The UFC's lightweight division didn't have the outlook that one would hope when champion Frankie Edgar battled challenger Gray Maynard on January 1st at UFC 125. Not only did the result, a split draw decision, put a snag in the plans for the division to move forward, but a scheduled rematch between the two combatants at UFC 130 was scrapped due to both fighters getting injured in training camp. The succession of challengers had already been set with Anthony Pettis tabbed as the next contender. Unfortunately, he was a casualty of the Edgar-Maynard debacle, and it led to his demise as a sure-fire contender when he lost to Clay Guida at The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale on June 4th.
From the perspective of most fans, the succession of challengers after Pettis wasn't as cut and dry as one might believe. Jim Miller was likely the next candidate as he had extended his winning streak to seven after defeating Kamal Shalorus at UFC 128 in March. Clay Guida climbed the rankings by defeating Pettis in June, but he had also dispatched of former PRIDE lightweight kingpin Takanori Gomi and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu black belt Rafael dos Anjos. Dennis Siver's win over George Sotiropoulos at UFC 127 in February and Melvin Guillard's stoppage of Evan Dunham at UFC Fight for the Troops 2 in January also turned a few heads, creating a stacked upper tier of lightweights ready to pounce on the opportunity to contend for the title.
UFC 132 provided a litmus test that the division needed, especially since there is a bottleneck at the top of the division. With Edgar and Maynard rumored to be going to war sometime in the Fall, the contender picture will need to be worked out quickly as a title defense is likely in the cards for year end. Saturday night's three marquee lightweight contests gave us a clearer picture moving forward.
The most apparent conclusion we can make is that Melvin Guillard is likely the closest to tasting contendership. While Jim Miller vs. Ben Henderson is a fight that may decide who takes on the winner of Maynard vs. Edgar, it's an intriguing proposition to press Guillard into a fight with the winner of that contest. His speedy striking and devastating power were put on display on Saturday night, recklessly running at Roller with complete disregard for his opponent's vaunted wrestling pedigree. Fortunately for Guillard, and perhaps a sign of his progression as a fighter, Guillard never had to worry about the ground game, easily overwhelming Roller and putting on a show for the fans and the UFC's brass.
In terms of relevance, many fans have Guillard at the bottom of the list, but as we all know -- entertainment value has a significant effect on where a top-tier lightweight lands. Guillard has that value, and he will more than likely get the nod for a contender bout very soon.
Dennis Siver, while victorious in a slightly controversial decision over Matt Wiman, hasn't been as overwhelmingly impressive as Guillard. He is in the contender picture, but I think an eventual rematch with Guillard is inevitable considering both men are strikers. Book it and give the winner a shot at contention.
The spoiler of the evening was the impressive performance by Rafael dos Anjos, solidifying the idea that George Sotiropoulos isn't ready to contention after also losing to Dennis Siver, nor will he likely ever be at 33 years of age. Dos Anjos, who came out from the opening bell looking fresher and sharper than he ever has, laid waste to Sotiropoulos' chin in only 0:59 seconds. Dos Anjos could be a real dark horse in the next year as he's only 26 years of age and showing remarkable improvements in his stand-up game. With an already vaunted Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu base, look forward to Dos Anjos making a run toward the top in 2012.
What did UFC 132 tell us about the UFC's lightweight division? Despite the periods of staleness that hit the top of the division from time to time, it has only taken roughly six months for one of the UFC's premier divisions to rebound and present fans with two or three solid future match-ups. Siver vs. Guillard is easily the most intriguing possibility after Saturday night, and a bout featuring Rafael dos Anjos has me interested greatly after his performance against Sotiropoulos. I would love to see a Guida vs. Dos Anjos rematch, but I imagine the UFC may be angling Guida for a run as he is a popular fighter among fans. In any case, there are four or five fighters jockeying for position, and it should create some explosive match-ups for the rest of 2011 and into 2012.