It seems like it wasn't too long ago that the UFC barely had enough chum to throw into the jaws of then-champion Chuck Liddell. IFL-caliber fighter Vernon White and middleweight Jeremy Horn were chopped up and served with a side of fries. Randy Couture, Renato Sobral, and Tito Ortiz couldn't be given rematches quickly enough.
Now here we are, just over a year after Chuck and Tito broke records with their UFC 66 match. That fight seemed to break some kind of dam, and since then we've seen the division break out, far and away surpassing every other division in the entire sport for depth of competition.
Rampage Jackson, Shogun Rua, Lyoto Machida, Keith Jardine, Forrest Griffin, Wanderlei Silva, and Rashad Evans have stepped right up alongside Chuck and Tito. And guys like Wilson Gouveia, Houston Alexander, Jason Lambert, Thiago Silva and Rameau Thierry Sokoudjou are lurking like a pack of alligators waiting for someone to get too close to the water's edge. Dan Henderson, Michael Bisping, Jeremy Horn, Marvin Eastman and Terry Martin all dropped to 185, and James Irvin and Renato Sobral have left the UFC altogether. Matt Hamill, Stephan Bonnar, and Kazuhiro Nakamura, capable fighters by almost any measure, are all on the bubble, and I wouldn't be shocked to see any or all of them fighting in another circuit by the end of '08 (all three of them would bring something to the WEC, imo).
Dana White calls the Light-Heavyweights his "rock star division", and with matchups like Liddell-Silva, Machida-Sokoudjou, Griffin-Rua already on the books and Ortiz-Machida, Griffin-Rampage and Liddell-Shogun on the drawing board, he's obviously no longer interested in pampering his stars with tomato cans and warmup fights.