This was the UFC’s glitziest weight class through the 2000s. Chuck Liddell dethroned Tito Ortiz, who battled Ken Shamrock, and Randy Couture had great fights here when he wasn’t trying out the heavyweight division. And the big breakthrough of The Ultimate Fighter featured Forrest Griffin and Stephan Bonnar.
Then came a rapid succession of new champions: Griffin took a turn with the belt, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson and Mauricio “Shogun” Rua made the move from Japan, Rashad Evans brought the cerebral approach to the top ranks, and Lyoto Machida brought a new, baffling style. Add Vitor Belfort, now usually a middleweight, and the UFC has six former champions still active.
And yet, we have a dominant champion in Jon Jones, and not many contenders have emerged beyond former champions awaiting their next shot.
This weight class needs a new TUF season to bring in some new talent, though the Strikeforce merger will help.
Updated March 13
Jon Jones (11-1 UFC, 17-1 overall): Belfort had him in trouble, but aside from that, no one has come close to challenging him. His only loss was a disqualification in which he badly battered Matt Hamill but made a mistake out of inexperience. Next: Chael Sonnen, April 27
Chael Sonnen (6-5 UFC, 8-6 Zuffa, 27-12-1 overall): His credentials to challenge for the title: Absolutely nothing other than the willingness to take on Jones on short notice when the UFC inexplicably called him instead of other fighters who at least had a plausible claim. Next: Jon Jones, April 27
Gegard Mousasi (0-0 UFC, 3-0-1 Zuffa, 33-3-2 overall): A long-overdue welcome to the UFC. Next: Alexander Gustafsson, April 6
Alexander Gustafsson (7-1 UFC, 15-1 overall): Beating Rua was a huge step forward. Sole loss to Davis, eons ago. Next: Gegard Mousasi, April 6
Phil Davis (6-1 UFC, 10-1 overall): Evans is the only person to beat him so far, and he wiped out Nogueira. Next: Vinny Magalhaes, April 27
Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (4-2 UFC, 21-5 overall): “Little Nog” was 8-2 in PRIDE, with wins over Henderson and Overeem. Moved up by beating lackluster Evans (Feb. 2). Next: Mauricio Rua, June 15
Glover Teixeira (3-0 UFC, 20-2 overall): Duly dispatched Rampage (Jan. 26). Next: James Te Huna (replacing Bader), May 25
Ryan Bader (8-3 UFC, 15-3 overall): Beat Matyushenko (Jan. 26); now 3-3 in last six and out of May 25 Teixeira fight.
Rafael Cavalcante (0-0 UFC, 1-1 Zuffa, 11-3 overall): Avenged loss to Mike Kyle, but drug test nullified it. Only other recent loss: Hendo. Next: Thiago Silva, June 8
Dan Henderson (6-3 UFC, 7-3 Zuffa, 29-9 overall): The injury that took him out of the title bout with Jones was one of the worst-timed injuries in UFC history. Held two belts in PRIDE simultaneously.Won a classic over Rua in November 2011. But he couldn’t solve Machida (Feb. 23) and that may be it. Next: Rashad Evans, June 15
Lyoto Machida (11-3 UFC, 19-3 overall): Dominant and unhittable in 2009, and his elusiveness frustrated Hendo (Feb. 23). Had his shot at Jones in 2011.
James Te Huna (5-1 UFC, 16-5 overall): Not just the king of the walkout. Solid win over Jimmo (Feb. 16). Next: Glover Teixeira, May 25
MARQUEE NAMES (all former UFC or PRIDE champions)
Rashad Evans (12-3-1 UFC, 17-3-1 overall): Awful fight against Nogueira (Feb. 2) throws him far down the ladder. Next: Dan Henderson, June 15
Forrest Griffin (10-5 UFC, 19-7 overall): The ever-entertaining TUF 1 champion may have peaked in 2007-08. Last: Won to finish trilogy with Tito Ortiz (July 7).
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (5-5 UFC, 21-7 overall): Slow start to his UFC career, then solved Machida. Lost to Jones, lost classic to Henderson, lost to Gustafsson (Dec. 8). Next: Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, June 15
Wanderlei Silva (5-7 UFC, 35-12-1 overall): A legend and champion in PRIDE. KOd Stann (March 2) when the two stood toe-to-toe and slugged it out in venerable Saitama Super Arena. So … retire? Please?
Joey Beltran (4-5 UFC, 15-8 overall): Occasional heavyweight is more viable here.
Stephan Bonnar (8-7 UFC, 15-8 overall): Loss to Anderson Silva may have ended his fighting career (though he had won his last three before that). Did positive drug test ruin his commentary career?
Cyrille Diabate (4-3 UFC, 19-9-1 overall): Outstanding kickboxer/Muay Thai fighter may be running out of time. Left Manuwa fight with injury (Feb. 16).
