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The UFC Lightweight Picture

Well after the Sherk/Franca match, the TUF series finale featuring Penn/Pulver, and about a year's worth of fights in the revived UFC lightweight division, I'd say they've got themselves a pretty good crop of fighters. And one complicated title picture.

First up is the pending Sherk vs Penn match rumored for UFC 78 in Newark. To me, that fight is the definition of a title match. There's no way people will still be able to say the winner of this fight is not among the top lightweight MMA fighters in the world. Penn and Sherk have been fighting the best welterweights around for the last couple of years. And besides Penn crushed Gomi. So I'm just not buying that the PRIDE crew would just come into the UFC lightweight division and clean house anyhow.

I'm actually anxious about the Sherk/Penn match because after seeing Sherk shrug off those knees against Franca, I could see it going either way and I like both fighters. The keys will be 1) B.J.'s conditioning and 2) B.J.'s takedown defence. I tend to think that if you can fend off Matt Hughes' you can fend off Sherk, but Sherk is damn explosive. Still I pick B.J. to win by sub or TKO.

Good thing we've got several months to figure out who the #1 contender is because things are murky in the rest of the division. There are two major fights on the UFC 74 card: Joe Stevenson/Kurt Pellegrino and Clay Guida/Marcus Aurelio.

Both matches match talented grapplers. Stevenson and Pellegrino are both on winning streaks in the UFC since moving down to lightweight with Stevenson having faced marginally tougher competition. The winner will definitely be in contention although I don't see either being a threat to Sherk or Penn. Then there's Clay Guida. The UFC says they love his mile-a-minute style but then they keep throwing him in with top talent like Tyson Griffen, Din Thomas and now the biggest PRIDE acquisition in the lightweight division: Marcus "Maximus" Aurelio. This is a guy who submitted Gomi in a non-title bout and then narrowly lost a split decision. Clearly Guida is being used as a gatekeeper to establish Aurelio, in what the UFC hope will be the kind of action-packed contest Guida is known for. Here's Marcus in action:

Of course some will say that the real top talent in the Lightweight division is fighting in K1-HEROs who just started a major LW tourny featuring Vitor "Shaolin" Ribiero and Caol Uno.