UFC 144: Lightweight Division State Of The Union

Frankie Edgar wears his belt out of the cage at UFC 136 on Saturday, Oct. 8, 2011 at the Toyota Center in Houston, Texas. Esther Lin, MMA Fighting

With so many fights coming up spread across eight 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.

This weekend, the UFC Lightweight division takes center stage as reigning champion Frankie Edgar defends his belt against the #4 ranked former WEC champion Ben Henderson. As is often the case in the 155 pound division, things have been rather hectic in recent months with a number of former top contenders pushed aside and new names in to take their places. Melvin Guillard, Dennis Siver, Donald Cerrone, Clay Guida... all close to title contention, now all looking to regroup.

So what comes next for the winner of Edgar/Henderson? And who is our next crop of potential challengers in the deep Lightweight waters? Let's take a look...

Next in Line:

Though not officially a #1 contender fight, chances are good the winner of #6 Jim Miller vs. #8 Nate Diaz on the May 5 UFC on Fox 3 show will be the next title challenger. Miller looked poised to get the current shot, but Henderson snatched it away from him last summer. He's since come back with a good win over Guillard, and a win over Diaz would likely seal the deal. Diaz is only 2-0 since returning to Lightweight after a brief Welterweight run. You could say he's not yet earned his spot, but wins over Cerrone and Miller make a strong case. Plus his last name is Diaz, and right now, that's a good thing to capitalize on.

Key Match Ups:

You never know who is going to emerge from the pack at Lightweight and who is going to fade back into the middle of the field, but the following fights all have the potential to create a future title challenger:

  • #10 Anthony Pettis vs. #12 Joe Lauzon (UFC 144) - On the undercard of Edgar vs. Henderson is this big fight. Pettis was promised a title shot for being the final WEC champion, but when Edgar vs. Maynard 2 went to a draw and the rematch was first announced, then postponed, he decided to stay active by facing Clay Guida. A loss there set him back, but he's since come back by defeating Jeremy Stephens. Joe Lauzon made big waves with his win over Guillard at UFC 136. If the winner here takes home the victory in thrilling fashion, I'd expect a title eliminator next.
  • #13 Donald Cerrone vs. Yves Edwards (UFC on Fuel 3) - Had he defeated Diaz at UFC 141, Cerrone would be at the very top of the division, but it didn't happen, and now the Cowboy is way down the ladder. Yves Edwards is no slouch, but he's also not a relevant contender at this point. This is a chance for Cerrone to get back on track, provided he doesn't make a mistake and take Edwards too lightly.
  • #20 Evan Dunham vs. Edson Barboza (UFC 146) - Just announced, this one is a great potential showcase for Barboza. Though Dunham is ranked higher, it's Barboza who has the clear momentum thanks to his spectacular KO of Terry Etim. That's the kind of moment that you need to shine at Lightweight, and if Barboza can again deliver fireworks, he'll be on the fast track up the ranks.

In The Mix:

A few former contenders sit just outside the title picture, waiting to see what's next. And come to think of it, pairing these two up looks like a pretty good idea to me:

  • #3 Gray Maynard - Maynard is in the unenviable position of being able to defeat pretty much anyone in the division except the champion. Call it the Jon Fitch spot. He has to be hoping for a Henderson win this weekend, as I can't see a 4th Edgar vs. Maynard happening anytime soon.
  • #7 Clay Guida - Always a bridesmaid, never a bride. Guida is the guy you beat before challenging for the belt. Florian did it, Henderson did it, Pettis tried and failed. But can Clay himself ever get that shot?

Others to Consider:

And finally, a few names from outside the title picture that should be mentioned:

  • #2 Gilbert Melendez - The Strikeforce champion was rumored to be on his way to the UFC late last year, but now the talk is that he's staying put. But let's be honest - people want him in the UFC, and that's where he should be.
  • #15 Melvin Guillard - He's lost 2 in a row after being about 1 win from a title shot, but Guillard's combination of personality and KO power make him a constant threat to the top. He'll need some wins to get close again though.
  • There are tons of other possible contenders out there - Matt Wiman, Mark Bocek, Gleison Tibau... but for the moment they're all stuck together in the middle. As Barboza showed, one big win can elevate you in an instant, but for now, they'll have to fight it out among themselves and see if anyone takes that step up.

Rankings based on the USA Today / SB Nation consensus rankings, dated January 27, 2012.

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