Is this the best lightweight in MMA? Really? Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
Sergio Non makes a strong case that there is a stylistic triangle at the top of the UFC lightweight division:
What UFC 118 didn't provide was any reason to favor Edgar in his upcoming rematch with Maynard.
Maynard beat Edgar in 2008 by putting him on his back repeatedly, and there's no reason to doubt his ability to do it again when they fight for the title. Sean Sherk planted Edgar in the third round in their fight last year. Penn, whose wrestling is nowhere near Maynard's level, did it twice on Saturday.
A Maynard championship reign presents a compelling match-up for Penn, who has feasted on grinding wrestlers. Does anyone think Penn can't beat a man who comes from a similar mold as Sherk and Matt Hughes?
One thing I've noticed about MMA fans is that they generally view a triangle as something that reflects a lack of depth at the top of a division. Notice the scorn that has been heaped upon Strikeforce's light heavyweight class because Gegard Mousasi, Muhammed "King Mo" Lawal and Rafael "Feijao" Calvancante have played a round of pass the belt. Instead of just concluding that the three fighters are all quality light heavyweights (although I agree with those who say they shouldn't be top 10, yet), most fans just quickly turn on the fighter who lost the most recent bout.
But the fact that the UFC lightweight title belt is now in the hands of Frankie Edgar, a man who took a one-sided beating at the hands of Gray Maynard, the #1 contender in April, 2008 is making some question who's really on top of the division.
People like Sports Illustrated's Josh Gross:
Edgar's two wins over Penn are hard to ignore. A case could be made for Maynard based on his victory over Edgar. (Their fight will likely determine No. 1 for the foreseeable future.) Third-ranked Gilbert Melendez, the current Strikeforce champion, would give either of the previously mentioned fighters a terrific scrap. Bellator titleholder Eddie Alvarez, a training partner of Edgar's, belongs in the discussion. And then there's the serious talent of Evan Dunham to consider.
It's too bad, of course, that we won't see Melendez or Alvarez fight the UFC's. In the meantime, hopefully Strikeforce and Bellator will find a way to bring their champions together; Melendez-Alvarez is one of the most intriguing fights outside the UFC at the moment.
A quick glance at the USAT/SBN Consensus MMA Rankings shows us that although the UFC currently has 6 of the top 10 lightweights undercontract, the #3, 5, 6 and 8 fighters are outside of their control. More importantly, the two pools of lightweight talent -- the UFC and Strikeforce/DREAM/Bellator -- haven't cross-pollinated significantly in years. #13 Takanori Gomi is the biggest cross-over, but he'd already plummeted out of relevance in the Japanese scene with multiple upset losses to little known fighters.
Gomi's run in the UFC hasn't brought any clarity either. First he got smoked by Kenny Florian, then he KTFO'd Tyson Griffin. So all we know is that Gomi, so far at least, isn't at the very highest levels of the UFC 155lb class, but he's no washout either.
The next cross-over fight between the "UFC pool" and the "Strikeforce/DREAM/Bellator" pool will be Roger Huerta vs #6 Eddie Alvarez. Huerta has lost three of his last four, but two of those fights were against #4 Kenny Florian and #7 Gray Maynard, only his loss to Pat Curran is really a knock on his claim to represent a near elite lightweight. But it's a pretty damn big knock.
Regardless, Alvarez vs Huerta is the only measuring stick we'll have to compare the two talent pools for the foreseeable future. In the meantime, we'll have to speculate.
And so far, unlike B.J. Penn, who presented an aura of dominance that made arm chair quarterbacks like myself rate him head and shoulders above the rest of the division. That and the fact that way way way back in 2003 he crushed Takanori Gomi.
Now that Frankie Edgar has definitively shown that's he's got B.J. Penn's number, and yet has not shown that he has the number of Gray Maynard, it's really hard to say that the UFC has the best lightweights in the world. #3 Gilbert Melendez and Alvarez both bring a very similar style of wrestle-boxing to their bouts that Edgar does and are bigger and more powerful. In fact, I'd probably pick either man to beat Edgar.
But then I picked B.J. Penn to beat Frankie Edgar twice so what do I know?