If there is any division in which there is no doubt about who the best fighter of the 2010’s was, it’s clearly light heavyweight. Jon Jones opened up the decade clearing out the legends from the previous decade, before turning the best this decade had to offer. Where the debate regarding 205 comes is in regards to what comes after him.
1. Jon Jones: A better debate for Jones is whether he’s the greatest fighter of all time rather than if he’s the top light heavyweight of the 2010s. The man didn’t lose a single fight during the decade, generally fighting the best competition that could be thrown at him once he claimed the belt, the lone exception being Chael Sonnen. Even then, Jones dominated the former middleweight title challenger in one of the most lopsided beatdowns in the history of all title fights. The other notable wins: Daniel Cormier (twice?), Alexander Gustafsson (twice), Rampage Jackson, Rashad Evans, Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Glover Teixeira, Ryan Bader, and Vitor Belfort. In total, Jones went 16-0, 1 NC for the decade, only two of the contests being close enough to merit debate. Not just the best light heavyweight of the decade, Jones is undoubtedly the greatest light heavyweight ever.
2. Daniel Cormier: Given Cormier went undefeated at 205 outside of his contests with Jones, there wasn’t much of a debate for the top spot behind him. The only thing that hurts Cormier was splitting his time between heavyweight and light heavyweight, only nine of his fights coming at 205. Disposing of Anthony Johnson (twice) and Alexander Gustafsson solidified it as they would have been the only other realistic competition for this spot. Unfortunately for Cormier, the two losses to Jones has overshadowed what is realistically one of the best careers in MMA history. Cormier should be talked about in circles as one of the greatest fighters of all time. Keep in mind, he’s done something Jones hasn’t done: won gold in a division outside of 205. However, this debate is about 205….
3. Anthony Johnson: How in the hell this man began the 2010’s fighting at welterweight is beyond all comprehension. After botching his initial move up – going to middleweight – Johnson ultimately ended up at 205 and immediately began blasting the opposition into another dimension. In his official contests at 205, Johnson went 10-2 (both losses to Cormier) with nine of those wins coming via KO/TKO. Even more impressive, six of those finishes came in the first round. Bader, Teixeira, and Gustafsson were amongst those who fell in the opening round. The lone decision? About as one-sided of a contest as it gets over Phil Davis. Rumble has had his detractors due to some outside the cage incidents, but no one can deny that he’s a scary man.
4. Alexander Gustafsson: This is where the hierarchy begins to get questionable. I went with Gustafsson as he came thisclose to winning the UFC title on two occasions, nearly being the first to legitimately topple Jones in an all-time classic, then narrowly falling to Cormier in an underrated thriller. Though he lacked the one-punch power of the likes of Johnson, Gustafsson was just as capable of bringing the pain. His beatdown of Teixeira was brutal, as was his decimation of Shogun. Injuries hampered his ability to show up frequently – he fought once a year from 2016 until the close of the decade – but The Mauler left an indelible impact when he made it to the cage.
5. Glover Teixeira: It could be argued Teixeira was already past his prime by the time he finally made it to the UFC in 2012 as he was already 32, but he was still plenty good anyways. He ripped through his first five UFC opponents – including Rampage and Bader – before coming up short to Jones in a contest for the title. He never appeared to be the same force after that fight that he was heading into it, but can we realistically expect the brutality he produced against Kyle Kingsbury and Fabio Maldonado to occur on a regular basis? Teixeira still managed to close out the decade with a 21-5 mark at 205, easily taking the most wins for the decade of anyone else on the list. The likes of Evans, Ovince Saint Preux, and Nikita Krylov were amongst his other victims.
6. Ryan Bader: I almost put Bader ahead of Teixeira, but had to relent with Teixeira coming out on top in their head-to-head battle. The unsung hero of the division for the decade, many believed Bader was destined for stardom at the beginning of the decade. A loss to Jones was followed by a shocking upset to Tito Ortiz, leaving many abandoning the Bader wagon. It wasn’t until after losses to Machida and Teixeira that Bader really found his footing, bowling over OSP, edging out Davis, and dominating Evans. Despite a ready-made feud with Cormier, the UFC passed over him and Bader eventually found his way to Bellator and claimed the light heavyweight title, again edging Davis to do so. Though it doesn’t help his status here, Bader is also the reigning heavyweight champion in Bellator.
7. Phil Davis: It’s too bad Davis never learned to consistently put mustard on his punches as he may have been the most skilled grappler at 205 over the decade. A collegiate wrestling champion, Davis entered the UFC in 2010 and proceeded to rip off some of the most impressive submissions over the likes of Gustafsson and Tim Boetsch. He also recorded wins over Machida and Teixeira before his UFC run came to an end. The problem was he couldn’t quite get over the hump. Even his run as Bellator light heavyweight champion felt truncated, failing to secure a single defense before dropping it to Bader. Nonetheless, Davis’ wins over King Mo, Emanuel Newton, and Liam McGeary ensure his spot on the list.
8. Shogun Rua: Some might say Shogun’s inclusion on the list is an indication of how shallow the division ended being for the decade. However, it’s easy to forget just how good Rua was at the beginning of the decade. He KO’d Machida to claim the UFC light heavyweight title, dominated Forrest Griffin in their rematch, and engaged in one of the all-time great battles with Dan Henderson. The rest of the decade did little to boost his status in these rankings, but his KO’s of James Te Huna and Tyson Pedro still proved he was capable of producing some of the old magic every now and then.
9. Rashad Evans: Much like Shogun, Evans’ final half of the decade was less than inspiring. However, it could be argued Evans was the most dominant figure of the first half of the decade outside of Jones. Evans edged out Thiago Silva and Rampage to open the decade before earning a title shot with dominant performances over Ortiz and Davis. Evans’ final vintage performance saw him easily pound out Chael Sonnen. Then Evans tore his ACL and never won another fight, much less looked like the same fighter.
10. Jan Blachowicz: Knowing his placing here is controversial – I’ve already changed my mind several times and probably will continue to do so — Blachowicz isn’t in this spot based solely on his strong UFC run to close the decade, capped off by a drab decision win over Jacare Souza. Blachowicz was the KSW light heavyweight champion prior to migrating to the UFC, scoring wins over the likes of Goran Reljic and Sokoudjou. Aside from the win over Jacare, Blachowicz also KO’d Luke Rockhold, submitted Krylov, and earned decisions over Jimi Manuwa and Cannonier. There aren’t elite names at light heavyweight, but there is enough quality that Blachowicz barely edges onto here.
Honorable Mentions: Lyoto Machida, Ovince Saint Preux, Rampage Jackson, Dominick Reyes, Volkan Oezdemir, Corey Anderson, Muhammed Lawal, Dan Henderson
Machida was still elite at 205 to begin the decade, but had a record of 3-4 before moving to middleweight. OSP was a consistent performer, but could never get over the hump. Rampage was elite to begin the decade too, though he quickly faded from relevance with flat performances, even in wins. Reyes surged at the end of the decade, but didn’t have enough elite names on his resume. Oezdemir had some quality victims, just not enough. Anderson’s career was too inconsistent. Lawal couldn’t get over the hump that was Newton. Newton’s light faded as quickly as it lit up. Henderson wasn’t the same after tearing his ACL in 2012, despite a spectacular start to the decade.