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The Landscape of the UFC’s LHW Division

         June 1st is stacked with high level light heavyweight match ups. By the current rankings, you have #2 vs #4, #7 vs #9 and #11 vs an unranked prospect who hasn’t lost in nearly 8 years. If you take Daniel Cormier out of the equation you can bump every ranked fighter up one notch, which we may as well do because DC fighting at 205 again isn’t likely. The implications for each fighter are very important, or are they?

            In the main event, we have Alexander Gustafsson vs Anthony Smith. Jones has defeated Gus twice, finishing him in their last fight. Soon after he finished Gus he fought Smith and got another relatively easy victory. The chance of either fighter securing a title fight, regardless of how they win, is very small. If anything they are securing what many views as a “gatekeeper position” to a title fight. The only chance Gus or Smith have of landing a title shot soon is if Thiago Santos pulls off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.

A post shared by Thiago "Marreta" Santos (@tmarretamma) on Apr 26, 2019 at 3:54am PDT

            In the co-main event, we have Volkan Oezdemir vs *Ilir Latifi. Since Oezdemir has lost 3 fights straight he will have to do more than just beat Latifi to get another title shot. Latifi is coming off a loss against Corey Anderson, more than likely he will need to beat Oezdemir and win at least one more fight to get himself in consideration for a title fight. More than likely this fight will get the winner in position for a top contender fight, especially if somebody gets a devastating finish.

            Just before the co-main event, we have Jimi Manuwa vs Aleksander Rakic. I find this to be the most intriguing fight on the card. Manuwa is on a 3 fight skid (like Oezdemir) but he’s a great athlete capable of knocking out anybody at light heavyweight. Rakic is coming in severely under the radar for a man who hasn’t lost a pro-MMA fight in nearly 8 years. Manuwa’s freakish nature lies in his near 80-inch reach paired with great power in his hands. Rakic is 6’6” but has the movement of a smaller fighter, perhaps more comparable to an agile welterweight. Rakic hasn’t fought the level of competition Manuwa has. This fight will show us if Rakic belongs in the top 15 of the UFC’s light heavyweight division.

A post shared by Jimi Manuwa (@pb1_) on May 30, 2019 at 4:39am PDT

Despite the high number of light heavyweight fights on this card, I don’t see any meaning a lot when it comes to the champion. I doubt Jon Jones is interested in fighting Gustafsson or Smith again anytime soon. I also doubt he has much interest in fighting Oezdemir, Latifi or Manuwa. Perhaps Rakic can get a dominant victory and launch himself up to the rankings and garner attention similar to Johnny Walker (#12).

This is all considering Jones beats Santos, which I won’t count Santos out. Jones and his camp understand how dangerous Santos is but Jones has fought people just as dangerous or more his entire career and always figures out a way to win. With Jones’ size, skill set and style of fighting it’s hard to see him losing to anybody at 205. Jones also has an extremely high fight IQ and has always studied his opponents so thoroughly he feels he knows them better than they know themselves. The one exception is probably his first fight with Gustafsson. Rumor is Jon didn’t take that fight as seriously as others in the past and he ended up in the hospital beating a man at his own game. Not as smart as taking advantage of where your opponent is weak. I anticipate Jones will fight fairly safe before attempting to put Santos on his back and suffocate him like he did Gus in their 2nd fight.

A post shared by Jon Bones Jones (@jonnybones) on Mar 22, 2019 at 8:41pm PDT

The 11-0 Dominic Reyes is likely the next in line for a title shot. Corey Anderson is also on a 3 fight win streak and recently called for a title contender fight against Reyes this summer. In the meantime, it’s logical the UFC tries to get Johnny Walker a top-ranked opponent as soon as he’s healthy enough to return, possibly a top 5 ranked fighter. Depending who they match Walker up against next he could be one fight away from a title shot. Again, this is all assuming Jones continues his winning ways. A Jones upset would stir up the division more than anything and I’m sure everybody in line to fight Jones is hoping to do exactly that, though nobody is expecting it. Best of luck 205ers!

*Update: Ilir Latifi was forced to pull out of the co-main event due to a back injury.

Jason Marlowe, UnknownMMA

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