For over a decade, the UFC’s light-heavyweight championship was at a standstill due to the dominance of Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Both Jones and Cormier have reigned supreme in the division by winning the title at different times and successfully imposing their supremacy on multiple contenders who have come and gone throughout the years.
Ultimately, this resulted in Cormier winning the title in Jones’ absence and then a showdown between the two dominant champions in the summer of 2017. The outcome of the clash was an incredible head-kick knockout for Jones to reclaim the belt.
Since then, Jones has had to yet again reclaim the title. It happened in a December 2018 showdown with Alexander Gustafsson. Jones has successfully defended his title three times since then.
Most recently, “Bones” participated in an all-out war with challenger Dominick Reyes. Reyes was able to use his aggression, crisp boxing, and surprisingly quick pace to push Jones and win the first two rounds of their bout clearly. Unfortunately, Reyes slowed down by round three and the bout resulted in Jones winning a unanimous decision. Ultimately, Jones’ aggression, consistent forward movement and footwork, and championship-round experience led to his victory, with most fans and experts calling for an immediate rematch.
In addition, Jan Blachowicz recently scored a cringeworthy knockout over Corey Anderson that got the attention of Jones, who was in attendance at the show in Rio Rancho, N.M.
With the light-heavyweight division finally returning to its former excitement that was highlighted by individuals such as Chuck Liddell and Forest Griffin, let’s look at some of the best match-ups to make in 2020 to keep the ball rolling.
A bout between Anderson and Oezdemir is perhaps one of the most sensible decisions for the UFC matchmaking team to make in the coming months.
Anderson and Oezdemir sit at Nos. 6 and 7 respectively in the UFC’s official light-heavyweight rankings after coming off shaky performances in their last appearances.
Anderson was brutally knocked out by Blachowicz to snap a four-fight winning streak that had many fans believing he was one win away from challenging the winner of Jones and Reyes. Unfortunately, those aspirations have once again become a distant dream. He now returns to the drawing board and awaits his next opponent.
Oezdemir is currently riding a two-fight winning streak that includes a knockout of Ilir Latifi last summer and a closely contested split decision over Aleksandar Rakić in December. Neither win was over a highly ranked opponent, but a two-fight winning streak is still a two-fight winning streak.
Anderson is one of the most consistent fighters in the UFC. Although he has suffered some brutal knockouts throughout his career, including via a left hook courtesy of Jimi Manuwa and a head kick from Ovince Saint Preux, Anderson seems to always bounce back stronger than before.
For either combatant to make a statement in the new year, a big win is needed and needed soon. Contenders like the aforementioned Blachowicz and Reyes, as well as Thiago Santos, sit at the top of the short list of opponents for Jones in the coming months.
If the UFC ends up making this fight, be prepared for a violent, John Wick-esque bout featuring flying moves, powerful striking, and unmatched aggression.
If you haven’t seen Rakić’s head kick to finish Manuwa, jump on YouTube immediately and witness what pure destruction looks like. The Austrian fighter is a physical specimen who is currently 4-1 in the UFC after suffering his first loss by way of split decision to the aforementioned Oezdemir. The bout was a highly contested affair and proved to fans that Rakić can hang with the division’s elite.
Rakić has an extensive striking background and has collected over 40 victories across the boxing and kickboxing realms prior to transitioning into MMA. With 5.25 significant strikes landed per minute on average, an 88 percent takedown-defense rate, and a 1.29 knockdown ratio per bout, the 28-year-old is an exciting prospect who is starting to mix it up with the division’s best and could find himself quietly closing in on the top five sooner than we think.
It was ultimately Walker’s confidence and lack of experience that led to his first loss in the UFC at the hands of the aforementioned Anderson in November. In most cases, we have seen that losses allow a fighter to grow and develop into a more mature and experienced athlete. Walker has nowhere to go but up now as he waits in the wings for an opponent to kickstart his 2020 UFC campaign and return to the glory he was commanding prior to his recent setback.
Walker is an extremely talented and exciting fighter whose flashiness and charm are unmatched. If he can mature in the Octagon and display some patience and growth, there are no limits to what he can accomplish in the division. The Brazilian is currently averaging 7.50 significant strikes landed per minute and an impressive 100 percent takedown defense. He has all the tools to bounce back from his loss in a big way.
The pairing of Rakić and Walker screams fireworks.
Clark has certainly had an up-and-down UFC career to date. Since joining the roster in 2016, the 29-year-old has compiled a 5-4 record and seems to be trading wins and losses on a consistent basis. Most recently, he defeated Dequan Townsend via unanimous decision and furthered his overall MMA record to 11-4.
Clark is very well rounded. He spent his younger days competing as an amateur boxer and winning multiple wrestling championships in high school and junior college. Yet, he is the definition of a fighter who does everything well and nothing great.
After starting the year off with a win in the book and averaging over three successful takedowns per bout, who better to face that submission guru Jim Crute? The Aussie has amassed a 3-1 record in his UFC career, with all three victories coming by way of submission. The 23-year-old, who holds a black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, has proven to have an effective kimura that he used to submit Paul Craig and Michał Oleksiejczuk. His win over Oleksiejczuk was fast and impressive, and he took little to no damage. He has set himself up for a successful climb toward the top of the division.
The next move for both of these light heavyweight upstarts should be showdown to see who continues to advance toward a spot in the top 15 of the division.
This bout is perhaps one of the most strategic fights to make that aligns with the goal of creating more viable contenders for the division in the coming years.
Both Spann and Ankalaev are currently riding three-fight winning streaks in the UFC. Spann has gone 3-0 since officially joining the company. His latest victory came by way of submission against the aforementioned Clark in October. Spann, who stands 6-foot-5 and boasts an 81.5-inch reach, is an imposing light heavyweight. He trains out of Fortis MMA in Texas and has amassed a 17-5 record with 11 wins via submission and four victories by knockout.
Ankalaev is also entering 2020 on a positive note after scoring a beautiful front kick and punch for the knockout victory over Dalcha Lungiambula in November. The 27-year-old seems to have a knack for knockouts and has finished over 50 percent of his victories via elbows and various kicks. The Russian is a talented striker who boasts an extensive sambo and MMA background. His aggressive, fast-paced and exciting style makes him an optimal opponent for a similarly exciting Spann.
Although neither boasts a large following or general fan recognition currently, a fight between Lungiambula and Jung would be an incredible treat and a genius way to get fans familiar with both names.
Lungiambula, who stands just 5-foot-10, joined the UFC in 2019 and scored a vicious third-round victory over the aforementioned Townsend by way of punches and elbows. What he lacks in height, he makes up for with supreme power. In his second UFC bout, the 34-year-old took a huge step up in competition and fought Ankalaev. After a back-and-forth bout in which Lungiambula was able to hang with the more experienced and technical Russian, Ankalaev landed a perfect front kick that led to a knockout loss for Lungiambula.
Jung has garnered a fan following that will only grow after his dismantling of Mike Rodriguez in December. The first-round knockout victory should have fans clamoring to see the Korean back in the Octagon soon. The 26-year-old is currently riding a 12-fight winning streak with 10 finishes. He is fond of using his elbows to score visibly stunning victories over his opponents.
Both of these light heavyweights are looking to take the next step. It would be a contest to see who’s ready for even tougher competition. This would be nothing short of excitement.