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UFC Lightweight Division Due for a Bloodbath

Jamie Varner won't be the last well known lightweight to be cut by the UFC.
Jamie Varner won't be the last well known lightweight to be cut by the UFC.

I've been bracing myself all day for news that the UFC had cut some of the fighters who lost at UFC Fight for the Troops 2 on Saturday. So far it's been quiet. But I don't expect that to remain the case.

Dave Meltzer wrote about the UFC's roster issues in last week's Wrestling Observer (subscription required):

The reality is with the WEC merger, there are going to be a lot of cuts, and in the lightweight division, because there are so many fighters on the roster, there will probably be some name fighters cut after losing (such as Jamie Varner). There are about 270 fighters on the roster and based on simple math of giving guys the opportunity for fights every four months or so if they aren't injured, the roster should be closer to 200. And there are always going to be good prospects you want to sign, or people getting in as last minute replacements, so there are going to be a lot of loser leaves town type matches coming up and a lot of losers, even some who lose exciting fights, who are going to be cut. Another thing that is likely to happen is that some UFC prelim fighters will be given the opportunity to take fights outside the organization and remain under contract simply so they can get three fights in. Also, if you aren't a big name, the leverage in turning down fights is a lot smaller because the roster spots are so competitive. They've added a 12th fight on a lot of the shows so they can keep talent busy but even with an addition of one fight per show this year, so that helps some as it's the equivalent of adding 16 usable roster spots.

Sherdog breaks down the details of overcrowding by division:

Lightweights, meanwhile, resembling the Indy 500, with every lane packed and six-deep with guys jockeying for position. To be blunt: there are simply too many of them to keep, with 70 listed on the active roster. Featherweight, meanwhile, has 29 guys under contract, but only 16 with more than one win. Compared to lightweight, it's a virtual ghost town.

And the 135-pound division has 22 fighters, which invites further opportunity for feathers at a crossroads once the influx of lightweights begins.

While the Monday-morning cuts from that roster supply a final jolt of post-event newsiness, at lightweight, the competition is simply ruthless. It's a product of marketability, name value, and size. A heavyweight slugger like Patrick Barry, with proven bonafides, can lose his next two or maybe three fights and probably wouldn't be let go. Lightweights get no such assurances.

When it could take a solid hour to assemble your list of the UFC's top twenty 155ers, given how crowded the pool is, the bottom half will no doubt be taking a long look at the scales and the steam room to stay relevant. And when that happens, the domino effect will trickle down to 135.

BE's own Jonathan Snowden spoke about the likely impact this "trickle down" migration will have on the featherweight and bantamweight divisions a couple of weeks ago and how it means you can "Forget What You Think You Know About the Featherweight Division":

Luke Thomas has been preaching this point for some time on his MMA Nation radio show. The featherweight division just hasn't settled in yet - it's too new to have even determined who the best fighters in the division are, let alone how they fit in the broader framework of MMA. And now that there is UFC money in the division, everything is going to change. It will be a cataclysmic year for featherweight rankings as tons of fighters just like Poirier will try their hand at 145.

The featherweight division, as we know it, is an artificial construct. The rankings are all meaningless, even our great USA Today/SBNation Consensus MMA Rankings. Until the UFC level talent at 155 settles into the division and makes their mark, everything is a guessing game. What happened in the WEC is irrelevant. A guy like Poirier, a 155 pounder who lost a preliminary undercard bout to Danny Castillo in the WEC a few short months ago, just wrecked the WEC's top featherweight contender. Forget what you think you know. Until further notice the featherweight division should be promoted with an asterisk that reads "Under Construction."

For UFC lightweights who are able to make the cut down to 145lbs this is an exciting, albeit dangerous time. But for those 155lb'ers who've already cut off every pound they can every fight will be a must win.

Look at Evan Dunham. After getting pasted by Melvin Guillard Saturday, he's suddenly on a two fight losing streak. This is despite Dana White declaring him the winner of his split decision loss to Sean Sherk at UFC 119. Not long ago Dunham was an undefeated young fighter on a four fight UFC win streak, including an emphatic win over long-time contender Tyson Griffin. Now he's potentially on the chopping block. I don't think it's his time, but his next fight will be a must win. That's a sudden fall from grace for Dunham.

Of the lightweights who lost on Saturday, I'd say the most likely to be cut is Willamy Freire who made his UFC debut in a loss to Waylon Lowe. Normally I'd expect the kid to get a second chance, but times are hard and the division is overcrowded.

Cody McKenzie lost to Yves Edwards but he's a veteran of The Ultimate Fighter and he's now 1-1 in the big show. I expect him to get one more shot.

Cole Miller should be safe for at least one, and probably two more losses. He's not only a TUF veteran, he's also a proven commodity in the division with a 6-3 record going back to 2006. Miller should be in the good graces of Zuffa.

Featherweight Mike Brown is in a different, and far more precarious position. The former WEC 145lb champ has gone 2-3 since losing his belt and looked flat on Saturday in a loss to Rani Yahya. Yahya needed a win desperately after 2 straight losses in his last WEC fights. Even with a win his next fight is a must win as well. As for the former champ, I expect Brown to be cut. 

George Roop is another 145lber who might be gone after Saturday. If he was a lightweight rather than a featherweight I'd guarantee it. He's 1-2-1 in his current Zuffa stint, with one of those losses at 135lbs. This is his second run with the company, he fought for the UFC at 155lbs in 2008-2009 and went 1-2 before getting the axe. I'd put 50/50 odds on Roop being UFC history.


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