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Is The Lightweight Division Still The Deepest In The UFC?

In the build-up to next Saturday’s lightweight title fight at UFC 112, Frankie Edgar stated the following about the 155lb division:

“This is the deepest weight-class in the UFC, and then you’ve got BJ (Penn) at the top of it all,” said the lightweight division’s No.1 contender.

He’s not alone in thinking that 155lbs has the most talent in the UFC, it’s been said by a number of respected fighters, fans and pundits in recent years – but is it still the case in 2010?

The Lightweight Division

There’s undoubtedly a long list of worthy competitors at lightweight.  BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, Kenny Florian, Tyson Griffin and Sean Sherk are names that immediately spring to mind, and they keep on coming.

From established fighters like Clay Guida, Joe Stevenson and Nate Diaz, through to up and coming talent like Evan Dunham, Ross Pearson and George Sotiropoulos, this is a world-class roster in anyone’s books.

Is BJ Going To 170lbs?

The division is in a transitional phase however which may be putting a dent in it’s armor.

Most significant is BJ Penn’s recent hints that he may be set to vacate his belt and head back to welterweight, possibly after next weekend’s fight in Abu Dhabi.

Meanwhile the last man to challenge for the title, Diego Sanchez, also recently announced his return to 170lbs after a little over a year of competing at lightweight, while Roger Huerta has moved onto Bellator after his contract expired earlier in the year.

Former PRIDE lightweight champion Takanori Gomis arrival in the UFC last week could have added an interesting new dynamic to the division, but after a convincing loss to Florian there is now a feeling that the Japanese star’s best days are behind him.

Speaking of which former champion Sean Sherk is currently 2-2 in his last four fights and after sitting the last year out through various injury complaints it’s questionable whether the 36 year old remains the force he once was.

Then there are the top lightweight talents not currently in the UFC to consider.  At Strikeforce’s next CBS event on the 17th of April their current lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez takes on DREAM’s lightweight champ Shinya Aoki – both fighters currently ranked in many people’s top 10 lightweights – both fighting outside of the UFC.

DREAM also lay claim to at least one more top 10 lightweight in Tatsuya Kawajiri, while Bellator’s Eddie Alvarez and the WEC’s Ben Henderson also feature in the rankings.

It’s questionable how many of these fighters would actually be able to make an impact in the UFC’s ultra-competitive 155lb division, but until they are brought into the promotion we can’t say for sure.

The Light-Heavyweight Division

Meanwhile the UFC’s light-heavyweight division, which has long been a driving force for the promotion,  is going from strength-to-strength.

They current have a wealth of talent at their disposal, from current champion Lyoto Machida and No.1 contender Mauricio ‘Shogun’ Rua, to upper-tier fighters like Rashad Evans, Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira, Forrest Griffin, Thiago Silva and Luis Cane.

Beyond that there’s the veterans like Randy Couture, Chuck Liddell, Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin, together with the rising stars like Jon Jones, Ryan Bader and Phil Davis.

A fighter like Jones is particularly significant since he’s not just a talented prospect like many of the others we’ve mentioned at 155 and 205lbs, but rather someone who has a genuine chance of reaching the very top of the ladder in the sport.

Silva Boosts 205lb Roster

The division is further boosted by pound-for-pound middleweight champion Anderson Silva’s occasional appearance, and the indications are that he may yet become a permanent fixture if his dominant reign at 185lbs continues.

The impressive roster of talent that the UFC has assembled is really driven home when you look at the MMA top 20 light-heavyweight rankings.  Unlike the lightweight division, the UFC virtually has a monopoly at 205lbs.

The obvious exception is Strikeforce’s Gegard Mousasi, undoubtedly one of the finest fighters in the division, while ‘King Mo’ would be a nice acquisition, but is not essential at this stage.

Beyond that you’ll be hard pushed to make significant improvements to the division at this time, and that’s impressive.


It certainly hard to pick between the 155lb and 205lb divisions as they are both stacked high with quality fighters, but two things convince me that light-heavyweight is edging out in front at this time though.

  1. Comparing the current champions to the top contenders it’s difficult to see who can beat BJ Penn at 155lbs, while it seems like there are a number of potential challengers at 205lbs who could give Machida (or indeed Shogun if he wins the rematch) a run for his money.
  2. The light-heavyweight division has retained it’s most talented fighters and may even increase the quality if Silva moves up permanently, while lightweight has seen some fighters leave or move up in weight, and may also be set to lose their champion.

Things can change quickly in mixed martial  arts though – you only need to look at the transformation of the heavyweight division in the past 18 months (as we discussed in a recent article) to see that.

For example I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC to snap up some of the other top ranked lightweights when the opportunity arises, and since Zuffa owns both the UFC and the WEC, it’s not beyond the realms of possibility that the likes of Ben Henderson, or perhaps 145lb champion Jose Aldo for example, could be brought into the fold either permanently or in a ‘superfight’ capacity.

There’s still room for growth in the 155lb division and I’m eager to see how the roster looks in 12-18 months time, but in the mean time, regardless of which is the deepest, I’m more than happy to sit back and enjoy two of the pound-for-pound best divisions in all of mixed martial arts.

Article By RossC

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