Top of the division still uncertain after UFC 136
Saturday’s UFC lightweight title bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will bring a resolution to their two-part title fight and three-part rivalry. It will not, however, do anything to help the congested situation that has developed over the last two years in the UFC’s deepest division.
Having the title available to defend against a new challenger is a positive step forward, especially considering that just three men have battled for the belt the last four times it was on the line, with Edgar being a constant in those encounters.
After twice facing BJ Penn, the UFC 125 draw with Maynard and their respective injuries this spring meant that 2011 would look a lot like 2010, with the same two fighters meeting twice for the lightweight strap.
During that time, a number of fighters worked their way into contention, patiently waiting for the championship picture to be resolved so they might get the opportunity to fight for the belt as well.
Saturday’s outcome doesn’t change any of that. No matter what happens with Edgar and Maynard in Houston, there will still be a number of fighters capable of making a legitimate claim to being deserving of a title shot.
That could very well be the case, and whoever emerges victorious will certainly be deserving of the opportunity, but as we’ve known all along and bore witness to again yesterday, title plans can change, and there are no guarantees that Guida or Henderson will be named next in line.
The 28-year-old graduate from Season 2 of The Ultimate Fighter has amassed a five-fight winning streak over the last two years, emphatically finishing three of his last four fights in the opening round. If he increases his winning streak to six on Saturday night — and nine of ten overall — he could push his way to the top of the list of contenders, if even only until after Henderson and Guida meet in November.
In addition to those three very deserving contenders, UFC President Dana White threw a wild card into the deck last weekend when he announced the company is working diligently to bring Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez into the fold.
White has expressed some apprehension about giving Melendez an immediate title shot once he arrives in the UFC, but if anyone is deserving of the honor, it’s Melendez.
The winner of five consecutive fights over the last two years, the 29-year-old Team Cesar Gracie fighter has eliminated all his competition in Strikeforce, including dispatching a pair of top 10 ranked Japanese challengers in Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri.
Easily the top lightweight competing outside of the sport’s premier organization, some would even make the case that Melendez is the overall top competitor in the division. Being held in such high regard, it’s hard to argue against him being awarded an immediate title shot when he makes his way to the UFC.
While the bout between Henderson and Guida will remove one of those men from the running, a win for Guillard on Saturday would still leave three legitimate contenders battling for one spot. And it’s not like the rest of the division is just going to be standing still either.
The loser of Saturday night’s main event won’t fall too far down the list of contenders, nor should the defeated half of the Henderson-Guida pairing.
Three weeks from now, German kickboxer Dennis Siver and surging former WEC star Donald Cerrone meet at UFC 137. A victory for Siver would be his fifth consecutive successful trip into the cage, a streak that includes his UFC 127 upset of then-presumed #1 contender George Sotiropolous. A win for Cerrone would be his sixth straight, and fourth of this year.
Jim Miller won seven consecutive fights starting at UFC 100, and stands as one of two fighters most greatly affected by the stalled movement atop the division. His loss to Henderson in August undid two years of success, a cruel reality born out of the growing backlog in the 155 pound ranks.
The other fighter whose fate changed because of the draw was Anthony Pettis. After beating Henderson for the WEC lightweight title in the final fight in the organization’s history, Pettis was supposed to battle the winner of UFC 125’s main event. When no one emerged victorious and an immediate rematch was declared, Pettis was forced to choose his fate.
He decided to fight, faced Guida, and was soundly beaten, losing his third career bout, and his shot at the UFC lightweight title in the process.
That makes six more fighters no more than a couple wins away from being contenders as well. Throw in veteran Sean Sherk, born-again lightweight Nate Diaz, and Evan Dunham, and the number grows to nine; 10 if Jorge Masvidal migrates to the UFC when the death knell finally sounds for Strikeforce.
Saturday’s trilogy bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard will settle their series and put the lightweight title back into play, but it definitely doesn’t give any clearer picture of the top of the division.
Sunday morning, it’s still going to be as clear as mud.