Light Heavyweight is one of the hardest divisions for independent promotions to keep champions and standouts. Of the promotions that hold titles in this weight class several belts are vacant including CES MMA, Professional Fighters League, Ring of Combat, Titan FC, and Victory FC. That isn’t to say they don’t have fights in this class, they just don’t have champions.
Of the eight episodes of DWTNCS six bouts took place at light heavyweight. Karl Roberson defeated Ryan Spann then went on to fight in the UFC while Mike Rodriguez earned a UFC contract by defeating Jamelle Jones. In addition Daniel Spohn, Alonzo Menifield, Cameron Olson, and Kennedy Nzechukwu all picked up wins. Spohn fought in Bellator from 2011-12 and was a competitor on TUF season 19 in 2014 but had been fighting mainly in local promotions until his victory over Angel DeAnda. Spann went on to pick up wins in LFA over Lemarcus Tucker and former LFC champion Myron Dennis and next is scheduled to fight Alex Nicholson in LFA 32. Menifield and Olson went on to pick up wins in LFA, Nzechukwu hasn’t fought since episode 7 but remains undefeated at 3-0.
Of LFA’s 29 events in 2017 eleven main-card fights took place at light heavyweight while none of them were for a title. Julian Marquez and Dominick Reyes have already moved on to the UFC while Daniel Sarafian is a UFC vet and former LFC champion Myron Dennis is a TUF vet bouncing back. Ryan Spann as mentioned above lost to Roberson on DWTNCS but otherwise had three wins in LFA last year and is slated to fight UFC vet Alex Nicholson at LFA 32. The other four relative unknowns were Alonzo Menifield who fought twice in LFA and is still undefeated at 5-0, Herdem Alacabek undefeated at 3-0, Kyle Noblitt undefeated at 9-0, and Cameron Olson who is “only” 9-3. Noblitt also holds a win in Bellator over David Hammons, Menifield made his MMA debut in Bellator with a TKO of Zach Rosol.
Another undefeated prospect is Shamil Gamzatov of PFL. 10-0 Gamzatov first came to fan’s attention at WSOF 27 two years ago where he defeated Toddy Holder in the co-main event. His bout at WSOF 32 in July 2016 was cancelled as was his PFL fight against Rex Harris leaving his only bout in the last two years being a split decision over Rodney Wallace in ACB from January 2017. Given PFL’s seemingly precarious position of no scheduled events Gamzatov’s future is uncertain regarding where he will next fight but make sure to keep an eye out for him.
The second-largest promotion Bellator MMA with the light heavyweights has been balancing the “screw the belts, we only want stars” approach of their heavyweight division with the “important” fights of their lighter divisions. Of Bellator’s 26 shows only six main-card fights took place in this weight class. Bellator kicked off 2017 with a card headlined by former UFC champion Tito Ortiz vs. former middleweight challenger Chael Sonnen at light heavyweight while Sonnen also faced UFC vet Wanderlei Silva early in the year. It wasn’t until June 24th that Phil Davis had his first defense of the Bellator title he won in November 2016, a fight he lost to fellow UFC vet Ryan Bader. As far as non-UFC vets Bellator fielded Linton Vassell, former champion Liam McGeary, and former LFC champion Leonardo Leite with Vassell defeating McGeary then losing to Bader in Bader’s first defense. The only other matchup was Davis defeating Leite. Vassell and McGeary have been well-hyped in Bellator in previous years, the surprise was Leite. In 2014 Leite took the LFC belt from then-champion Myron Dennis and then took the LFC middleweight title with a controversial defeat of Larry Crow in 2015. Leite went on to defend the LFC middleweight title against Ryan Spann but in 2016 he only fought in regional shows where he picked up three victories. Leite entered Bellator undefeated at 10-0, his loss to Davis finally broke that streak. The Davis/Leite fight in November shows Bellator are not completely foregoing building up-and-comers in favor of signing UFC vets but are still interested in buying another promotion’s work over growing undercard standouts.
M-1 Global’s light heavyweight division has been entertaining not only with current champion Rashid Yusupov but also with former champions Stephan Puetz and Viktor Nemkov. Nemkov won the belt by defeating Vasiliy Babich in 2013 then lost it to Puetz in 2014 in his first title defense. Nemkov recaptured the belt in a rematch against Puetz in 2015 only to lose it to Yusupov in his first defense five months later. What makes Nemkov stand out is in 2016 he followed up with a defeat of former Bellator champion Attila Vegh then in May 2017 defeated his first UFC vet Ronny Markes making his loss of the belt to Yusupov his only loss in seven fights or three years. What did Yusupov do for a first title defense? Defeat Puetz of course. That battle in February 2017 improved Yusupov to 8-0 while Puetz dropped to a still respectable 15-3.
Champions and standouts
- Bellator: Ryan Bader
- CES MMA: vacant
- CFFC: Anton Berzin
- CWFC: Karl Moore
- M-1 Global: Rashid Yusupov
- One Championship: Roger Gracie
- PFL: vacant
- ROC: vacant
- Titan FC: vacant
- VFC: vacant
- Others: Kyle Noblitt, Alonzo Menifield, Shamil Gamzatov, Myron Dennis, Daniel Spohn, Angel DeAnda, Ryan Spann, Cameron Olson, Kennedy Nzechukwu, Herdem Alacabek, Shamil Gamzatov, Linton Vassell, Liam McGeary, Leonardo Leite, Stephan Puetz, Viktor Nemkov