SORTING OUT THE UFC LIGHTWEIGHT DIVISION by Greg Kalikas @ 2:47:00 PM on 7/18/2006
With the talk of title fights and grudge matches making all of the UFC headlines these days, many of the “newbie” MMA fans may be overlooking what may play out as the most exciting and deepest division the UFC has to offer today. Since the return of the “little guys” in March of this year only one thing has been decided, Yves Edwards is not the UFC’s uncrowned lightweight (145-155lbs.) champion as he and others have declared in the past. After what many considered an upset loss to the hands of Canadian slugger Mark Hominick at UFC 58, Edwards has opened the door for numerous fighters to step up and claim the throne of lightweight king.
Sean Sherk (30-2-1) - A dominant welterweight for the past six years Sherk recently decided to drop to 155lbs and make a run at the lightweight title. Sherk should be a powerhouse as a lightweight with an accomplished wrestling background and underrated striking. His overall strength, agility and past experience will be a major factor for any fighter looking to contend in this division. Rumor has it that Sherk has already been assured to fight for the lightweight title as early as UFC 62 in late August.
Jens Pulver (21-6-1) To this day, Pulver is still recognized as the only UFC lightweight title holder in the thirteen year history of the organization. After a brief stint overseas, “Lil Evil” announced his return to the UFC last month and will likely be back in the Octagon at some point this fall. Already considered a devastating striker, Pulver’s recent professional boxing experience will make him that much more dangerous and packs the resume to compete with anybody at 155 lbs.
Joe Stevenson (25-7) – It’s been a great year thus far for Joe “Daddy” Stevenson who after capturing the TUF 2 welterweight contract on national television, made an impressive UFC debut as a lightweight at UFC 61 against Yves Edwards. In one of the bloodiest beatings in recent memory, Stevenson’s TKO of Edwards in the opening round, vaulted him directly in to the lightweight mix. An improving striker, Stevenson has few flaws on the mat and ranks up with there with Sherk as far as raw strength. Stevenson’s biggest question mark may be his cardio (or lack there of) which will no doubt be tested as he continues to climb the ladder.
Spencer Fisher (18-2) – Another welterweight who recently dropped to the lightweight ranks, Fisher should not be overlooked as a threat to the belt. A disciple of the legendary Pat Miletich, Fisher may be the most well rounded fighter in the division. An accurate striker with KO power, Fisher can also put you away from his back with nearly half of his wins coming via submission. A recent loss to Sam Stout (UFC 58) was a temporary set back for “The King” who will ultimately earn the right to fight for the title should he decide to stay at 15lbs.
On the Bubble:
Kenny Florian (6-2) – Among the most inexperienced fighters in this category, Florian has shown thus far that he belongs with impressive wins over renown striker Kit Cope and his most recent win over Sam Stout. A cast member from season one of “The Ultimate Fighter” reality show, Florian has shown improvement in each of his last three fights, all wins. However KenFlo still lacks the experience and strength to contend with a fighter like Sean Sherk who is being rumored as Florians next potential opponent.
Yves Edwards (28-11-1) – At one time regarded by many as one of the premier lightweights in the sport, Yves Edwards is hanging on to his UFC life by a thread. Edwards has dropped three of his last four fights and has nearly fought his way out of the UFC picture all together. Edwards has the tools and has won enough in the Octagon to warrant another opportunity which contractually he may get but confidence may now be a factor for the 30 year old founder of Thug-Jitsu. A two or three fight win streak will help cure any confidence issues and may place Yves back in the mix but the clock is ticking.
Sam Stout (9-2-1) – After his biggest career win over Spencer Fisher, a split decision back in March, Stout promptly lost his next fight to Kenny Florian in what was a disappointing performance. A world class kickboxer, Stout’s style of fighting is one that appeals to fans and to UFC matchmaker Joe Silva who will likely bring Stout back for another opportunity.
George Gurgel (12-2) – Originally from Brazil, Gurgel is one of the most accomplished grapplers in the weight class with above average striking to go along with a marketable personality giving him added value to the UFC. Injuries have slowed Gurgel’s progress thus far as the former TUF 2 cast member looks to recover from a recent loss to Mark Hominick. Even with the loss, Gurgel has won four of his last five fights and could be a factor once completely healthy.
Mark Hominick (11-5) – This former Canadian champion has made a big splash in his first two UFC appearances, both wins over Yves Edwards and George Gurgel, but his “play it safe” approach may be a concern for the UFC. Hominick has shown a well rounded game with few flaws but has still not convinced me that he can stay consistent enough to make it to the top of the division. A recent loss outside of the UFC (to Hatsu Hiko at TKO 25) did not help his case.
Hermes Franca (15-5) – A member of the prestigious American Top Team, Franca was considered a top three UFC lightweight in 2004 but times have changed and the rest of division has passed Franca by. Still among the elite submission specialists in the division, Franca should never be counted out but lack of striking and the inability to finish A-level opponents will leave Franca on the outside looking in.
BJ Penn (10-3-1) – If Penn decides to stay in the UFC and move back down to his original fighting weight of 155 lbs (that’s a big if), he could easily contend for the lightweight crown. Penn already owns wins over Matt Hughes, Bang Ludwig, Takanori Gomi and two Gracies (Rodrigo and Renzo) but a split decision loss to George St. Pierre at UFC 58 has sent Penn back into hiding with no mention of any future plans. One thing is certain, Penn is one of the world’s premier fighters in any weight class. A healthy and focused BJ Penn is as dangerous as they come.
Takanori Gomi (24-3) – Yes, I said Takanori Gomi. Considered by many as the worlds top lightweight, the PRIDE FC lightweight king had won ten straight fights until a recent stumble to ATT’s Marcus Aurellio who may also be in the UFC’s radar. It may seem unlikely that Gomi will ever step in to the Octagon but after all, nobody thought we would ever see Liddell vs Silva in the UFC either.
Duane Ludwig (13-5) – Ludwig has world class striking to go with a solid ground game and could throw a wrench in any fighter’s plans when he’s on top of his game. Ludwig’s eleven second KO of Jonathan Goulet back in January of this year, reminded fans exactly how dangerous Bang can be. If Duane can commit himself to mixed martial arts, he can certainly be a player.
Waiting in the Wings:
Roger Huerta (14-1) – An accomplished wrestler from Texas, Huerta may be the best lightweight you have never heard of. Rumors are circulating that Huerta may be on his way to the UFC very soon and will be an immediate impact if this is the case.
Tyson Griffin (7-0) – Unbeaten and rising quickly is Tyson Griffin of Santa Rosa, California. Wins over Bang Ludwig and Urijah Faber have put Griffin on the map who normally fights at 145lbs.
Urijah Faber (14-1) – Size may be his only weakness at 155lbs. Faber, who usually competes at around 140lbs is the current King of the Cage lightweight champion and is surging to the top of the class with wins over Ivan Menjivar and Charles Bennett among others.
Jason Dent (18-6) – With wins in five of his last six fights, Dent is on the verge of breaking through. A technical striker with a relentless attack, Dents biggest asset may be his defense particularly on the mat. One or two more big wins may warrant an invite from Joe Silva and co.
With all the talent in this weight class fans can certainly expect to see fireworks while the division sorts itself out in the next few months. I predict that when the smoke clears and all is said and done, we will see Sean Sherk standing on top of the lightweight mountain looking down on a pile of battered and beaten bodies in what may be the most competitive division in the UFC.