Two fights, one night. That's all it is going to take to decide the future of the UFC's Lightweight division over the next year. At UFC 118, Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and BJ Penn are going to be squaring off in a rematch for the title while Kenny Florian and Gray Maynard, battle to see who is probably going to be the next Lightweight number one contender.
Various people believe that if Penn beats Edgar decisively and Florian gets past Maynard, Penn shouldn't fight Florian again because beat him so decisively in their first meeting and he move up to Welterweight because he has essentially cleaned out the division. At least that is what UK President Marshall Zelaznik told ESPN:
"Penn and Florian only recently happened, and it was a pretty overpowering performance from BJ," he told ESPN.co.uk. Depending on the BJ v Frankie fight, if BJ takes a narrow victory there is the potential for a trilogy between them. If Frankie were to win, it's very easy to say the winner of Florian v Maynard fights for the championship. But if BJ wins and Florian wins, then it puts pressure on the match-making. That then puts the possibility of BJ stepping up a weight class back on the table."
Frankly, I think Penn losing the belt to Edgar at UFC 112 proved that BJ hasn't come close to cleaning out the UFC Lightweight division yet and talk of him moving up to the 170 pound weight class is very premature. There are plenty of opponents for Penn right now at 155 and there probably will be more a year from now. However, all this talk about Penn moving up to the Welterweight division is hasty if he doesn't avenge his defeat to Edgar.
If you take a broad look at the UFC Lightweight division, you will see the enormous potential for future fights for Penn or Edgar. Here's a quick breakdown of what could occur over the next few months after the jump...
- The winner of Penn vs. Edgar fights the winner of Florian vs. Maynard for the title sometime around late 2010/early 2011
- The loser of Penn vs. Edgar fights the loser of Florian vs. Maynard sometime around late 2010/early 2011 with the winner of this bout being a potential number one contender
While these fights are happening:
- Jim Miller, who is currently riding a four fight win streak, is fighting Gleison Tibau, who has won two in a row, at UFC Fight Night 22. The next fight for the winner of this one will probably be number one contender bout.
- George Sotiropoulos. Just fought (and won) at UFC 116 and doesn't have another fight scheduled yet. George has six wins in a row and is definitely in line for a title shot which could come after his next fight or maybe even gets the winner of Edgar vs. Penn 2.
- Takanori Gomi. Sure Florian made him look silly in his UFC debut, but Gomi bounced back nicely by knocking out Tyson Griffin. Gomi has the name and pedigree to warrant a title shot with one or two more wins in the UFC.
- Ross Pearson. The Ultimate Fighter winner is a few wins away from even being considered a title contender, but has won his first 3 fights in the UFC and looks like a good prospect. He is going to be fighting Cole Miller next at UFC Fight Night 22 and a win could get his name in the contender talks. If he continues to win, he could be fighting for the title around this time next year.
Potential Lightweight contenders outside the UFC:
- Jose Aldo. In my opinion, Aldo is going to clean out the WEC Featherweight division over the next 12 to 18 months and will eventually move up to the UFC Lightweight division (screw the WEC lightweight division). He will be an immediate title contender if and when he moves up in weight.
- Gilbert Melendez. Technically, the Strikeforce Lightweight champion is currently without a contract, but since he is the champ, the championship clause in his expired contract is keeping him with the San Jose based promotion. If things don't work out with Strikeforce, Melendez could follow his teammate Jake Shield to the UFC.
- Eddie Alvarez. With reports that Bellator is having some financial issues, Bellator's Lightweight champ Eddie Alvarez could be without a home if the promotion collapses. A perfect chance for the UFC to swoop in and get another top ten fighter on their roster.
- Ben Henderson and the rest of the WEC's Lightweights. It is my belief that once the WEC gets their long rumored Flyweight division up and running, the UFC will fold the WEC Lightweight division into the UFC's. Even if that doesn't happen, most experts believe it is only a matter of time before the WEC and UFC merges into one super promotion.
As you can see from above, the Lightweight landscape is far from being cleaned out even if you omit a contender currently outside the UFC.
Another thing to bear in mind is the timeframe for all these fights or potential fights to happen. Like I mentioned above, whoever wins between Edgar and Penn probably won't be fighting again till the end of 2010/beginning of 2011 barring an injuries. So, if the winner of Edgar and Penn don't fight again until the end of 2010/beginning of 2011 that means their next fight after that might not be until spring/summer 2011 which would essentially be a year from now. During that timeframe, a lot of is and will happen in the UFC's 155 pound division. Who knows, a fighter that is not mentioned on the list above could come out of nowhere and become a contender between now and this time next year.
At the moment, there really isn't a good argument for Penn or any other fighter moving out of the Lightweight due to lack of competition. Personally, I thought this argument was put to sleep once Edgar upset Penn in Abu Dhabi, but it apparently hasn't even though the UFC Lightweight division is currently as deep as any other weight class out there.