Once considered MMA’s glamor division, the UFC light heavyweight division has taken a turn for the worse over the past couple of years, becoming filled with past-their-prime stars and prospects failing to make it to the top.
In 2021 though, the UFC light heavyweight division has made a major comeback and now looks like the promotion’s most exciting weight class again.
So how has that happened? Well, here are three key events that have led to the UFC light-heavyweight division again becoming one of the most exciting in the promotion.
#1 Jon Jones vacating his UFC light heavyweight title
Ignoring his controversial positive drug tests, it’s impossible to dispute the idea that Jon Jones is one of the greatest UFC fighters of all time.
Bones held the UFC light heavyweight title from 2011 to 2020, with only Daniel Cormier’s brief reign interrupting after Jones was stripped following a positive drug test.
But after so many years of dominance with so many contenders being turned back, it’s hard to argue with the idea that Jones’ reign over the 205lbs division was becoming boring.
Jones did have a couple of close fights in the latter stages of his reign, going to tight decisions with Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes. But in reality, it never felt like he was close to losing his title.
However, when Jones vacated the title in 2020, the UFC’s light heavyweight division instantly felt fresher.
Sure, the new champion – Jan Blachowicz – couldn’t lay claim to defeating Jones inside the octagon. But then the same could be said for Johny Hendricks when he became UFC welterweight champion after Georges St. Pierre vacated. And to tell the truth, it didn’t matter.
Since winning the title, Blachowicz has looked brilliant. But he obviously feels far more vulnerable than Jones, giving the 205lbs division the jeopardy it hasn’t had for a decade. And that alone makes it exciting again.
#2 Israel Adesanya’s failed quest to become a double champion
Just four fighters in UFC history – Conor McGregor, Daniel Cormier, Amanda Nunes and Henry Cejudo – have simultaneously held UFC titles in two different weight classes.
Sure, the Adesanya/Blachowicz fight wasn’t as big as an Adesanya vs. Jones clash might’ve been, but that didn’t really matter.
The fact that Adesanya – a massively popular fighter carrying a lengthy unbeaten streak – was moving into the light heavyweight division meant that for the first time in a long time, the 205lbs division was at the forefront of the UFC.
Adesanya didn’t manage to become a double champion. But the fact that Blachowicz was able to defeat him put a spotlight on the Polish fighter like he’d never had before.
Prior to his fight with Adesanya, Blachowicz was one of the least recognizable champions the UFC had to offer.
After his win over The Last Stylebender, though? Blachowicz is a star in his own right, meaning that his next UFC light heavyweight title fight – against Glover Teixeira – should be a big one as well.
#3 The rise of Jiri Prochazka
Back in 2018, the light heavyweight division was suddenly energized by the debut of a flashy prospect named Johnny Walker.
Walker destroyed his first three opponents inside the UFC with ridiculously quick and violent knockouts. By mid-2019, fans were already talking about the Brazilian taking his shot at the UFC light-heavyweight title.
But when he fought Corey Anderson at UFC 244, the wheels came off immediately after Walker fell to a first-round TKO loss.
Following that, the UFC light heavyweight division became a country for old men of sorts.
Current champion Jan Blachowicz, despite feeling fresh at the top of the division, is already 38 years old. And his next challenger, Glover Teixeira, is even older at 41.
That’s why the rise of red-hot prospect Jiri Prochazka has been so amazing to watch.
Not only is Denisa a decade younger than Blachowicz, but he’s also taken out two former UFC title challengers in Volkan Oezdemir and Dominick Reyes with devastating violence in his first two octagon visits.
And unlike Walker, who was largely unproven prior to joining the UFC, Prochazka has a lengthy record dating back to 2012. The Czech has wins over highly-rated fighters like Vadim Nemkov and King Mo Lawal.
Following his win over Reyes, Prochazka is now in line for a shot at the UFC light heavyweight title in just his third fight in the UFC. And based on what we’ve seen so far, there’s every chance he could beat either Blachowicz or Teixeira.
And given his charismatic personality and aggressive fighting style, if he can do that, then he could become a major UFC star – and perhaps even surpass Jon Jones in the process in terms of star power.