For the entirety of Jimi “Poster Boy” Manuwa’s fight with Corey “The Artist Formerly Known As Beastin’ 25/8” Anderson at UFC Fight Night 107, Manuwa’s body language was all compression and patience against Anderson’s fidgety footwork. Manuwa spent three minutes shucking off Anderson’s takedown attempts, landing choice shots, and giving Anderson just enough room between himself and the cage to keep bouncing and nothing more. Then, as Anderson circled away from his power hand, Manuwa launched a long left hook that dropped Anderson like a plastic swatter hitting a moth. Anderson fell with a blank mind and Manuwa’s fellow Londoners roared their approval within the O2 Arena—one punch, no follow-up, no mess, no doubt.
It was a photogenic finish to a scrappy Fight Pass card, and it allowed the 37-year-old Manuwa to retake the narrative of his career. Manuwa is eight fights into his UFC career (and 19 fights into MMA in general), all but one bout has ended before the final bell, he’s an exciting striker, and he has the strange honor of finishing consecutive fights via TKO due to leg injury. But his two losses risked dragging him down to stepping-stone status: after failing in title bouts, Anthony Johnson and Alexander Gustafsson both rebounded by beating Manuwa. The UFC tried that move a third time, booking him against Ovince Saint Preux last fall after OSP’s tepid interim title loss, and Manuwa crumpled OSP in the second round with a left hook. The one-punch KO of Anderson was its elegant sequel.
Not that beating Anderson means a ton or that a two-fight win streak amounts to an airtight case for a title shot, but hey, these are dire times at light heavyweight. Unlike the problems plaguing the three next smallest divisions, where bad matchmaking has put too much distance between champions and their most deserving challengers, the 205-pound weight class—once the UFC’s marquee division—is hollowing out. The promotion recently released 24-year-old prospect Nikita Krylov. It seems content to let solid middle-of-the-pack fighters like Ryan Bader depart for Bellator. War-ravaged veterans like “Shogun” Rua and Antonio Rogerio Nogueira still round out the top 10, and for how long is anyone’s guess.
There’s also the chaos at the top courtesy of Jon Jones, the long-reigning champion who makes challengers look inept, has shown an addiction to tripping over himself when it matters most, and who is serving a suspension for banned substances until July. With champion Daniel Cormier rematching Anthony Johnson next month and the man who never lost the belt in the cage sitting idle, the division of Liddell and Couture has never felt so confusing or diminished.
Looking at that whole picture and the fact that he’s ranked fourth at 205 pounds, Manuwa really does have the relative merits to warrant a title shot, which he requested—along with a boxing match against David Haye—in his post-fight interview. At the press conference afterward, he dismissed the division’s most famous black sheep before immediately welcoming a fight with him, a reflection of the dissonance and disarray at 205 pounds.
“Before I was a big fan of Jon Jones, the things he’s done in the Octagon and everything, but he’s been suspended for a year or something and he’s had issues before,” Manuwa said. “He’s a great fighter—I greatly respect him, but he’s been banned for steroids [ed. note: the substances are actually clomiphene and letrozole.] and that taints everything that he’s done. So I’m not really interested. When he comes back, I’ll fight him no problem. But I’m focused on the belt right now, and that’s going to be the winner of DC and ‘Rumble’ Johnson.”
Assuming Jones returns in July to rematch the winner of Cormier-Johnson first—which, come on, he better—why not book Manuwa against someone like “Shogun” for the UFC’s upcoming three-night, three-event stint in Vegas? A win against a big name strengthens Manuwa’s case for a title shot. The timing has the added bonus of keeping him on standby, because in case Jones fucks everything up again once again, the champion will have a credible challenger. The depleted landscape has a huge upside for a fighter like Manuwa: when you touch your opponent on the chin and he falls down, all that empty space magnifies the sound.