Many of the biggest stars in MMA history made their name fighting in the light heavyweight division, including arguably the best fighter to ever step into a cage or ring. Iconic rivalries such as Wanderlei Silva vs. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier and Chuck Liddell vs. Randy Couture within the light heavyweight division have defined eras of the sport.
Those six men all made the cut as the CBS Sports experts debated and voted for the best light heavyweights in the history of the sport. While Jones was a clear-cut No. 1 in the division, the tangled and complicated rivalries and competitive eras made this one of the most compelling divisions we have ranked yet.
Let’s take a look at the results of those votes — cast by Brent Brookhouse, Brian Campbell, Jack Crosby and Brandon Wise — and stay tuned in the coming weeks as we work our way through every weight class to determine who are the best fighters of all time.
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10. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson: Despite just one world title reign that ended in less than one year, Jackson is one of the most iconic fighters in the history of the division. Jackson first rose to stardom after being brought into PRIDE FC and promoted as a homeless man for his first fight, a battle with MMA legend Kazushi Sakuraba. Jackson lost but put in such a great effort that he won fan respect. He became a fixture in the promotion, eventually establishing himself as the second-best 205-pound fighter in PRIDE behind Wanderlei Silva, scoring wins over Chuck Liddell, Kevin Randleman, Ricardo Arona and others. Jackson moved to the UFC and beat Liddell again, this time capturing the UFC light heavyweight championship. “Rampage” also found success during his later years in Bellator MMA, winning a 2014 light heavyweight tournament.
9. Rashad Evans: Evans came to prominence during a golden era at 205 pounds in which the UFC title was traded like a hot potato from one Hall of Famer to another. But along with being a consistent draw due to his personality, the former champion established himself as one of the division’s most dangerous, largely because of his cracking right hand. Evans’ hit list is not only impressive, it remains somewhat underrated considering his wins over Michael Bisping, Chuck Liddell, Forrest Griffin, Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, Tito Ortiz, Phil Davis, Dan Henderson and Chael Sonnen.
8. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua: Rua exploded onto the world scene in PRIDE after winning three fights on the promotion’s Bushido series. At PRIDE Total Elimination 2005, he fully arrived, knocking out “Rampage” Jackson with soccer kicks. Aside from a loss due to a separated shoulder, Rua was undefeated in the PRIDE ring. After an up-and-down start to his UFC career, Rua scored a knockout of Lyoto Machida to win the UFC light heavyweight belt in May 2010. He would lose the belt in his next fight, running up against Jon Jones. Rua has remained a high-level threat to this day — not necessarily on the cusp of a world title shot, but as a more-than-capable gatekeeper in his late 30s.
7. Vitor Belfort: Known simply as “The Phenom,” Belfort was just 19 when he exploded onto the UFC’s heavyweight scene as MMA’s answer to Mike Tyson in 1997. But over a career that has spanned nearly a quarter century, Belfort was best-known for his work at light heavyweight and middleweight, which included a brief stint as UFC champion at 205 pounds in 2004. A knockout threat with all four limbs, Belfort fought for a UFC title at three different weight divisions and holds victories at light heavyweight over Wanderlei Silva, Randy Couture, Rich Franklin, Anthony Johnson and Dan Henderson. He also came frighteningly close to submitting Jon Jones in their 2012 UFC title bout.
6. Kazushi Sakuraba: Sakuraba is a product of the wild days of MMA. The top star of PRIDE, willing to take on anyone and everyone including participating in openweight tournaments and fighting heavyweight wrecking machine Mirko Cro Cop. But Sakuraba’s peak run was one of the most entertaining periods in MMA history, and his victory over Royce Gracie is one of the most legendary moments in the sport. Sakuraba never won a world title, but his mark on MMA was lasting and wins over Carlos Newton, Vitor Belfort, Guy Mezger, Ken Shamrock, Kevin Randleman, Quinton Jackson and four members of the Gracie family place him firmly among the greats.
5. Wanderlei Silva: If the “The Axe Murderer” was known for one thing, it was violence. If he was known for anything else, it was a willingness to fight anyone, under any promotional banner at seemingly any weight class. It would be difficult to find someone with a deeper resume — in both wins and losses — of dangerous opponents faced. It might be harder to find someone as willing to go for broke, either. Silva was at his very best while defending the PRIDE middleweight title (the equivalent to UFC’s light heavyweight division in terms of weight) at the turn of the century. He holds memorable wins at 205 pounds over Dan Henderson, Kazushi Sakuraba (three times), Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (twice), Ricardo Arona, Keith Jardine and Brian Stann.
4. Randy Couture: In an era where the focus of the UFC’s light heavyweight division was on getting Chuck Liddell and Tito Ortiz in the Octagon together, Couture dropped from heavyweight, where he was a multiple-time champ, to defeat both men. First, Couture shocked Liddell in June 2003 with a TKO win to capture the interim title. Then, the following September, he knocked off Ortiz to win the undisputed title. He would lose the championship to Vitor Belfort due to a freak cut on his eyelid but win the title back from Belfort one fight later. Couture’s career was mainly spent at heavyweight, but he made a huge mark as a two-time champion at 205 pounds.
3. Daniel Cormier: The former two-division champion came to the sport late after a lengthy amateur wrestling career, and only began the difficult cut to 205 pounds to allow teammate Cain Velasquez to reign over the heavyweight division. Short of beating bitter rival Jon Jones, there wasn’t much else DC could’ve done to further cement himself as one of the greatest 205-pound fighters in history. Despite just nine appearances in the division, Cormier’s bulldozing combo of world-class wrestling and fight-ending power in his right hand lifted him to victories over the likes of Dan Henderson, Anthony Johnson (twice), Alexander Gustafsson and Anderson Silva.
2. Chuck Liddell: Until Father Time caught up with Liddell, he was one of the most feared strikers on the planet. His demeanor and “every man” body combined with his power to make a perfect fighter transform into a sensation. Liddell started his career 20-3, winning the UFC light heavyweight title and defending it successfully four times. Coming out on top in rivalries against Couture and Ortiz cemented him as the best UFC fighter of that generation, and the names on his resume are enough to overcome the sad 1-6 end to his career.
1. Jon Jones: “Bones” is not only the greatest 205-pound fighter in MMA history, he has a strong case for being the sport’s G.O.A.T. despite still operating at the tail-end of his prime at age 32. With only a 2009 disqualification loss as the lone blemish on his resume (in a fight against Matt Hamill which he was handily winning), Jones has remained unvanquished despite a number of mishaps and distractions outside the cage. The youngest champion in UFC history has 11 title defenses over three separate reigns while fending off every style and every major threat presented before him. Jones didn’t just clean out the division, he’s on the verge of completing such a task for a third time thanks to his freakish reach, incredible fight IQ and legendary chin.