Unravelling the UFC Lightweight Division
In the wake of The Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale, the Lightweight division has become even more convoluted than it already was. Had Anthony Pettis won, everything would have been clear and the division would have started to get some traction. However Clay Guida, and judges incessant on scoring top position more highly than trying to finish the fight, had other ideas. Clay did what Clay does, and there’s no reason to hold that against him, because against a fighter like Pettis the gameplan he brought to the cage was really his only option. Conversely, the judges sitting cageside did have other options available, one would have been scoring rounds for the fighter active off of his back. You know, the one who was constantly threatening with submissions, and almost caught his foe a few times? They could have also scored rounds in which neither fighter held a big advantage as 10-10 rounds (GASP! The humanity!).
I wouldn’t be upset about the decision if any of the judges even considered for a moment either of those methods of scoring, but the fact that they didn’t and will never – as they are encouraged to avoid 10-10 rounds by the athletic commissions and the UFC, and if anyone had a problem with how grappling-based fights were being scored it would have been made an issue by someone other than the fans already – is what irks me. In addition, anyone who had the pleasure of watching DREAM: Fight for Japan the previous night on HDNet got to see Joachim Hansen win a decision over Mitsuhiro Ishida by fighting primarily from his back. It was a breath of fresh air from the North American MMA culture which can’t seem to grasp a simple concept, and also great to see Japanese MMA back on a big stage (even if it was tape delayed).
Back to the topic at hand – because it’s become painfully obvious that nothing will be done about the current judging in the UFC – how do Saturday night’s results effect the Lightweight Division moving forward? Well, here are the current contenders in the division:
–Anthony Pettis obviously no longer has his number one contender spot, but I don’t feel like his performance warrants him being dropped significantly down the ladder at 155. He is a popular, exciting, young fighter, and he already holds victories over two other WEC vets who are in high-profile matches coming up (Benson Henderson and Shane Roller). A few wins over the mid-high level LWs on the UFC roster (i.e. Jeremy Stephens) should have him back in contention in no time.
–Jim Miller would be my choice as the number one contender in Pettis’ stead, but Jim is already booked in a very difficult match against Henderson (who dominated Mark Bocek, whereas Miller pulled out a victory in the dying seconds of his bout with Bocek). Should Miller win, I would think he is the obvious choice as the next title challenger. If he loses, things get really wacky.
–Melvin Guillard has to be as close to the title conversation as anyone. He has won 7 of 8, 4 straight, and has defeated notables such as Dennis Siver, Gleison Tibau, Jeremy Stephens and Evan Dunham over those recent strings. A win against Shane Roller in July could go a long way to earning him some title consideration.
–Clay Guida has now won 4 fights in a row, including wins over Pettis and Takanori Gomi. His two recent losses at 155 have come to fighters who have since vacated the division, and with another high-profile win he should be behind only Miller as a title contender.
–Dennis Siver is also “in the mix” in the division. He too has won 7 of 8, and recently defeated the top-10 ranked George Sotiropoulos (who was thought to be very close to a title shot of his own). Siver’s next fight will come at UFC 132 in July (in a stacked card for Lightweight action), and ideally I would have liked to see him rematch Guillard, in a bout that would come much closer to producing a legitimate contender. As it stands, if he defeats Matt Wiman it will move him forward in the division, but not enough to get to title territory.
-In a similar position to Siver is the aforementioned Ben Henderson, who recently rebounded from his loss to Pettis with a victory over Bocek, and would get right back in the thick of title contention with a win over Jim Miller.
-Prior to his loss against Siver, George Sotiropoulos had reeled off 7 straight wins in the UFC, and with a few solid wins (he has an upcoming bout at UFC 132 with Rafael dos Anjos), he could easily reclaim his spot as a top challenger.
–Gleison Tibau has lost to both Miller and Guillard on this list, but has proven himself to be a cut above the mid-level Lightweights the UFC has thrown at him.
–Sean Sherk has been plagued by injuries for years, but could he ever string together a few wins in a row his status as a top Lightweight would quickly be returned to him.
-Since his UFC debut, where he lost to Spencer Fisher by a flying knee, Matt Wiman has gone 7-2 in the organization, with losses to Miller and Sam Stout – in a very controversial (re: hometown) decision. Should he pick up his fourth straight UFC win against Dennis Siver at UFC 132, he will leap up this list significantly.
So there are the major players in the UFC division. I’d also be remissed were I not to mention Gilbert Melendez, who could come over to the UFC and deserve an immediate title shot at any point (although I feel like the UFC can save that card with the abundance of challengers amongst their own ranks at 155). Finally, here’s how I feel the division should break down, assuming Edgar/Maynard 3 ever happens.
1) Should Jim Miller defeat Benson Henderson in August, he should stay on the sidelines until Edgar/Maynard 3 is resolved. We’ve seen multiple times in the UFC Lightweight Division that those who are unable to wait end up losing their spot in line. If Miller should happen to lose, a couple of scenarios may take place:
2) If Guillard beats Roller, he could be awarded the next shot based on a combination of wins (although he doesn’t have any truly high-level wins) and name recognition. Should he lose to Roller:
3) With Miller and Guillard both losing, an appropriate title eliminator would be Henderson/Guida, as for once the UFC could use some sensible matchmaking in the LW division, and put two guys on the verge of title worthiness (remember, Henderson has beaten Miller at this point) in the cage together to get a definitive challenger. By this time, the Siver/Wiman winner could face Roller, and Pettis could face Tibau or Stephens, with those winners squaring off to determine the subsequent title challenger.
This is just a few quick scenarios I’ve cooked up in my brain, but when looking at the 155 division in the UFC the possibilities are nearly endless, and I’m sure there are plenty of others that would clean things up nicely as well. Head over to my twitter @bradtaschuk or FightLockdown.com to discuss.