Matt Hamill (10-4 UFC, 11-4 overall): Retired. Came back and didn’t look that great in beating Hollett. Reminder: See The Hammer, his biopic.
Vinny Magalhaes (1-2 UFC, 10-5 overall): TUF finalist came back from getting cut and is getting tossed in over his head. Next: Phil Davis, April 27
Fabio Maldonado (1-3 UFC, 18-6 overall): Lost three straight but is a bonus contender each time. Next: Roger Hollett, May 18
Anthony Perosh (3-4 UFC, 13-7 overall): 40something fighter won three straight before losing to Jimmo.
Igor Pokrajac (4-5 UFC, 25-10 overall): Fights are rarely dull.
Thiago Silva (5-3 UFC, 14-3 overall): Needs to start passing his drug tests. Next: Rafael Cavalcante, June 8
Krzysztof Soszynski (6-3 UFC, 26-12 overall): “The Polish Experiment,” who survived both the IFL and TUF, was last seen pondering retirement after a bad beating at the hands of Igor Pokrajac.
Brian Stann (6-5 UFC, 10-6 Zuffa, 12-6 overall): Decorated and thoughtful war veteran, former WEC champion. Gave Japanese fans the slugfest they wanted with W. Silva, but he got the short end (March 2).
Brandon Vera (8-6 UFC, 12-6 overall): Once a major heavyweight prospect, beating Frank Mir in 2006, but he has struggled to get back to form.
Ryan Jimmo (1-1 UFC, 17-2 overall): Lost TUF prelim but worked his way back, then took a step back in loss to Te Huna (Feb. 16).
Jimi Manuwa (2-0 UFC, 13-0 overall): Strong debut win over Kyle Kingsbury. Diabate had to stop with injury after one round (Feb. 16).
Cody Donovan (1-0 UFC, 8-2 overall): KO’d Nick Penner in December debut.
Roger Hollett (0-1 UFC, 13-4 overall): Did he earn another fight by giving Hamill some trouble in his debut? Yes. Next: Fabio Maldonado, May 18
Guto Inocente (0-0 UFC, 1-0 Zuffa, 6-0 overall): Aka Carlos Augusto Filho. Beat Virgil Swicker in Strikeforce (May 19).
Eddie Mendez (0-0 UFC, 7-0 overall): Debuting this year.
Ednaldo Oliviera (0-1 UFC, 13-1 overall): UFC bio says he’s on his 10th semester of law school. Dropping from heavyweight.
Ovince St. Preux (0-0 UFC, 2-1 Zuffa, 12-5 overall): Getting UFC debut. Next: Gian Villante, April 27
Gian Villante (0-0 UFC, 3-1 Zuffa, 10-3 overall): Won last three in Strikeforce. Next: Ovince St. Preux, April 27
Attila Vegh (29-4-2 overall): Do you know me? I won the 2012 Summer tournament, getting a split decision over Emanuel Newton and a KO over Travis Wiuff. Now I’m the Bellator champion. I took a unanimous decision over Christian M’Pumbu when he defended the belt for the first time in nearly two years (Feb. 28).
Mo Lawal (9-2 overall): Former world-class wrestler and Strikeforce champion (beating Mousasi). Big signing for Bellator, with a unique contract that also lets him wrestle. Pro wrestling. KOd Przemyslaw Mysiala in quarterfinal, then got KOd by a stunning spinner from Newton (Feb. 21).
Renato “Babalu” Sobral (37-10 overall): One-time title contender and Strikeforce champion. Entered 2013 Bellator tournament … and lost in the first round.
Season 8 finalists (March 28): Emanuel Newton vs. Mikhail Zayats
RECENT RELEASES (from UFC)
Kyle Kingsbury (4-4 UFC, 11-5 overall): TUF alum lost last three and retired.
Vladimir Matyushenko (7-5 UFC, 26-7 overall): The affable and durable “Janitor” made IFL and Affliction rounds. Last loss: Ryan Bader (Jan. 26).
Wagner Prado (0-2 UFC, 8-2 overall): Losses to Davis and Alcantara (Jan. 19).
Rafael Cavalcante (11-3 overall): Not coming over from Strikeforce? He’s also coming off a failed drug test.
Chad Griggs (11-3 overall): Strong in Strikeforce heavyweights, beating Bobby Lashley to establish some rep, but 0-2 in the UFC, losing to Travis Browne and Diabate.
Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (7-5 UFC, 32-11 overall): Door’s apparently still open in the UFC. Lost to Teixeira (Jan. 26).
Anthony Johnson (14-4 overall): Finally found a weight class he can make? In World Series of Fighting for now. 7-4 in various UFC divisions.