5 UFC fighters who could soon become two-weight world champions
Every sport has its Superstars and MMA is no different. But a lot of people would agree that the UFC is witnessing a bit of drought in celebrities. The eras of the Light Heavyweight and Welterweight Superstars like Matt Hughes, BJ Penn, Tito Ortiz and Chuck Liddell are history and with Ronda Rousey, Conor McGregor and Jon Jones mere specks on the horizon, the UFC is on the hunt for the next big thing. This urgency is compounded by the fact that its new owners, WME-IMG, are seeking quick returns on the $4 billion investment they've made.
So what's the solution and more importantly, how does this trickle down to the fans? We're hearing more trash-talk than ever between fighters, slam-bang barnburners and in the absence of bonafide Superstars, we have superfights between stars who are their own brands. Longtime fans might criticize this as excessive commercialization, but they need to be reminded that this is what got them hooked in the first place.
That being said, there will certainly come a time when merit gets swept under the red carpet to keep the footfall high for a freakshow fight. But what if the spectacle is justifiable, because of the lack of genuine, worthy challengers? It's happened before, with Randy Couture and BJ Penn, although in their cases there was a 4-year interlude before they won titles in different weight classes.
But this is the WME era and the last two years have had two new two-weight world champions and there are auguries that there might be many more to come. Let's take a look at a few fighters who are or were champions in one weight class but could soon have another division's title wrapped around their waist:
#5 Luke Rockhold
This pick was the runt of the litter - until Alexander Gustaffson called out Luke Rockhold on Twitter. Heading into UFC 221, the topic of Rockhold moving upto Light Heavyweight resurfaced and he confirmed it. After his loss to Romero, it was reported that he would make the jump within the year.
Let's look at the way the pieces are arranged. Having cleaned out the 205 lbs division, Daniel Cormier will challenge Stipe Miocic for the Heavyweight belt in July, making it a full year since his belt was on the line. Jon Jones' future is now in limbo and the 205 lbs throne can't be left empty, so a new champion must be crowned.
The only Light Heavyweight who can make a genuine case for the title is Gustaffson. But, like DC and Jones, he's cleaned out most of the division, so who will he fight? Enter Luke Rockhold. The former Middleweight Champion is old news in the 185 lbs division, having suffered humiliating losses to ageing fighters.
He's a natural 205er and having trained with Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez for the longest time is no stranger to tussling with bigger men. But Rockhold's stand up is porous and a crafty striker like Gustaffson will have no problem piercing his defence. The ground is a completely different story - Rockhold has dominated every UFC opponent who's gone to the canvas.
Granted, the odds are in Gus's favour. Rockhold's misplaced faith in the speed of is his right hook and his defensive boxing cost him the title against Romero. Gustaffson's athleticism is nowhere near Romero's, but his range is a formidable equalizer. The Mauler's stand up is only getting better and better, and his takedown defence is excellent. But we've seen him tire in the later rounds against Jones and Cormier.
This is Rockhold's biggest advantage, apart from the ground game. The Swede is gigantic, but he doesn't dwarf Rockhold, who's a massive 185er. Comparing records, Rockhold has actually beaten more high-calibre opponents than Gustaffson.
Gustaffson will go into this fight as the favourite, but if Rockhold can seriously restructure his stand up, we could be in for a surprise. Granted, he's suffered two humiliating losses and doesn't look the same fighter he was when he was making his way up the Middleweight ranks, but it is always hard to bet against someone as exceptional as Rockhold.