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Solving the Lightweight Problem: Ultimate Fighter Season 15

This weekend was one of the most memorable I can remember since watching MMA. From the fantastic finishes to the crowd reminding me of my days as a soccer hooligan, this card had everything. However, one thing that became very apparent was how it is incredibly easy for the mid tier lightweights to get lost in the shuffle. The performances of both Edson Barboza and Ross Pearson were fantasitc, but both are still worlds away from breaking into the top of the division. With the news that the UFC is changing the format of "The Ultimate Fighter" to feature live fights, they have an opportunity to resolve these issues and build contenders for the belt. Below are the obvious choices and unlikely contestants for booking the 15th season of the Ultimate Fighter.

Matt Wiman - Matt Wiman got the call to face Spencer Fisher at UFC 60 on two weeks notice. Despite taking the L, he was invited to be a part of TUF 5. Since returning to the company he's been 7-3 but hasn't been able to secure the "big" win to push him further up the ladder. He has many of the qualities that the UFC looks for when choosing marketable fighters. At 27, he still has time to develop into a star. 

George Sotiropoulos - A TUF 6 cast member, Sotiropoulos was on a roll in the UFC with seven straight wins. He was rumored to be fighting for a title shot at UFC 127 when he faced Dennis Siver. George wasn't able to get the fight to the ground and lost a one sided decision. He returned at UFC 132 against Rafael Dos Anjos who knocked him out in under a minute. His age is a concern (34) but he still has the skills to beat most of the division. 

Sam Stout - "Hands of Stone", a nickname for was a bit of a joke since in his UFC career, he was unable to stop any opponents before his knockout over Yves Edwards at UFC 131. His time in the UFC has been a bit of a disappointment with an overall record of 6-5. His age is his biggest asset at this point. He's 27 years old and has more fight experience than most of his colleagues. 

Takanori Gomi - Crazy to think that one of the best lightweights in history could and should be considered a mid tier fighter in the UFC. The sobering truth is that since the fall of PRIDE, Gomi hasn't found the magic that made him so great. Now 1-2 in the UFC with his sole win over Tyson Griffin, the Fireball Kid is in desperate need of career CPR. A scheduled fight with Nate Diaz this month could make or break his future. If there is anyone who could benefit from th TUF treatment it is Gomi.

Donald Cerrone - Donald Cerrone is a bit of a enigma. In the WEC, he was one of the promotion's biggest stars. He just lacked the abilities to capture the lightweight belt. When he made his UFC debut, there weren't may expectations for Cowboy. Now 3-0 and a scheduled bout with Dennis Siver at UFC 137, he's being pushed to the top of the division. Some more time to develop and create a fan base could definitely do wonders for the 28 year old fighter. 

Jeremy Stephens - Jeremy Stephens is the very definition of an inconsistent fighter. He's never been able to put together more than a two fight win streak in the UFC. He's had some highlight reel knockouts but has also lost some some pretty devastating decisions. An opportunity to show he's a fighter to watch in the division would do wonders for not just his career, but also his confidence. 

The rest of the list after the jump...

Evan Dunham - Evan entered the UFC as one of the top prospects at 155. Riding wins over Marcus Aurelio and Tyson Griffin, he was set to break into the top 10 of division. He hit two road blocks, suffering back to back losses to Sean Sherk and Melvin Guillard, the second by knockout. He's in need of a promotional push to regain his status in the division. At 29 years old, he's about to hit his prime.  

Rafael Dos Anjos - Rafael's UFC career started as poorly as possible. Suffering back to back losses to Jeremy Stephens and Tyson Griffin, he was able to rebound with three straight wins before a loss to Clay Guida. The last time UFC fans saw him, he was knocking George Sotiropoulos out in under a minute. He's 26 years old and hasn't been able to gain a foothold in the division. 

Edson Barboza - Barboza is one of if not the top prospect in the UFC's lightweight division. A Muay Thai fighter from Brazil, he's currently undefeated in nine fights and has a fan-friendly style. His wins over Ross Pearson and Anthony Njokuani are impressive but they also showed that Barboza has some major holes in his overall game. His biggest asset is his age but he needs a promotional vehicle to truly become a star in the UFC. 

Mac Danzig - Danzig almost had his UFC career cut short due to a string of losses in 2008 and 2009. He's bounced back but every time the former TUF champion enters the cage, there is an ominous feeling that it could be his last. He didn't receive the normal TUF winner treatment, having to face Clay Guida in his second official fight in the organization. He needs a chance to rebuild his tarnished name without being thrown to the wolves once again.

Charles Oliveira - Do Bronx entered the UFC as a 14-0 prospect with a solid jiu jitsu game. He's fallen on some hard times recently with two losses and a no contest. He needs a chance to rebound and prove that he's not just another failed prospect. A stint on TUF to give the audience a chance to become familiar with him could be the best thing the UFC could do for Oliveira at this point.

John Makdessi - Let's run down the facts. Makdessi is 26, undefeated, and possesses flashy stand up. Right away that makes him an asset for the UFC's first foray into TUF on FX. When you add the fact that he's also one of the best Canadian prospects at lightweight, he's a fighter the UFC will want to build up as a future St. Pierre. Fighting live on FX would definitely be the right decision to create another Canadian star.

Jacob Volkmann - Two losses at welterweight forced Christmas to cut the additional weight and fight at 155. He's one of the best grapplers in the division and has the wrestling to be an issue for anyone. His stand up is still pretty rudimentary and currently even at 4-0 at 155, he's floundering. He needs to decide if he's going to be just another 155 or make a run at the top. 

Thiago Tavares - Like many fighters on this list, he entered the UFC as a top prospect. He's been dominant against the bottom of the division but whenever he's made the jump to the mid tier, he's always been defeated. He looked great this past weekend against Spencer Fisher and at 26, he's still got time to develop into a top fighter. He needs to make that decision though because media folks are ready to write him off as a never will be. 

Anthony Njokuani - His age is a bit of a concern at 31 years old. Njokuani was one of the most exciting fighters in the WEC but so inconsistent it's easy to not see much upside with the Nigerian fighter. Though he dropped a decision to Barboza earlier this year, he looked great in defeat. He possesses some of the best athletic ability at 155 and is also a flashy stand up fighter. 

Ross Pearson - The second TUF winner on this list, Pearson is arguably the best English fighter in the UFC. While most of his countrymen are content with continuing to train in the UK, Ross has changed camps to join Alliance in San Diego. There are some concerns with the losses to Barboza and Cole Miller but he's got too much upside as a fighter. 

Now obviously this list is my personal opinions on how I view the lightweight division. The UFC now possesses a unique promotional vehicle to market fighters. With the amount of fighters at 155 that just can't break through the glass ceiling, it may be in Zuffa's best interest to use its established lightweights to make the first TUF on FX the best one yet. Instead of being just another winner of The Ultimate Fighter, the UFC will have created a legitimate challenger to the top 10 in the promotion. 

This is based on a conversation with Worldisart. He also get credit for this idea.

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