Breaking Down the UFC's Lightweight DivisionAuthor : Ken Mace
Monday, 27 July 2009 13:20
Usually I wait until after a title fight to do a full breakdown of a division's with contenders, upcoming fights, and future possible match-ups. But this time I want to pre-emptively dissect the UFC’s lightweight division. Of course, starting with the main event of UFC 101—defending champion BJ Penn going toe-to-toe with the much deserving number one contender Kenny Florian.
The big event will be broadcasted on pay per view, and takes place live in Philadelphia at the Wachovia Center. In a bout that has been a long time coming, “The Prodigy” (13-5-1) will finally defend his championship against “KenFlo” (13-3-0). This fight has been on the back burner for a while with Penn moving up and fighting welterweight champion GSP, which required Florian to wait for this fight after his destruction and first round submission of Joe Stevenson. For an idea of just how long Kenny’s been playing the waiting game, his fight with Stevenson took place in November of 08 at UFC 91—just under nine months.
But enough with the hype, it’s time to get down to who will win this fight and why. A lot of people have expressed their ill feelings towards Penn after the “grease gate” scandal, and have sided with Kenny Florian in this fight. I, however, still believe this is BJ’s fight to win. Regardless of personal opinions, BJ Penn is still BJ Penn. If he trains and prepares for this fight he is seemingly unstoppable at 155. His massacres of Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, and Sean Sherk should prove that evident. Penn has great boxing with a precise jab and a prodigious ground game, further enhanced by the incredible dexterity in his legs. Kenny Florian of course is no push over, but with the exception of his Muay Thai he is virtually outclassed by Penn everywhere. Yes, Florian has very good stand up and a great ground game to match it, but Penn is just on another level no matter where the fight goes. Obviously Penn could suffer from a hangover after the debacle at UFC 94, but after turning down this fight on an earlier date, it isn’t likely. Not to forget that the trash talk and cell phone/text message accusations coming from Florian could really provide the spark needed to drive Penn to succeed in this fight, and Penn is not the kind of fighter you want to arm with added motivation.
After the Penn/Florian fight, what direction does the lightweight division go? From many reports Diego Sanchez is the next challenger laying in wait. Sanchez is a new addition to the lightweights from the welterweight division and in his two fights at 155, he has won a primarily stand up fight by unanimous decision over Joe Stevenson and a disputed split decision over Clay Guida. The Guida fight being his most recent at the Ultimate Fighter Finale in June. Several web reports, and Sanchez himself, have said he would be next in line at the title if won the Guida fight. Looking ahead, a Sanchez versus Penn/Florian fight could take place in November or December—possibly at UFC 105 or 106.
Another potential challenger to the lightweight throne is Xtreme Couture fighter Gray Maynard. Maynard (8-0-1) is coming off a unanimous decision win over Jim Miller, and has an upcoming fight with Roger Huerta at Ultimate Fight Night on September 16. In what should be a very exciting fight, I fully expect Maynard to use his impeccable wrestling to impose his will on Huerta. Roger hasn’t fought since losing to Kenny Florian, and while the time off to pursue acting may have let him heal from any injuries it won’t do him any favors against one of the division’s elite. I believe it will be a coming out for Maynard, solidifying him as a future challenger for the title. However, if Sanchez is next in line then Gray may have to fight one more time after the Huerta fight before receiving a title shot. Ultimately, it will be determined by the timing of the Sanchez title fight. The closer that the title fight between the winner of Florian/Penn and Sanchez is to Gray’s fight in September, the more likely he will be next in line rather than facing another opponent to bolster his position as the number one contender.
At the upcoming UFC 103 event, a number of lightweight forces could begin their rise to greatness in the division, including Efrain Escudero (12-0-0) who will face off again Cole Miller (15-3-0). Cole is coming off back-to-back submission wins over Jorge Gurgel and Junie Browning, both via a choke, while Efrain is coming off his win over Nover in the TUF8 finale. The other lightweight fight on this card worth noting is Tyson Griffin’s (13-2-0) bout with Hermes Franca (20-7). Both fighters are coming off recent losses and with a win, both men could find the winning rhythms required to propel themselves back into the title picture.
A few other notable fighters at 155 really needing a win include Sean Sherk and Nate Diaz. Sherk (37-4-1) has two losses in three fights, and in those bouts was under the impression he was a striker and not a great wrestler. Nate Diaz (10-4-0) already has a fight lined up for the September Ultimate Fight Night, against Melvin Guillard. Diaz is coming off two decision losses to Joe Stevenson and Clay Guida. While both Guillard and Diaz are game155ers, they are also both close to falling off the radar, and another loss on their resumes would not help them at all.
One last fighter that has to be mentioned in the UFC lightweight division is Frank Edgar (10-1-0). Coming off the most relevant win of his career against Sean Sherk, Edgar is now considered a contender for the title. Of course, he is a few fights from that, but with his only UFC loss to Gray Maynard its clear that Edgar is a force in the division. Right now it’s unclear as to who his opponent will be, but if he can keep the momentum from the Sherk fight, it’s possible that this time next year we will talking about his upcoming title fight.
More so than most of the UFC’s weight-classes, the lightweight division is very diverse and extremely deep. There are several young up-and-coming fighters mixed with established veterans, and solidified contenders chasing after a champion that many rank in the top ten pound for pound fighters in the world. In the forthcoming weeks and months, many great fights are on the horizon of 155, including some highly enticing title fights. Starting August 8th, no one will be willing to take their eyes off this compelling division.