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The Lightweight Logjam

I keep looking the list over and it still makes no sense. I’m staring at these fights that have been booked for upcoming UFC shows, and I can’t make any sense of them. I’m one of the biggest fans of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva, but I’m struggling to figure out his actions regarding the lightweight division in the last six months.

There are outside factors of course. Things have been jammed up pretty well at the top of the ladder for nearly a year now. UFC Lightweight Champion Frank Edgar has been stuck fighting the same two guys, but here’s hoping he’ll break that trend after he meets Gray Maynard for a third (and hopefully final) time in May. After that the title picture is pretty much wide open. There’s a veritable lion’s den of tough guys up and down the divisional rankings, but at this point no one fighter stands head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack. So who’s it going to be?

Recent bookings in the division have left us with very little answers, and what’s worse is that things show no sign of getting better. Here’s the question I’d like to answer: if Maynard was injured in training camp tomorrow and Edgar needed a new opponent for UFC 130, who should Joe Silva call?

I suppose the first name that might come to mind is Anthony Pettis. After all, the last WEC Lightweight Champion was supposed to have earned a UFC title shot with his win over Ben Henderson, but unfortunately the unsatisfying draw at the end of UFC 125 changed those plans quickly. Now Pettis is slotted to face Clay Guida in June, and if Pettis loses (which he very well could) then he’s out of the title picture for the time being. Guida is about as tough of a draw as one could get in his UFC debut, but a hard-fought victory there should earn Pettis enough cred to get that promised shot at the gold. We won’t know either way for another three months. So what about now?

The UFC did have a couple of rising contenders in the form of George Sotiropoulos and Evan Dunham, but now with both men having lost in their last bouts they’ve each taken a big step back. I suppose it makes sense to match them up now (as was reported earlier this week), but it would have made a lot more sense to match them up before Dunham fought Melvin Guillard and Sotiropoulos fought Dennis Siver. Dunham vs. Sotiropoulos could have been a title eliminator fight just a few months ago, so why wasn’t that fight made for Fight For The Troops 2 or UFC 127?

Then we have the two men who beat those up-and-comers. Guillard is now slated to face Shane Roller while Siver has been booked against Matt Wiman. Wiman and Roller are both pretty good, and each man has a nice little win streak going, but it’s still a step backwards after the high-profile upsets Siver and Guillard put together. Why not have the two rematch each other? Their first fight was almost three years ago and it’s safe to say that they’ve each gotten better since then.

Now to be fair not all of these problems are Joe Silva’s. He’s had to make some adjustments on the fly based on fight results, injuries, etc. It also doesn’t help that things are beyond chaotic in the lightweight division these days with the recent addition of the WEC roster. We’ve got a great “UFC vs. WEC” match-up on this weekend’s UFC 128 card as Jim Miller faces the undefeated Kamal Shalorus. Miller is on a great streak at the moment with six straight wins over some tough guys. He’s also got one big problem: the only two losses in his career have come against the two top guys in his division. I’m sure Miller would love the chance to avenge either one of those losses (regardless of who holds the belt after UFC 130), but first he needs to get past the “Prince of Persia.” Shalorus is making his UFC debut with a fair amount of hype behind him after some solid performances in the WEC. I’m curious to see how this fight plays out, but if Miller loses that’s yet another possible contender sent back to square one.

Of course the game has changed in the last seven days. The UFC has purchased Strikeforce so now it’s reasonable to think that top lightweights like Gilbert Melendez, Josh Thomson, and KJ Noons could be coming to an octagon near you very soon. There are still barriers in the way of the fighters’ current contracts with Strikeforce, but I would have to think that if they’re willing to be released from those deals they could easily be moved right over to the UFC.

Personally I’d love to see Melendez make his UFC debut as the #1 contender. He’s beaten just about every other highly-ranked lightweight fighter outside of the UFC, and assuming he gets by Tatsuya Kawajiri next month (which he should) then I’m sure I won’t be alone in hoping he gets to make his octagon debut before the year is up.

That’s all speculative though, and it still doesn’t address the problem at hand. Who is the next #1 contender for the UFC Lightweight Championship? I don’t know, but I hope it isn’t too much longer before we get to find out.


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