The UFC's lightweight division may be able to exclude itself from being a "stale" division after all. On Wednesday night, Gray Maynard defeated exiting UFC fighter Roger Huerta via decision to move himself into talk that he may be given a shot at the title in the near future. Three days later, his teammate, Tyson Griffin, finished an out-of-shape and reluctant Hermes Franca in the second round of their tilt at UFC 103, further igniting thoughts that Griffin may also be in the mix at the top of the lightweight division. While the welterweight division is struggling to find a viable contender and the middleweight division seems to be at a standstill due to Silva's injury and impassiveness, the lightweight division may become an attractive option for intriguing match-ups for Joe Silva and Dana White.
There could be two persuasive cases made for both Maynard and Griffin. Griffin is currently 7-2 in the UFC with losses only to Frankie Edgar and Sean Sherk. He's beaten some of the better names within the division, and he always has potential for producing a "Fight of the Night". He's improved his striking substantially over his time in the UFC, and his conditioning coupled with his wrestling can cause some problems for much of the division. He also happens to be a name that has a lot of exposure to the casual fanbase, and he's never fought Penn.
Maynard is equally, if not more, impressive. He's currently 8-0 in his career, defeating names such as Roger Huerta, Frankie Edgar, and Jim Miller. His win over Edgar may actually put him above Griffin on the totem pole, but we all know that title shots don't exactly follow logic. Just look at Yushin Okami. Like Griffin, Maynard has also improved his stand-up ability significantly, and he has a conditioning/wrestling package that is smothering on the ground.
There are a couple of problems for both men however. First and foremost, Frankie Edgar is also in the mix as he did dominate Sean Sherk in a boxing match at UFC 98. He defeated Griffin in the past, but Maynard actually frustrated him in his win at UFN 13. There is also the problem of having Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, and potentially Diego Sanchez in the mix as well. If Sanchez loses to Penn, he'll likely gain a fight with Maynard or Griffin, two men looking to break into the upper-echelon to challenge for the title. Florian is also a possibility, but I'm wondering if the UFC may be leaning toward a Sherk vs. Florian rematch.
After Florian lost to Penn, many fans believed Sanchez was really the only logical threat. If he's defeated however, there are now a number of viable options for the UFC to turn to, and they aren't exactly terrible fights. Both Maynard and Griffin have the cardio and wrestling to potentially give Penn problems. Whether or not they can actually get B.J. to the floor and control him is a different story, especially at 155 pounds, but the UFC could definitely sell the fight as a legitimate danger to Penn.
Not only are the title possibilities opening up, but upper-echelon match-ups are looking solid as well. Griffin, Maynard, Florian, Sherk, and Edgar are all in the mix. Florian will battle Clay Guida at UFC 107 while Edgar takes on Kurt Pellegrino at The Ultimate Fighter Season 10 Finale. If both favorites win, Sherk will likely be repaired of his injury, and we'll probably see some match-ups between those names happen in the first four months of 2010. Not exactly a bad mix of talent for fans to enjoy in the coming year.
Image courtesy of Vernon Bryant / Associated Press