Since the WEC merger, mid-level UFC lightweights have been confronted with a major dilemma; how to stay afloat in a division now flooded with dozens of new, hungry and untested contenders? This problem really hits home when a fighter loses one, two, or even a devastating three fights in a row. At that point, and if your still lucky or popular enough to be under contract, you've got to be looking for a miracle solution. Lucky for lightweights that now find themselves in this predicament, the problem of the WEC merger also comes complete with a possible solution; the ability to now drop down a weight class and test out the shallower waters of 145.
This fresh new option could not have come sooner for three fallen stars in particular. I'm talking about Kenny "Kenflo" Florian, Joe "Daddy" Stevenson, and Tyson Griffin. The shallow waters of the featherweight division just became a whole lot deeper. Now a very intriguing question emerges; how will the newly aquired featherweights do against some of the UFC's most popular former lightweights?
This trend of dropping down to 145 is not a one time thing...there are now simply too many fighters on the roster and with top talent at lightweight for all of them to stay where they're at. If they're not actively in the mix, they are either getting put on an undercard, fired, or they better find a way to drop ten pounds pretty quickly. At the same time, I'm pretty certain that we aren't going to see such sudden shift of top talent all at the same time again. And top talent these mean are indeed; Florian was a runner up on TUF, and has been involved in 2 title fights, Tyson Griffin was a top contender for practically his entire time with the UFC, and Joe Daddy is a TUF winner and has also had a title fight at 155. These men are no joke. So how will these very down on their luck veterans do in their debuts? Will the new and still relatively unknown featherweights make a name for themselves as the men who threw out some of the UFC's top talent? Lets take a quick look.
Kenny Florian vs. Diego Nunes- This bought, scheduled for Ufc 131, will have the biggest impact on the featherweight division. Florian has been a top contender at 155 ever since...ever. His BJJ skills are excellent, and his boxing is ever improving (just ask clay guida). The man's kryptonite is grade A wrestlers that pack on more muscle then he does. That, and the sheer awesomeness of a fired up BJ Penn. Florian's opponent, Diego Nunes, is a very dangerous rising prospect at 145. In his last bout in January he bested former featherweight champ Mike Brown by split decision, something that only a few former champs and top contenders can claim to doing. He's a kickboxer that also possesses a fair bit of submission skills, and has an impressive reccord of 16-1. Clearly, Florian has a very tall order for his debute at 145. But i believe that it is one he can overcome. Nune's last 6 bouts have gone to decision, and Florian will waste no time securing his position at 145 by beating him. Florian's debut is going to be a successful one.
Tyson Griffin vs. Manny Gamburyan- I'm not going to beat around the bush here; Tyson Griffin is most likely going to be given his walking papers after his fight on Versus 4. Tyson was a top ten lightweight in the UFC for just about his entire career, besting the likes of Clay Guida, Gleison Tibau, Hermes Franca, and Marcus Aurelio. He even put away former WEC Featherweight champ Urijah Faber early in his career. No doubt about it, Tyson was a solid contender at 155...until last summer. Since then he's gone 0-3, losing to Evan Dunham, Takanori Gomi, and Nick Lentz. Tyson's future with the UFC needs a win at UFC Versus 4. After making it to the TUF finals and being hot and cold at 155, Manny Gamburyan made the move to the WEC and 145. He went on a tear, which included knocking out Mike Brown, before being absolutely destroyed by Jose Aldo for the featherweight title in his last fight. To view my prediciton of this fight, watch Tyson vs. Gomi. then watch Gamburyan vs Brown. after that, put the two fights together. and thats how its going to go. Manny is a pitbull at 145; Tyson just doesnt have the skills to win in this one.
Joe Stevenson vs. Javier Vazquez- Joe "Daddy" was one of the UFC's poster boys for the lightweight division early on, earning his hype by using his crushing submission skills to put away the likes of Melvin Guillard and Gleison Tibau. But, apart from a title fight against BJ penn that left Stevenson looking like an extra from the set of Saw, he's never been able to break into the elite of the division, no matter how many chances. He's currently on a 3 fight losing streek, and he beadly needs his fisrt fight at 145 to be a success. His opponent, Javier Vazquez, holds a record of 15-5, with 11 of those wins coming by way of submission, including an armbar against Jens Pulver. Recently losing a decision to Chad Mendes, Vazquez is looking for a big name victory over Joe Daddy. Sadly, i don't see Javier getting one here. Joe Stevenson is a strong man at 155; hes going to be an absolute gorilla at featherweight. and Javier is a fellow grappler, which means that when this fight inevitably goes to the ground, i see Joe out-muscling his opponent. Joe is going to get a second chance at 145. whether he will ever be a legitamate contender remains to be seen.
Well thats it folks, I think the UFC vets are going to go 2-1 against their former WEC counterparts. But whatever the outcome on the surface, this downward movement of talent will be nothing but good for the newly aquired divisions. the poster boy for the WEC, Urijah Faber, failed to give an impressive showing in his debut this March. The UFC needs a way to get its fans actively interested in the lighter divisions. And win or lose, the arrival of names like Florian, Stevenson, and Griffin will most certainly accomplish that.