With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
UFC 136 will be headlined by a Lightweight fight that is over three years in the making. Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard III is a rematch of my personal pick for 2011 Fight of the Year (so far) and a classic Lightweight title fight. But it's also the end of the line for a two man feud that has controlled the top of the division for the past year. Which means it's time to start looking ahead at what is yet to come. This is a somewhat new experience for the division - the last time anyone other than Edgar, Maynard, or last champion B.J. Penn fought for the Lightweight title was Diego Sanchez challenging at UFC 107 two years ago.
Next in Line:
Lightweight has always been a very tough division to reach the top of. It's a talent rich division, with so many tough names hovering at the top, that at any point, the apparent next in line can lose. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the cases of Jim Miller and Anthony Pettis.
Had things gone just a bit differently back at UFC 125, it would likely be Pettis challenging for the belt this weekend. But after the Edgar vs. Maynard rematch was set, Pettis decided to face Clay Guida, who put an end to the WEC champion's title run (for now at least). The other likely next #1 contender over the past few months was Jim Miller, but like Pettis, he was knocked off his perch, this time by Ben Henderson.
So, who's the next title challenger? Seems like it has to be the winner of Clay Guida vs. Ben Henderson at the Fox debut show on November 12. If that fight is not broadcast, it will be criminal.
Key Match Ups:
A lot of good stuff on the way at Lightweight that should help us sort things out after Guida vs. Henderson, but as always at Lightweight, any of these fighters have a long road to a title challenge.
- Melvin Guillard vs. Joe Lauzon (UFC 136) - Guillard is on a great 7-1 run, knocking out many opponents spectacularly. He seems to have developed into the kind of mature fighter that is capable of a real run at the top. Lauzon had good success a few years ago, but he's gotten lost in the shuffle and is 2-2 since 2010. A win here would help, but he has some rebuilding to do.
- Anthony Pettis vs. Jeremy Stephens (UFC 136) - WEC champion Pettis came into the UFC an automatic (if a bit questionable) #1 contender, but the Guida loss really cooled his run. He needs a big win here, but Stephens is a formidable opponent.
- Donald Cerrone vs. Dennis Siver (UFC 137) - Cerrone built a name for himself at the end of the WEC, claiming the interim WEC Lightweight title. It's been almost three years since he lost to anyone other than Henderson, and he's now 3-0 in the UFC with impressive wins. Siver had a forgettable run in the UFC back in 2007-2008, but then came back in 2009 and has gone 7-1 since. If Guillard wins this weekend, I would anticipate him facing the winner of this one next.
- Gilbert Melendez vs. Jorge Masvidal (Strikeforce) - This fight is a huge question mark, with Melendez in the works to jump over to the UFC any day now. If he does, this will be off, and he could potentially jump straight to the head of the line and challenge the Edgar vs. Maynard winner.
A few other Lightweights don't have things scheduled at the moment, but have to be considered "in the mix."
- Edson Barboza - Probably a bit early to put him on this list, but he's faced an increasingly tough level of competition and he is yet to lose. His next fight should keep moving him up.
- Jim Miller - Despite the Henderson loss, he's still in the upper levels of the division. With a 20-3 record, and a recent 7 fight UFC win streak, he's a real contender who could be just one big win away from a shot.
- Josh Thomson - Along with Melendez and Masvidal, he's the Strikeforce fighter with the best shot at making an impact in the UFC Lightweight division. Things have been a bit up and down for the ex-Strikeforce champion in the past few years, and he could use a win next time out.
- Matt Wiman - Wiman seems like the kind of career journeyman destined to have good fights in the midcard, but his last few performances have shown a new and improved Wiman. I can't see him actually challenging for the belt, but he belongs with these names.