I am thoroughly perplexed by the UFC's aversion to hosting a blockbuster Grand Prix.
Not only were the Pride tournaments a sentimental favorite for hardcore fans, but two stateside promotions -- Strikeforce and Bellator -- are currently exercising the format with encouraging results. The Ultimate Fighter reality show never deviates from the arrangement, but it's yet to be applied to the bustling populace of bankable contenders in the UFC's marquee divisions, especially now with the influx of WEC fighters.
Two weeks ago, Melvin Guillard threw out the call for a lightweight tournament to sort out the logjam of outrageous talent at 155, and I concur.
It would be a marketing orgasm. It would carry a storyline from one show to the next, developing continuity and building anticipation. It would establish a divisional hierarchy; a propitious aspect, because the UFC doesn't rank their contenders or even prioritize anyone other than the champion. Both casual and intense followers would benefit from a vague skeleton laying out which fighters are on the brink of a title shot, still working their way toward one, just had one, or will never really get one.
Of course, the tournament would have to be done in segments to appease contemporary regulations, which is a blessing that will eliminate the injuries that consistently distort the outcomes of same-night tournaments.
Since Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard are really the only two supremely isolated fighters in the division, I've assembled my own fantasy brackets for a UFC Lightweight Tournament in the full entry. The guidelines I followed to construct these fights were those that would be relevant to the division, exciting as hell, or just fun to watch.
Not only have these two have scratched and clawed their way to the top of the totem pole, but their styles would make for an interesting clash. Out of ten Octagon appearances, Jim Miller has fallen short once against Gray Maynard, and is currently surfing a seven-fight tsunami.
Clay Guida is just ... Clay Guida. He doesn't have the prettiest record, but no one can deny that the guy never quits, constantly improves, and has worked his ass off to stay among the division's elite.
Who wouldn't want to see this? These are two streetfighters who also masquerade as insanely skilled martial artists. They both exude aggression, hate judges and decisions, love to punch faces and are hard to finish. They have markedly different but equally fearsome striking and BJJ and Sherman Tanks for chins. This dogfight should be the first non-title five-rounder.
And yes, both of these guys have dabbled at welterweight, but can (and should) bounce back and forth when promising opportunities arise. This would be promising indeed.
Even though his Octagon record isn't flattering, his career trajectory is, and "The Fireball Kid" has never been knocked out. Guillard would be the quicker fighter while Gomi has one-shot power. This would be another guaranteed crowd pleaser.
This was another combo that seemed to make sense. Cowboy's dominant showings over Paul Kelly and Vagner Rocha indicated that he's ready for an upper-echelon opponent, and Siver's won seven of eight since his loss to Guillard.
Both have crushing stand-up, and even though Cerrone has the far superior ground game, he probably doesn't have the tools to enforce it. Siver's strength and power would be an interesting test for Cerrone's long and thorough Thai arsenal.
Joe Lauzon vs. Rafael Dos Anjos
In retrospect, Matt Wiman is the more sensible choice to face Dos Anjos, and would probably make for a more competitive and exciting fight. His stand-up is tighter, his footwork is better, and his more durable wrestling would only land him in the guard of a deadly sub-specialist.
The fact that there are a dozen other fighters that could be inserted into this sixteen-man tournament is a true testament to the depth of the class.
Sherk is rarely mentioned as a threat, yet fighters who were or would be UFC champions (Hughes, St. Pierre, Penn, Edgar) account for the only losses on his lengthy forty-one fight record. Mark Bocek was a great initial opponent to measure Bendo's potential. Bocek has taken almost everyone down he's fought, and Henderson proved that the WEC wasn't an inferior playground.
Just ... yeah. This is another mix-and-match that the MMA Gods would smile upon. Explosive striking and fluid Jiu-Jitsu is a beautiful thing when unleashed creatively, and that's what these two rising stars do the best.
Both of these strikers have been hanging around for quite some time now, and their UFC 113 match-up (which ended in a split-decision for Stephens) did not extract a definitive winner. I originally had Stephens matched with Oliveira and Pettis with Stout, but the Pettis vs. Oliveira fight was just too good to pass up.
What I love about the mere thought of a lightweight tournament is the unending possibilities for intriguing match-ups. You could throw Edson Barboza Jr. vs. Evan Dunham in the mix, or even Anthony Njokuani vs. John Makdessi. Though they don't necessarily light the audience on fire, a Nik Lentz vs. Gleison Tibau match would have implications on the division as well.