 210 was.
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