A rather difficult question to answer, no?
For starters, what would be a solid set of criteria to measure such a thing? Competitiveness mixed with depth of talent, maybe? Or is it more about who the title holder in said division is and how many prospective, legitimate challengers there are to that title?
But he does makes a compelling case for the division he resides in:
"I think lightweight is for sure the toughest division in the sport. I think it's been that way for a while now but fans weren't that familiar with a lot of the names in the weight class. Having the UFC lightweight title is a life changer. The level of competition in the division has built the belt up to a place where it has a lot of perks to holding it. It will change everything for a career. Don't get me wrong - those perks are great - but for me it is achieving a goal and being at the top of the mountain. As much as I want that belt, just getting it isn't enough. I want to hold onto it."
Agree with him? Is the lightweight division really the toughest in the entire sport?
At the very least it's interesting enough to delve a little deeper into. Overall depth of talent, how competitive the division may or may not be and interest level in the fighters in each division; let's look at all that.
For the purposes of this discussion, let's imagine the divisions are comprised of only UFC and Strikeforce fighters. Trust me, it makes it a lot more simple.
Once thought to be overrun with monsters that run rampant thanks to brute strength and unmatched size (see Lesnar, Brock and Carwin, Shane), the top of the class is now dominated by athletic and dynamic fighters like Cain Velasquez and freshly minted UFC number one contender Junior dos Santos. It's also infinitely more interesting because of that. You may not get as much mileage with the heavyweights but the bang for your buck is well worth it. Guys like Alistair Overeem and Antonio Silva, along with the previously mentioned Carwin, provide a level of excitement not matched in any other division simply due to the fact that they can end a fight in the blink of an eye. The division is a little top heavy; admittedly, there aren't exactly a ton of 265-pound prospects floating around. But overall, it's a solid division with plenty of compelling match-ups.
What makes this division so interesting is that the top 10 is chock full of amazing talent; but once you hop outside of that, it gets ugly -- and fast. Jon Jones could be the most dynamic and intriguing single fighter in the entire sport but he'll need a strong supporting cast to drive that point home over the next couple of years. Does he have it? For now, he does. Guys like Quinton Jackson, Rashad Evans, Lyoto Machida and Mauricio Rua. Big names with even bigger games but what about when you go deeper? You start running into names like Alexander Gustaffson, Vladimir Matyushenko, Renato Sobral and Matt Hamill. Good fighters, no doubt. But not the kind of names you'll ever see at the top of the card driving pay-per-view buys. That's where this weight class loses its luster.
The only weight class carried totally and completely by its champions. As of right now, there really isn't a strong challenge for Ronaldo Souza in Strikeforce. And really, what more can be said that hasn't already about Anderson Silva? He's the cream of the crop in the fight game. When he's on and at his best, no one can touch him. While that serves to give the division a slight boost simply because it houses the pound-for-pound king, it's also a major mark against it. Because as long as the big bad shark is cruising the surf and picking off all the fish in the sea, to put it bluntly, it's hard to give a crap about any of them. While there are a bevy of talented and productive fighters at 185-pounds, such as Yushin Okami, Chael Sonnen, Vitor Belfort, Mark Munoz and Jason Miller, the fact that none of them stack up to Silva make it hard to maintain interest. I once tried to build up "The Phenom" as the guy that would take the crown and inject life into the title picture. Needless to say, I paid for it -- in spades.
Welterweight (170-pounds): Champions -- Georges St. Pierre and Some guy we don't know the name of yet
This division is facing a problem not unlike that of middleweight, although to a much lesser extent. Georges St. Pierre has been so utterly and completely dominant in the UFC, Dana White and company were forced to have Nick Diaz vacate the Strikforce welterweight title to jump over to challenge him. Let's say "Rush" does what he's done for years now and wins in a convincing fashion; the class will then suffer from a complete lack of challengers to the title. That said, the rest of the division is full of compelling fighters that can, and will, make for must-see match-ups. Jon Fitch vs. Jake Shields? Yes, please. Nick Diaz vs. anyone in the division? I'll take it. Carlos Condit, Diego Sanchez, Josh Koscheck, Nate Marquardt? Oh, hell yeah. I even left out B.J. Penn but "Prodigy" haters be damned, he's a beast. Throw in a couple rising prospects like Rick Story and Rory MacDonald and this division has got it all. It's even got the market cornered on the always lovable "fight that won't affect the divisional standings but will be fun as hell anyway so let's all get together and watch it" in Dan Hardy vs. Chris Lytle at UFC on Versus 5 on Aug. 14. Boom goes the dynamite.
