The light heavyweight division is almost certainly the most important in UFC history. On Saturday, Jiri Prochazka and Alex Pereira are looking to make history at 205 pounds, but doing so during arguably the most chaotic time in the history of the UFC’s glamour division.
When thinking about the most important Octagon moments, many came at light heavyweight. The golden era of Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Randy Couture, the finale of the first season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” which Dana White claims saved the entire promotion, the legendary feud between Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier, and so many more key moments all took place at 205 pounds.
As of late, the division has found itself stuck in neutral. While one could point to the division’s issues beginning around 2015 with Jones repeatedly being stripped of the belt for a variety of issues, or his stretch of fights with Thiago Santos and Dominick Reyes — both fights Jones arguably deserved to lose — things have been extra chaotic since Jones willingly vacated the title amid a contract dispute and his planned move to heavyweight.
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Jan Blachowicz was the first champion of the Post-Jones Era, stopping Reyes in a fight many felt was to be the moment Reyes got the belt after being screwed over by judging in his fight against Jones. Blachowicz again thwarted the common line of thinking in his first defense, beating then-middleweight champ Israel Adesanya in Adesanya’s bid to become a simultaneous two-weight champion.
Finally the favorite in a title defense, Blachowicz found himself dominated by Glover Teixeira and was forced to submit in the second round, crowning Teixeira as the oldest first-time champion in UFC history at 42 years old. Teixeira’s age made him a likely short-term champion, and he would lose the title in his next fight, though not in the way anyone predicted.
Prochazka, a younger, dangerous striker, came into his fight with Teixeira as the favorite. What followed was one of the best fights of the era, ending in Prochazka scoring a shocking rear-naked choke submission with less than 30 seconds remaining in the fight.
The UFC seemed to have locked down the new face of a marquee division with Prochazka’s victory, but Prochazka’s reign came to a sudden end when he suffered a shoulder injury ahead of his planned rematch with Teixeira at UFC 282. The injury resulted in Prochazka vacating the belt.
Teixeira refused to accept a bout with Magomed Ankalaev, who was to face Blachowicz in the co-main event, for the vacant title on short notice. In response, the UFC elevated Ankalaev vs. Blachowicz to the main event with the vacant belt on the line.
Rather than settle the division down, Ankalaev and Blachowicz battled to a split draw, leaving the belt without an owner.
Teixeira got his opportunity to regain the title when he was booked to face Jamahal Hill at UFC 283. Hill put on a tremendous showing, outworking Teixeira and doing big damage en route to a unanimous decision victory.
The new light heavyweight championship curse would strike again less than 200 days later, when Hill ruptured his Achilles tendon in a basketball game during International Fight Week in July. Again, the belt was vacated, marking the seventh time since 2015 that a champion was either stripped of or vacated a light heavyweight title.
On Saturday, Prochazka returns to action for the first time since being forced to give up the belt. With a win, he would join Jones and Couture as the only men to become two-time champions at 205 pounds.
Meanwhile, Pereira is trying to join the exclusive club of those who have held UFC gold in two divisions. After losing the middleweight title in a rematch with Adesanya, Pereira came to light heavyweight and took a split decision over Blachowicz. Making Pereira’s potential win even more impressive is that he has won gold at two weights in the kickboxing promotion Glory.
The fight promises action befitting the chaotic recent nature of the light heavyweight division. But two big questions remain. Can Prochazka or Pereira not only win, but bring stability to a division in need of a consistent champion? And can the winner’s reign return the division to the glory days of old?