Best Light Heavyweights outside the UFC
The UFC has 90% of the best fighters in the world, or at least that is what they want fans to believe. As we have seen with Strikeforce and WEC’s absorption into the UFC, it is obvious that there is significant talent outside of the UFC ranks. They simply need the opportunity to compete inside of the octagon.
Here are the best light heavyweight fighters currently competing outside of the UFC.
Phil Davis is clearly still a Top 10 Light Heavyweight. The UFC chose not to resign Davis, which was fairly surprising considering the lack of depth in the division and the fact that Davis is still under the age of 30. Davis’ fighting style has never earned him much fanfare, but with a 9-3 UFC record and wins over Alexander Gustafsson, Lyoto Machida, and Glover Teixeira, his standing amongst the top fighters in the division was unarguable. Davis has since jumped ship to Bellator where he won their 4-man tournament. Davis finished both his opponents in the 1st round, which was surprising since he only achieved 3 finishes in his 12 career UFC fights. Davis now is setup to fight for the Bellator Light Heavyweight belt in a fight which he should be the clear favorite.
Liam McGeary is one of Bellator’s homegrown champions. McGeary was just 3-0 when he first debuted in Bellator. Not many predicted championship success, but after dethroning Emanuel Newton and recently defending his title against Tito Ortiz, McGeary is a fighter that has proven his doubters wrong. McGeary is an aggressive fighter that is always on the hunt for a finish. He will have his biggest test to date when he defends his title against Phil Davis.
Emanuel Newton’s career is quickly trending in the wrong direction. After defeating Muhammed Lawal twice in 2013 and capturing the interim LHW title, Newton was garnering recognition as a Top 10 Light Heavyweight. Yet, despite a 3-0 record defending his title in 2014, he dropped back-to-back contests to Davis and McGeary. Newton has to get back to what made him successful, which was being an unpredictable fighter with an amazing knack to gut out victories.
Muhammed Lawal was supposed to be Bellator’s breakout star when they signed him after Strikeforce’s demise. That never ended up happening as Emanuel Newton proved to be Lawal’s kryptonite. Lawal has recently run off a 4-fight win streak that has him in on the brink of a title shot, but now that Phil Davis is in Bellator, Lawal will have his hands full ever claiming Bellator gold.
Most fans rolled their eyes when Tito Ortiz decided to return to the Bellator cage. After pulling off an upset win over Alexander Shlemenko and laboring to a decision over Stephan Bonnar, Ortiz got an opportunity to fight for a title once more. Unfortunately, Ortiz’s night ended early as Liam McGeary submitted him in the 1st round. Ortiz has nothing left to prove at this point in his career. With few big name fights that he can legitimately win, Ortiz should finally think about hanging up the gloves.
David Branch now holds the WSOF Middleweight and Light Heavyweight titles. Branch is 9-1 since being cut from the UFC. His only loss during that time period was a catchweight fight against Anthony Johnson. Branch has to be commended for resurrecting his career and truly challenging himself to reach his full potential. WSOF is a great home for Branch considering his close friendship with the WSOF matchmaker. Branch’s long-term home is likely at Middleweight, but with few elite 205’ers around, Branch may find success continuing to defend both titles.
Best of the Rest:
Outside of these 6 fighters, it is largely a list of fighters that have had their run in the UFC or other larger promotions. Roger Gracie still has the grappling to make him a threat against anyone, but we have seen how he fairs against anyone that can keep the fight standing. Teddy Holder recently fought for the WSOF title after knocking out Thiago Silva. Goran Reljic has resurrected his career overseas in the KSW promotion, going 7-1 since being released by the UFC in 2010. Vinny Magalhaes has all the talent in the world as a grappler, but has continually fallen on hard times when he fights elite competition. In regards to LHW prospects, there are a host of overseas fighters that have still yet to proven themselves against top competition. Maxim Grishin is probably the most noteworthy, having won his last 8 fights.
Photo credit: www.sherdog.com/Keith Mills