Finding the UFC's Next Lightweight Title Challenger

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Frankie Edgar's upset victory over Sean Sherk at this past weekend's UFC 98 event leaves the lightweight picture a bit muddled.  Sherk's name has long been mentioned at the top of the list of potential challengers for the belt.  Though the loss to Edgar isn't a death blow to his aspiration of reclaiming the title, it very likely pushes him behind several other fighters. 

The next five UFC lightweight fighters behind #1 B.J. Penn and #3 Kenny Florian (the two will fight for the title at UFC 101) in the most recent edition of the USA Today/ SB Nation MMA Consensus Rankings are listed as follows (with most recent outings noted):

  • Sean Sherk (4) - lost unanimous decision against Frankie Edgar at UFC 98.
  • Diego Sanchez (10) - won unanimous decision against Joe Stevenson at UFC 95.
  • Gray Maynard (12) - won unanimous decision against Jim Miller at UFC 96.
  • Tyson Griffin (15) - won unanimous decision against Rafael Dos Anjos at UFN 18.
  • Frankie Edgar (18) - won unanimous decision against Sean Sherk at UFC 98.

I'll caution that what lies ahead in this post could be construed as "MMA math," but I don't see any way around it.  Furthermore, I don't think it will ultimately be the death of us to engage in such tomfoolery, and it's kind of fun.  First of all, Sherk can't be the next guy in line for a title shot.  The former champion will likely need to get a couple of solid wins under his belt before he can enjoy consideration once again.  It would simply be illogical to put him above Edgar after their most recent fight.

Sanchez has enjoyed a decent amount of success at welterweight, but he only has one fight at lightweight.  Luckily, he'll be facing #21 Clay Guida - gatekeeper extraordinaire - at The Ultimate Fighter 9 Finale on June 20.  That should give us more information about the lightweight version of Diego Sanchez.

If you go back a couple of years, Edgar scored a close, and somewhat controversial victory, over Griffin.  I don't think this should figure much into the calculus as it was (a) a long-time ago and (b) basically a fight which could have legitimately been decided either way.  Griffin's more recent boxing-inspired loss to Sherk hurts him more here.

Edgar's name has come up a lot.  Although many view him as too small for the lightweight division, he's been able to notch some impressive victories (Sherk, Hermes Franca, Spencer Fisher, Griffin).  He may be the closest thing to a key in this whole mess.  With that said, I don't see him as being at the top of the list.

That honor goes to Gray Maynard who decisively won a unanimous decision victory over the aforementioned Edgar.  Maynard has earned five wins with no losses and one no contest while competing in the UFC.  He's soundly beaten Edgar, Rich Clementi, and Jim Miller in his most recent outing.  Maynard looked particularly good against Miller as he was able to utilize a very formidable striking game to complement his already dominant wrestling skills.

I think that Maynard only needs one more win at the most to warrant a title shot.  Sanchez will be right in there alongside Maynard with a convincing win over Clay Guida, and Sherk probably needs a couple of victories against some of the other talented UFC lightweights.  I'd love to see a rematch between Griffin and Edgar.  Their first match was frenetically paced and displayed just how good both are.  A rematch would likely be close and would further solidify a pecking order.  Of course, the title bout between Penn and Florian on August 8 will ultimately set all the lightweight division's many parts in motion.  I'm eager to see who wins out at UFC 101, and who will emerge as the next challenger.

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