After UFC 118, What’s Next For The Lightweight Division?

On Saturday night, in meticulous yet anticlimactic fashion, Frankie Edgar devoured the heavily favored BJ Penn to defend his title and become without question the number 1 Lightweight in the world (sorry Gilbert Melendez fans, he’s great but Edgar is better). Thanks to a match a little bit further on down the card we know what Edgar’s immediate future looks like, a rematch with Gray Maynard and a chance to avenge his one professional loss. What does the rest of the division look like and is BJ Penn going to hang around this division or move in a different direction? After a show that showcased four of the top Lightweights in the world the time seems right to take on those questions.

We do know that if, per chance, the Edgar/Maynard match were to be some instant classic (a la Silva/Sonnen) or end in a controversial way (a la Machida/Rua) then Dana White and the UFC would most likely book an instant rematch and thus freeze the division for another year or so. But say that doesn’t happen…who is next in line for the title. The obvious choice seems to be George Sotiropoulos, he sits at 13-2 though is 6-0 in official UFC bouts. He’s claimed recent victories over stand outs such as Joe Stevenson and Kurt Pellegrino. After his victory over Pellegrino Dana White said “He’s fought his way into the mix. No doubt about it.” but stopped short of declaring him next in line for a title shot. More than likely he’ll have to win one more big fight, a title eliminator probably, for a chance to meet the winner of Edgar/Maynard. Here’s hoping that it is done on the same card as the Edgar/Maynard match as it gives the winner of those fights equal preparation time and also serves to build interest in the division.

Once again, though, the question of who is a toughie. There are big names in the division, Takanori Gomi, Kenny Florian, Kurt Pellegrino, Sean Sherk, but all of them have recent or semi-recent losses on their record. The month of September, however, could prove to be a pivotal one in this division. The UFC has two shows planned (Fight Night 22 and UFC 119) and they both have fights that will do wonders to clear up the picture. First at Fight Night Jim Miller goes head to head with Gleison Tibau and with a victory he could conceivably catapult himself into that match. He’s 17-2 overall and 6-1 in the UFC with his only loss coming at the hands of the undefeated Gray Maynard. Then there is Evan Dunham, who takes on former UFC Lightweight champ Sean Sherk at UFC 119. Sherk is coming off of a 16 month layoff and is certainly past his prime at this point. Dunham remains undefeated though if we wanted to be jerks about it we could question the quality of his opponents. If either one of these two wins while the other loses it would be fair to say that they deserve the chance to be in the hypothetical title eliminator match.

As for BJ Penn there have been whispers and rumors about his future. Some have said that he will move back up to Welterweight even though he never came close to dominating that division the same way he dominated Lightweight, while others, presumably the pessimists out there, have said that he will retire. The reality is probably even more bizarre and depressing as he will probably settle in as a midcarder/gate keeper. If I were playing Joe Silva he would next meet either a Gomi or a Pellegrino simply to determine where they stand in the division. That is not to say that he is done as a main eventer. He ‘s proven to be quite profitable for the organization as his buy rates almost always come in well north of 500,000, he has name value, and he’s still only 31. Sadly, he looked older and sadder than Randy Couture on Saturday night…and Randy Couture’s one of The Expendables!! As of now he would probably have to string together about 3 wins in a row before he would get another chance.

On top of all that the Lightweight division can get ready for a new deluge of talent come December as that is when the newest season of The Ultimate Fighter ends its run. That show has produced tons of contenders for this division over the years and the time seems right to inject new life into it. Joe Stevenson will soon be back from injury, Joe Lauzon looked outstanding on Saturday, and anybody who has simply written off the careers of Mac Danzig or Tyson Griffin is simply naïve. Clay Guida is never to be slept on and I’m still expecting big things from Dennis Siver. The division isn’t stacked in the way other UFC divisions are so if somebody gets hot and wins 3 or 4 fights in a row they can jump straight to the front of the line. Edgar, despite two victories over an all time great, still seems strangely vulnerable as champ. Many critics chaffed when he was given the title shot over Gray Maynard but luckily in a matter of months we can see for sure if it was a boneheaded decision in which style trumped substance or the UFC simply knew better than the bloggers.

Signed Lightweight Bouts for September-October

Efrain Escudero vs. Charles Oliveira

Jim Miller vs. Gleison Tibau

Ross Pearson vs. Cole Miller

Sean Sherk vs. Evan Dunham

Melvin Guillard vs. Jeremy Stephens

Thiago Tavares vs. Pat Audinwood

Steve Lopez vs. Waylon Lowe

Paul Sass vs. Mark Holst

Spencer Fisher vs. Kurt Warburton

Sam Stout vs. Paul Taylor

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