Possibly the best combination of champions, along with the heavyweight division. Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez are two of the most well-rounded fighters in MMA and while "The Answer" may not garner monster buyrates on pay-per-view just yet, he's a can't miss for the hardcore fans of the sport. Same applies for Melendez, although he's got all the tools to become a breakthrough star once he gets the proper amount of exposure. As for Gray Maynard's previous claims that lightweight is the toughest division in the sport, he's got a point. The title picture is as muddled as it gets but not because of injuries, although that hasn't helped it any, but because it has too many potential challengers for the title. Right now, as of this writing, there are no less than five fighters you could plug into a 155-pound championship match-up and the general public would go for it. When you've got a fight like Jim Miller vs. Ben Henderson and it might not be a number one contender bout, that says something. There's also a ton of mid-card talent that could eventually rise to top dog status with a few tweaks to their games. I'm thinking of names like Clay Guida, Melvin Guillard and George Sotiropoulos. Plenty of depth, an abundance of fascinating fights we've yet to see and no shortage of contenders to the division title.
Featherweight (145-pounds): Champion -- Jose Aldo
Although his reign at the top hasn't lasted nearly as long as Anderson Silva or Georges St. Pierre, it sure feels like there aren't any challengers for Jose Aldo to gun down. He's only defended his belt three times but he's been dominant in all three bouts. It doesn't speak well for the division when a guy from lightweight can drop down, win one fight and immediately be given a title shot. Of course, Kenny Florian is an ultra-talented veteran who deserves a certain level of leniency, but one and gun? He made the case that he deserves the shot simply because his name has more value than everyone else in the division and he's right. The name Kenny Florian means more than any every other 145-pound fighter -- combined. That's a severe lack of depth we're talking about. Whether or not Florian wins the belt means nothing. It might help bring a few more eyeballs to the weight class but will they stick around once they get a look. Thankfully, Hatsu Hioki is in talks to sign with UFC and he's up in Montreal training with Georges St. Pierre as we speak. That should inject some life, as well as Chad Mendes and his undefeated record. I can't forget about Rani Yahya of course. The jury is still out for the featherweights. Let's see how things shake out over the next year.
Bantamweight (135-pounds): Champion -- Dominick Cruz
That boat the featherweight division is floating around on? Make room for the 135-pound class because it's in the same way. Dominick Cruz is an uber-talent, a strategic nightmare for any and all challengers. The major issue with that is twofold: One dominant champion in a division is never a good thing for the division as a whole and Cruz has yet to get himself over with the wider audience. The fear is that he won't get himself over at all, meaning his style of fighting, a sort of defensive offense, if you will, won't be accepted by the hardcore fans, let alone the casuals. All this would be fine if the title picture was more interesting but the fact of the matter is that it's not. Urijah Faber was able to move down from featherweight and challenge for the strap after just two wins. Obviously there is no set amount of victories you need to have to fight for a belt in MMA but you get the picture. Name value shouldn't mean that much. All is not lost, however, as there are a number of highly appealing prospects making their way up the ladder. Young guns like Michael McDonald and Demetrious Johnson, to go along with Renan Barao, who hasn't lost in 27 fights, by the way, augment the division as a whole. There is hope just yet.
There you have it.
All told, and after going through the paces with each weight class, I give the General's seal of approval to the lightweight division -- for now. Welterweight is close behind and I sure do love me some "Demolition Man."
Now it's your turn. Give your thoughts on my breakdown and feel free to do one of your own.