Friday, June 22, 2012

*Maynard vs. Guida Underscores the Deepest Division in the UFC

(photo courtesy of
Gray Maynard and Clay Guida may both be top contenders for Benson Henderson’s UFC lightweight belt, but strangely there will be little that either man can do that can secure an immediate title shot. It seems ironic then that tonight’s matchup promises to be one of the most riveting of 2012. Exciting or not, this is life in the current incarnation of the lightweight division. Over the last two years, the 155 lb field has grown to such a level that there is now a logjam at the top of the overall rankings, and a slew of talented fighters on the horizon.

If one is to look at the lightweight picture as a game of chess, thinking several moves ahead, it becomes difficult to see how the title picture shapes up after Henderson faces off with former champ Frankie Edgar. Guida and Maynard are coming off of losses to Henderson and Edgar respectively, which made tonight’s matchup a logical choice. With a win by either man, it would be fair to call them the division’s third best fighter, but how often does a guy land a title shot after just a one-fight win streak? On the flip side, a consecutive loss for either man could see them quite easily tumble down the standings, as the competition coming up behind them is just too strong to deny. Needless to say, the stakes are as high as can be.

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Further complicating matters is top contender Nate Diaz’ one-year suspension for marijuana use, which will inevitably slow the process of fighters getting their shot. Diaz has earned his 3rd place ranking in those standings, and although ineligible to compete for an extended period of time, he’ll certainly be at the fore of the title picture as soon as he returns.

As for the current title picture, there are guys chomping at the bit left and right. Donald Cerrone has looked more focused of late, Anthony Pettis is a threat, boasting a win over the current champ Henderson back in WEC, and undefeated youngster Paul Sass is only a couple of wins away from being a serious contender. Despite a tough loss to Jamie Varner, young Edson Barboza also has the goods to one day be a champion. Don’t forget names like Rafael Dos Anjos, Gleison Thibau, Jim Miller, and there’s always the threat of current Strikforce champ Gilbert Melendez eventually making the jump to the UFC. Are you still with me? Try to follow along.

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It’s said that “heavy is the head that wears the crown”, and never has a cliché rang more true than with the UFC’s lightweights. Fights like Maynard vs. Guida that would be bridge-to-the-belt fights in almost any other weight class, now amount to them essentially treading water. Whoever wins tonight’s main event will likely still be one more fight away from landing that title fight, leaving them susceptible to catching a loss that would keep them from a title shot altogether. Whoever loses will take a substantial knock in the standings, putting them several fights away from the belt, and take them out of the title picture for good.

It’s do or die in a battle of two guys who push the pace, and love to strike. This is the type of situation that makes MMA great, and you can bet that the champ will be watching closely.

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