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MMA Quarter IV Report: Light heavyweight

Daniel Cormier attends a UFC 200 mixed martial arts news conference, Wednesday, July 6, 2016, in Las Vegas. Cormier is scheduled to fight Jon Jones in a light heavyweight championship fight at UFC 200 on Saturday. (AP Photo/John Locher)
(AP Photo/John Locher)

Welcome to FanRag Sports’ MMA quarterly report, where we provide you with all the latest that’s taken place in a particular division in mixed martial arts.

We’ve reached the penultimate stop in our quarterly series, reaching a land of the big — but not biggest — men. The UFC’s light heavyweight championship without a defense through the first three quarters of 2016; Q4 was no different. Others were still able to take a few steps forward in the absence of the champion, though.

 

Greatest Rise in Stock During Quarter IV: Ryan Bader, Jimi Manuwa

Almost literally, Ryan Bader saw his stock rise at the end of 2016. The former Ultimate Fighter winner picked up a rather meaningless win at UFC Fight Night 100, defeating a 40-year-old Antonio Rogerio Nogueira for the second time in his pro career. Nogueira was already ranked toward the end of the top 15 and had only been victorious once in three years; it’s safe to say the win didn’t amount to much for Bader.

What it managed to accomplish, however, was send him off into a world of free agency on a win. A rare commodity in MMA, Bader may never be a champion in the UFC, but he remains one of the top five light heavyweight fighters on the planet. He’d be a major add for Bellator, who’s already found great success in former UFC light heavyweight Phil Davis.  Bader is bound to get a valuable offer from Bellator or receive a matching sheet from the UFC.

There’s also Jimi Manuwa, who, while still under contract with the UFC, returned to the Octagon after a yearlong absence to reestablish his presence in the division. It had been 13 months since Manuwa fought, last seen suffering a second-round knockout at the hands of Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. He bounced back with a second-round KO of former UFC interim light heavyweight title challenger Ovince Saint Preux, perhaps just one win away from securing a title shot.

Greatest Drop in Stock During Quarter IV: Nikita Kyrlov, Ovince Saint Preux

Plenty were high on Nikita Krylov. The former heavyweight dropped down to 205 and, shortly after suffering a first-round defeat to Saint Preux in his divisional debut, stormed off five straight victories inside the Octagon — three by submission and two by T/KO. The 24-year-old Ukrainian seemed primed to make his way to the top of the division, serving as a rare commodity in the UFC’s light heavyweight class; a rare combination of youth and potential. He was a wild fighter, reckless at times in search of the W. It caught up to him against Misha Cirkunov, who stopped the Ukrainian powerhouse in the opening round at UFC 206. Krylov is now 0-2 against fighters ranked in the top 15.

Saint Preux also experienced a sizable dip in the final months of the year. What started out with an impressive victory over Rafael Cavalcante in February was then met with an opportunity to become an interim champion in the UFC. He didn’t win that fight, but he fought valiantly against Jon Jones — who’s long maintained that this was his worst performance in the UFC. Then came October, when Saint Preux had a chance to back up his semi-impressive performance against Jones with a potential win over Manuwa at UFC 204. He was off to a nice start before being clipped and put away. He’s now 0-4 against fighters who make up the top six.

Biggest Question Heading into Quarter I 2017: Who will Ryan Bader sign with?

It may not be overly discussed, but Bader has the potential to keep the ball rolling in a chaotic world of mixed martial arts free agency. The UFC has already seen names like Benson Henderson, Phil Davis and Rory MacDonald head off to Bellator, while Bellator has also seen the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Will Brooks and Marcin Held be picked off by the UFC. As discussed earlier, Bader may not have the goods to ever become a UFC champion; not while he remains at light heavyweight and not while monsters like “Rumble,” Jones and Daniel Cormier make up the top of the division.

That doesn’t make him too less valuable, though. Bellator has already seen “Mr. Wonderful” run roughshod through its division, leaving an unlikely name or two to try and topple Davis from his post as champion. An extra name, particularly one with experience in the UFC, could do wonders for the class.

As noted, the UFC would have the chance to match any offer Bader receives out on the market. But is the company — one now run by an entertainment-first WME-IMG — willing to shell out the sort of cash possibly needed to retain the services of a fringe contender with a slim following?

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