Time To Embrace The Lighter Weight Classes With Open Arms

Edgar Maynard-46Edgar-Maynard battles one-two in Fight of the Year race

Can we please be done with all the fans and critics rambling on with their complaints about point fighting and not being all that interested in the lighter weight classes?

Have Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, and the rest of the smaller stars that have shined bright over the last few months finally put that hollow criticism to bed?

Edgar and Maynard teamed up for their trilogy fight at UFC 136 and delivered the second-best fight of the year, trailing only behind their epic clash at UFC 125 on New Year’s Day. The bout — like the second fight — featured everything you could want in a fight: excitement, intrigue, a couple near misses, beautiful technique, and a conclusive finish.

What more could you need?

For my money, UFC 136 was the best pay-per-view of the year, and four of the five fights featured on the event were fought at lightweight or below. While Chael Sonnen returning with a win and subsequently challenging Anderson Silva certainly helped earn Saturday’s fights top marks in my books, the other four fights contested at 155 pounds or less delivered in spades as well.

A pair of featherweights, Nam Phan and Leonard Garcia, went toe-to-toe for 15 minutes, blistering each other with strikes throughout to earn Fight of the Night. Lightweight Joe Lauzon starched surging contender Melvin Guillard, then sunk in a rear naked choke to earn Submission of the Night honors, while Edgar’s finish of Maynard earned him $75,000 for Knockout of the Night.

And that doesn’t take into account the grueling, technical battle fought by Jose Aldo and Kenny Florian in the co-main event either. The veteran Florian pushed Aldo harder than we’ve seen him pushed to date, but the dynamic Brazilian champion was able to find his openings and out-gun the challenger on the way to a second consecutive unanimous decision win.

The electric fights being put forth by the lighter weight classes are nothing new.

Just last week, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz executed another brilliant title defense against Demetrious Johnson, while Ben Henderson delivered one of the best performances of the year when he halted Jim Miller’s seven-fight winning streak back in August. Before that, it was Cruz and Urijah Faber headlining another outstanding event with a back-and-forth battle.

These aren’t just fond recollections of recent fights either; based on the Fight Night bonuses handed out this year, the lightweight division is far and away the most exciting division in the UFC.

Through Saturday’s event, the UFC has handed out 58 post-fight bonuses this year, with 20 finding their way into the hands of a fighter in the lightweight division. That’s more than the heavyweights, light heavyweights, and middleweights combined, and twice as many as the welterweights have collected.

The lightweights have won 35% of the Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night bonuses, and 33% of the Knockout of the Night bonuses as well. When you factor the featherweights and bantamweights into the equation, the statistics become even more impressive.

Half of the awards handed out in 2012 have gone to fighters weighing 155 pounds or less, including 55% of the Fight of the Night checks, and nearly 60% of the Submission of the Night bonuses as well. Their 29 combined Fight Night bonuses are identical to the number of awards collected by the other four divisions, despite the fact that there have been fewer fights from the lightweights and below so far this year.

Yes, heavyweights account for five of the 21 Knockout of the Night awards handed out so far this year, while the bantamweights and featherweights have just one between them (Erik Koch, UFC 128), but it’s not like there is a great discrepancy between the divisions though. The middleweights and light heavyweights each have six post-fight bonuses, while the heavies have seven, compared to five and four for the ’35s and ’45s respectively.

But the truth about the excitement level of the light weight classes isn’t just measured in post-fight awards and statistics either.

When’s the last time you saw two fighters ’55 or under doubled over, hands on their knees, desperately trying to suck in oxygen like we saw from Ben Rothwell and Mark Hunt in Denver? If memory serves me right, we haven’t seen many lightweight or lower stall-fests against the cage or on the ground either.

These guys are incredibly well-conditioned, and even when they go to the ground, they’re transitioning, fighting, and working their way back to their feet to turn the energy up to 11 again.

While the marquee names of the UFC may reside in the heavier weight classes, the best division in the business is the 155 pound ranks, bar none, and the most exciting fights have routinely come from south of 170 pounds.

It’s what made the WEC so outstanding during its last two years of operations; every fight was contested at ’55 or lower, and the vast majority of them were fast-paced, electric encounters.

That has carried over to the UFC since January, only some people haven’t caught on just yet. They cling to the notion that the big boys deliver more excitement and far more explosive finishes, despite the fact that the welterweights have registered as many bonuses for their knockouts as the heavyweights, and the lightweights are only one behind the combined totals of the middleweights and up.

I like a good heavyweight scrap as much as the next guy, and watching one 240-plus pound man drop another 240-plus pound pound man with a Superman punch certainly gets me out of my seat, but not any more than when a lightweight does it to another lightweight.

Frankie Edgar’s knockout of Gray Maynard was as crisp as they come, and the fight itself was more entertaining than any other fight this year, save one — their first encounter.

The lighter weight classes are the most exciting in the sport, and it’s high time the UFC give them even more significant exposure, and the critics that still haven’t caught on start to pay closer attention.

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