The UFC’s light heavyweight division has seen better days. It was only a few years back that the division’s top-ten rankings looked like a murderer’s row. One could even argue that it was the promotion’s most stacked division for a period.
But with former champs Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier now on the sidelines and in the heavyweight division, respectively, the title scene looks very different. Add in the fact that many of the top contenders have either went to Bellator, moved down to middleweight, or retired, and 205 is definitely in need of some new blood.
It may have just found it in Anthony Smith.
The 6’4” Smith recently moved up from middleweight, a division where he’d found mixed results. But now free from a draining weight cut that had to sap him of some much-needed energy, he’s found a revitalized career in the 205-pound division.
Smith was recently put up against Mauricio Rua. It was a late switch, as Rua was tapped to take on Volkan Oezdemir for months. But after months of lingering legal issues were finally worked out, Oezdemir was forced to withdraw due to injury. Smith stepped in and capitalized on his opportunity in a big way.
It didn’t take him long – in the first round, Smith quickly connected with the perfect strike. Rua’s shell defense, a common form of head guarding used by Muay Thai practitioners, didn’t do much to block a perfectly placed kick that Smith sent straight up the middle. That stunned Rua, and Smith didn’t let up.
He continued to stay on the offensive, landing combinations on the former PRIDE Grand Prix champion and eventually cutting him open with a huge elbow on the fence. That was enough to drop “Shogun,” who struggled to get back to his feet as the referee halted the bout.
The fight looked very similar to Smith’s last outing, where he dispatched another former UFC light heavyweight champion in Rashad Evans. A brutal knee from the Thai clinch put Evans down in the first round, and the stoppage of Rua makes Smith 2-0 against the division’s former champs.
The loss snaps a three-fight winning streak for Rua, who was only recently brought up by light heavyweight champ Daniel Cormier as a potential next opponent. With the possibility of that fight now gone, Rua’s next move is uncertain.
As for Smith, he could be closing in on a title shot. There’s no confirmation, but Cormier may be leaving the division for good. He’s focused on defending his heavyweight championship and has already said he plans to retire by early 2019. If an interim title was created in the meantime, Smith would be near the top of the list of contenders.
Oezdemir would be close there as well, though he was only recently defeated by Cormier. Alexander Gustafsson would also be in the running, though his inactivity hurts him. He was recently set to face Oezdemir, but injuries caused the bout to fall through.