There has been so much talk after UFC on Versus 5 about the clouded mess the UFC has to sort out within the Lightweight Division. The dominant performance from Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone has propelled him upwards in the spotlight high atop the division. Not only that, fringe contender Ben "Smooth" Henderson was able to thoroughly dismantle on the brink number one contender Jim Miller.
The title picture while already cloudy became almost unbearably chaotic in one night.
So with a division so top heavy with several contenders who arguably can make their case for the title shot what does the UFC do to sort this mess out? The title has been on hold for almost the entirety of 2011 due to injuries to both champion and challenger and will not be contested for a few months out from today.
How do you fix this mess? I have some ideas.
Before I go into anything at all let’s look at the rankings of the Lightweight Division from the latest USA Today/SBNation rankings:
Consensus Rankings posted July 29, 2011
Rank Fighter % Promotion Last Rank 1 Frankie Edgar 100 UFC 1 2 Gray Maynard 95 UFC 2 3 Gilbert Melendez 92 Strikeforce 3 4 Shinya Aoki 81 Strikeforce 4 5 Eddie Alvarez 79 Bellator 5 6 Jim Miller 77 UFC 6 7 Clay Guida 65 UFC 7 8 Melvin Guillard 64 UFC 10 9 Tatsuya Kawajiri 53 Strikeforce 8 10 Anthony Pettis 45 UFC 11 11 Sean Sherk 44 UFC 9 12 Dennis Siver 41 UFC 13 13 B.J. Penn 40 UFC 12 14 Ben Henderson 29 UFC 14 15 Takanori Gomi 24 UFC 16 16 Rafael dos Anjos 23 UFC NR 17 Gleison Tibau 23 UFC 18 18 Evan Dunham 23 UFC 17 19 Kenny Florian 22 UFC 22 20 Josh Thomson 19 K-1 19 21 Jorge Masvidal 18 Strikeforce 21 22 Sam Stout 18 UFC 23 23 Donald Cerrone 18 UFC 29 24 George Sotiropoulos 16 UFC 15 25 Mac Danzig 15 UFC 19
As you can see the UFC houses all but six of the top Lightweights in the world and if we include those under the Zuffa umbrella all but two are under the same roof. This division is busy to say the least and almost each and every top fighter is scheduled for some sort of match-up.
Starting next weekend with UFC 134 in Brazil we will see unranked Edson Barboza in a highly anticipated slugfest with Ross Pearson. The fight for Barboza will be his return to the Octagon after a Fight of the Night performance against Anthony Njokuani. With a unblemished record (8-0) Barboza is one big performance away from being considered more then a hot prospect and a real contender in the middle of the divisional ladder.
Weeks later at UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger the return of #18 Evan Dunham. A former hot commodity who has dropped two straight to Sean Sherk and Melvin Guillard. He will be taking on relatively small named and TUF contestant Shamar Bailey. A big win here for Dunham puts him right into the mix knocking on the door of top 10 Lightweights.
AT UFC 135 in September, two big name Lightweights will take center stage under the headlining Jon "Bones" Jones and Quinton "Rampage" Jackson. Ranked #15, Takanori Gomi will look to put some consistency in his UFC run. With a 1-2 record inside the UFC, Gomi can not afford to drop another should he want to remain on the upper echelon of the division. Standing in his way will be Nate Diaz who after being man-handled by Rory MacDonald at Welterweight desperately needs a win to keep his UFC career alive.
But UFC 136 is where the division really catches fire.
The undercard will feature WEC Superstar Anthony "Showtime" Pettis in his first fight back from losing to contender Clay "The Carpenter" Guida. Ranked at #10 he is one big fight away from another top contender fight. He will be facing dangerous striker Jeremy "Lil Heathen" Stephens.
On the main card, "The Young Assassin" Melvin Guillard will look to continue his resurgence within the division when he takes his #8 ranking and 5-fight win streak into the cage against Joe Lauzon in a very interesting stylistic match-up.
Headlining the show will be the third meeting between Champion #1 Frankie "The Answer" Edgar and #2 Gray Maynard. Coming off a very exciting fight in January where the two fought to draw the division’s title has been heavily talked about and debated. The talk will end on that night and lots of answers about the division’s future should be answered.
At UFC 137 the division will be treated once again to another top fighter. #12 Dennis Siver will be in action against #22 Sam Stout. Siver has won four straight and eight of his last nine. Another big win over a tough opponent should put him in line for another top contender.
UFC 139 will play host to another interesting battle in the Lightweight division with two guys outside the Top 10 looking to use each other to jump some spots into being a possible contender when #16 Rafael Dos Anjos faces #17 Gleison Tibau.
As far as scheduling goes currently ranked #6 Jim Miller, #14 Ben Henderson and #23 Donald Cerrone have not yet been slated to face anyone. All three will see their rankings change dramatically as Henderson and Cerrone will soar and Miller will drop. #7 Clay Guida and #11 Sean Sherk have not been scheduled for any fights yet either.
Making matters more interesting is that Zuffa houses the #3 ranked fighter, Strikeforce Champion Gilbert Melendez. He has an upcoming bout with #21 Jorge Masvidal. The winner of that bout will be a very hot commodity and depending on contract specifics could also be making waves in the already clouded UFC Lightweight division.
Now that we have an outlook in terms of scheduling, my ideas are:
- Give Ben Henderson what he deserves. A shot at being the top guy in the division. When the WEC was absorbed into the UFC many believed the WEC Lightweights wouldn’t be able to compete with the UFC’s fighters. Thoroughly beating Mark Bocek and Jim Miller should be proof enough he deserves a chance to fight in a number one contender fight. He should be able to showcase his skills against a striker, namely one Melvin Guillard should he win his fight with Joe Lauzon.
- Sean Sherk deserves his opportunity to shine once more. Coming off a long layoff won’t work for him but matching up with Clay Guida will do wonders for both fighters. Should Sherk win it leap frogs him back into contention and should Guida win it cements his spot in the Top 10 even 5 after beating an established top 155er.
- Donald Cerrone is having a breakout year, dismantling everyone in his path. Riding a 5-fight win streak Cerrone will be easily one of the UFC’s brightest prospects going forward. Even though it seems like "Cowboy" wants to stay busy I believe it will be in his best interests to take some time and wait for the winner of Anthony Pettis and Jeremy Stephens. The Pettis match up is a WEC fantasy fight and the possible Stephens fight would be guaranteed fireworks. Should the favorite, Pettis win in his fight with Stephens the match up with Cerrone would make a lot of sense within the division.
- Jim Miller needs to revamp and come back strong to really put himself in the mix. It took a long time to get to the top and it took 15-minutes to fall back down. He should be facing Evan Dunham should Dunham win and if not the winner between Gomi and Diaz. After falling down the ranks a win over a Top 15 guy would put him back on track for a contender run.
- The Strikeforce champion should be allowed to use overflow UFC contenders as future title challengers. I know it all comes down to contracts and "business as usual" plans but it all makes sense. Gilbert Melendez has very few challengers and Jorge Masvidal is a stretch to be deserving of the shot.
Those are my thoughts and opinions, if you have any of your own or agree/disagree with mine let me know.