Who deserves the next lightweight title shot?
Heading into UFC 136 there were still a lot of questions being asked about the lightweight division in the UFC. Questions like what would happen if Edgar and Maynard fight to a draw again, what if Maynard wins or who’s next in line? But a lot of those questions seemed to have gotten answered at the conclusion of the event, with the exception of one. Who’s next in line for the title shot.
This week’s question comes to us from Hawaii with the question of “Who will receive the next lightweight title shot?”
There’s a slew of possibilities that could come into play, and there’s some fights that have yet to play out. The three upcoming fights that all have relevance in the lightweight division are Ben Henderson versus Clay Guida at UFC on Fox 1, Donald Cerrone versus Nate Diaz at UFC 141, and Gilbert Melendez versus Jorge Masvidal at Strikeforce.
For the sake of argument, let’s just assume that the winner of all three of those fights is healthy and cleared to fight within three months and that no injuries will happen to either Edgar or the next challenger for the belt.
Working in chronological order first up is this weekend Ben Henderson versus Clay Guida fight. Henderson is the former WEC lightweight champion having won an interim belt back in October of 2009 against Donald Cerrone. He then defeated Jamie Varner to unify the belts and defeated Cerrone a second time to retain the belt. He lost the belt in a very close, fight of the year candidate to Anthony Pettis in December of 2010.
Henderson then took on Mark Bocek at UFC 129 and handed Bocek his fourth loss. After his successful UFC debut, Henderson fought Jim Miller, whom many had thought was next in line to receive a title shot with an impressive seven-fight win streak heading into the fight. Henderson decided to snap that streak and put his name in the title contender’s hat.
Henderson could make a case for himself should he prevail over Guida. With a victory he would improve his Zuffa record to an impressive 8-1 with a three-fight win streak. He’s also the former WEC champion and has been in several exciting fights through out his career.
Guida meanwhile seems to come very close to earning a title shot, only to have it taken away from him. After putting together an impressive three-fight win streak in 2008 and 2009, he lost to top contenders Diego Sanchez and Kenny Florian. Both of them went on to fight for the title after defeating Guida.
Guida has since rebounded putting together an impressive four-fight win streak with wins over Shannon Gugerty, Rafael dos Anjos, Takanori Gomi and Anthony Pettis. With a new focus on his wrestling and his non-stop cardio, Guida is making the best run of his career.
A victory over Henderson would easily put Guida’s name close to the top of the list. He would be on a five-fight win streak and would hold victories over the last two WEC lightweight champions. Guida and Henderson both could realize they are fighting someone similar to themselves as they have tremendous wrestling and cardio.
The next person to make a case for himself is Gilbert Melendez. He is the current Strikeforce champion and Dana White has stated he wants him in the UFC asap. Problem is, he has a title fight against Jorge Masvidal and can’t just be brought over.
Many will say that Melendez’s upcoming fight isn’t as difficult as some of his previous fights, but then state that he is one of the best in the division. With the way that Melendez has been fighting, it is hard to argue that he isn’t a top lightweight. With victories over Josh Thomson, Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya Kawajiri, he has been in there with some of the best.
But it begs the question, should he prevail over Masvidal on December 17, should he get an immediate title shot because he’s the current Strikeforce champion? Looking at the history of Strikeforce fighters entering the UFC after the purchase, the obvious answer is no he won’t get it. Shields didn’t get one, Diaz was supposed to but didn’t get one, Henderson isn’t getting one either. So it wouldn’t be surprising if despite a solid victory by Melendez, that he would not get a title shot.
The last fight that has some implications is Donald Cerrone versus Nate Diaz at UFC 141. After quickly submitting Dennis Siver at UFC 137, Cerrone stated he wanted to fight again by years end. With him fighting at UFC 141 that will mark his fifth fight in 2011 and sixth in a span of thirteen months.
With his victory over Siver, Cerrone now is riding a six-fight win streak with four of those fights being in the UFC. Of his four UFC fight’s, he has finished three of his opponents and earned one of the coveted fight night bonuses.
Should he win against Diaz, he will have the best streak of victories out of any of the possible challengers and has one of the best cases for getting a title shot.
Now that we have ruled out Melendez and basically answered why each could get the shot, let’s break down the two possible scenarios; Henderson and Cerrone win and Guida and Cerrone win. Let’s also say that Melendez wins his fight even though it is unlikely he will get the immediate title shot.
Should Guida win against Henderson he will likely earn the next title shot. Guida has been competing in the since UFC 64 and has the most seniority of the bunch. Of course time in doesn’t count for anything, but recent record does. The victory would put him at five straight making him the second longest in the UFC. In Guida’s fourteen UFC fights, he’s won six of the fight night awards and two fight of the year awards. Guida is an exciting, fan favorite fighter and would no doubt bring a lot of energy to the title fight. In this scenario with Cerrone and Melendez also winning, I predict those two will fight for the next contender’s spot.
The opposite scenario has Ben Henderson beating Guida, but still having Cerrone and Melendez win. As much as I can see the UFC giving Guida a title shot after defeating Henderson, I can’t see them giving Henderson one after defeating Guida with the rest of the field the way it is.
Even with Henderson holding two victories over Cerrone, I can see the UFC opting to give Cerrone a crack a the title before Henderson. This would put Henderson in a matchup against Melendez with the winner getting the next title shot.
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