The UFC light heavyweight champion has a name, and that name is Jamahal Hill.
That’s by virtue of his unanimous decision victory, 50-44 on all scorecards, in the UFC 283 headliner Saturday night over Glover Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro to earn the vacant prize belt.
And that’s by virtue of the UFC’s previous attempt to create a champion six weeks ago not going as planned, with Magomed Ankalaev rallying late to manage a split draw with Jan Blachowicz, leaving nobody in the UFC wearing the crown.
And that only came about by virtue of Jiri Prochazka — the last guy the UFC considered to be its champion at 205 pounds — opting to relinquish his belt in the wake of a shoulder injury, allowing the division to move on without him.
And move on it did … eventually.
Clearly, having a champion of the weight class was a massive priority for the UFC. Here’s the rub: The UFC doesn’t care particularly if the best fighter in the weight class is its champion. The best of two fighters on any given night the promotion needs a championship fight will do just fine.
On Saturday, Hill was the very best at 205 pounds competing at Jeunesse Arena, 100 percent. He had the look of a future champ from the moment he made his UFC debut. That he now represents the UFC as its champion is not to say a substandard mixed martial artist holds that distinction. But the fact is Hill was widely considered a mid-to-late top 10 fighter in the division. Usually, that means one more win is needed to reach a title shot.
Meanwhile, Teixeira entered this two-month stretch with the strongest claim to second-best in the world. It was he who was beating Prochazka with two minutes to go in their all-time classic in June, before a shocking rear-naked choke submission to take Teixeira’s title. The two were to face off again originally last month before Prochazka’s injury, of which he and UFC president Dana White disagree on the severity.
And Hill, who had the look of a future champ from the moment he debuted in the octagon nearly three years ago to the day, still made Teixeira look every day of his 43 years on this Earth over five brutal rounds. The jab was working. The kicks went low, mid and high. Those high kicks in particular turned the fight from an outclassing by the young calf to a beatdown of the old bull. Only Teixeira’s legendary toughness — and a long leash from his lead cornerman — willed him to the finish line.
(Side note: Let’s give some shine to former champion Teixeira and his GOAT-level classiness on his way out the door into retirement. Unlike new undisputed flyweight champ Brandon Moreno the fight before, Hill didn’t have to sprint into the tunnel covered in popcorn from an unruly crowd thanks to Teixeira’s plea for respect.)
But, come on, it took two fights in two months with four different fighters to determine who is the second-best in the promotion’s light heavyweight division. And, hey, Bellator 205-pound titleholder Vadim Nemkov has a claim to No. 2 in the world too — yes, perhaps ahead of Hill.
It’s not as if this is an isolated incident. For the past week, the UFC lacked both a light heavyweight and heavyweight champion after Francis Ngannou entered unrestricted free agency. The top heavyweight on the planet, MMA’s lineal champion, gets to carry that title with him wherever he goes. The winner of March’s schedule Jon Jones vs. Ciryl Gane — himself the last man to face, and lose, to Ngannou — matchup to crown the new UFC titleholder will be just that: the UFC’s champion, and nothing more.
At least Hill can and, ostensibly, will meet Prochazka to unify Hill’s UFC crown and Prochazka’s lineal title. That fight, whenever it goes down, figures to be Fourth of July-level fireworks: a pair of young and exciting strikers in their athletic primes. There will be no Ngannou vs. Jones, a fight that seemed all but assured nearly two years ago. Nothing is assured, clearly.
Although both Hill and Teixeira were transported to a hospital and did not meet with media, the quirky Prochazka shared a brief clip on social media with a simple message for Hill: “Congratulations. I am coming.”
Whoever emerges the victor in that (likely) meeting between Hill and Prochazka deserves that gold-plated UFC strap and the recognition as No. 1 in the world at 205 pounds.
Just don’t forget how little that matters to the modern UFC.
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