It’s remarkable how much the UFC’s lightweight landscape has changed over the past 14 months since Frankie Edgar defeated BJ Penn to become the new champion.
Since then several 155lb top contenders have moved on – such as Penn up to welterweight and Kenny Florian down to featherweight, while several emerging stars who were shaping up as future title contenders, such as George Sotiropoulos and Evan Dunham have both had long unbeaten runs broken recently.
Last night’s TUF 13 finale threw another spanner in the works when the last ever WEC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis who had been earmarked for a title shot when he entered the UFC was defeated by Clay Guida.
So after this major upheaval in the division, who remain as the top contenders at 155lbs, and who’s most likely to get the next title shot against the winner of Frankie Edgar Vs Gray Maynard later in the year?
First lets check out the front-runners in the division.
No one has a stronger case for title contention than Jim Miller. While not the flashiest or most marketable fighter in the division, Miller has put together an excellent seven fight winning streak at 155lbs and after a decision heavy spell he’s finished his last two fights decisively by submission and TKO respectively.
Well rounded, tough and with an excellent gas-tank, Miller is a tough fight for anybody in the division.
Former WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson managed to erase some of the bad memories of losing his title and his ten-fight winning streak to Anthony Pettis in the promotion’s last ever event by putting on an impressive performance in his UFC debut against Mark Bocek.
A likeable fighter who entertains in the cage with his energetic all-action style and a willingness to fight on the ground or the feet, Henderson stands out in this ultra-competitive weight-class.
Clay Guida proved once again that he’s a strong contender for ‘The Ultimate Grinder’ award last night, using his unparalleled energy and work rate to stifle Pettis and claim his fourth victory in a row.
Undoubtedly rejuvinated after joining Greg Jackson’s camp, Guida is now calling for a title shot, but while he got the ‘W’ last night, it wasn’t the kind of performance that’s likely to propel him that far up the lightweight ladder.
Another fighter who’s found a new lease of life after teaming up with renowned coach and strategist Greg Jackson, Guillard is also on a four fight winning streak and had an eye-catching ‘Knockout Of The Night’ win over the highly touted Evan Dunham last time out.
At one stage considered a volatile and inconsistent fighter, Guillard has matured recently and with his athleticism and raw punching power he has the potential to dazzle his way into title contention, though his ground game remains his achilles heel.
Currently on the fringes of the title picture after three consecutive victories Dennis Siver is worth noting as he has had vocal support from UFC president Dana White who appears to have become a fan of his after watching him submit Andre Winner in front of his home fans in Germany last year, and then dismantling the heavily favored George Sotiropoulos in Australia in February.
1-3 in his first spell in the UFC, Siver has now raised his game with his current 6-1 run in the Octagon, but needs to keep winning impressively if he wants to get within touching distance of a title shot.
He may have been soundly beaten in his fight with Siver last time out, but considering he had never been beaten in his seven UFC outings prior to that George Sotiropoulos still remains a highly ranked contender at 155lbs.
The Siver fight clearly showed the holes in his game – poor takedowns and slightly weak stand-up, but those are areas that can be improved upon, and he still remains one of the deadliest fighters in the division when the fight hits the mat.
What a lot of the top contenders listed here have in common is good wrestling, and last night that proved to be Anthony Pettis’ downfall, breaking his four fight winning streak and putting him out of title contention for now.
Pettis has shown to have the other neccessary tools though – excellent striking, dangerous BJJ and a desire to put on exciting fights. Therefore, given his youth, marketability and the hype that’s surrounded him since the infamous ‘Showtime Kick’ last year, he, like Sotiropoulos is still just a win or two away from being the talk of the division once again.
We can’t end this round-up without throwing in one potential wildcard, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez, as there’s been strong rumors in the past week that he could soon be offered a new deal by Zuffa similar to the one Nick Diaz to be lined up to face GSP later this year in the UFC.
Melendez has established himself as one of the world’s top lightweights in Strikeforce with his recent five fight winning streak, bulldozing over top Japanese competition like Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri along the way, and he has the kind of well-rounded skills and in particular wrestling ability to ensure he can hang with the best the UFC has to offer.
So now that we’ve established the contenders, who’s next in line for the title shot?
If you had to put forward a fighter today Jim Miller is the easy answer by virtue of his UFC track record. With the current title fight between Edgar and Maynard having been delayed due to injury however, Miller will have to fight again before getting the opportunity.
As it happens Miller has been lined up to fight Ben Henderson at UFC On Versus 5 in August, and I believe that bout should establish the next No.1 contender.
The only fighter I can see stepping in front of them in the queue at this moment in time is Strikeforce’s Gilbert Melendez if the UFC can work out a deal as he would generate the most interest and attention at this moment in time.