By Jaime C. Feal
The UFC lightweight division is akin to shark-infested waters. Any new combatants to the division are usually the fish, as they tend to get eaten alive in this talent-laden weight class. Indeed, many fighters choose to either step up to welterweight, or move down to featherweight, so they can avoid the deepest division in the UFC. Let’s start at the top.
Once the WEC lightweight champion, Ben “Smooth” Henderson is now the current UFC lightweight champion of the world. Possessing excellent all-around skills and athleticism, he became the first man to finally solve the Frankie Edgar championship fight puzzle. Henderson is a big lightweight with very solid wrestling. Henderson has a great knack at getting a hold of his opponents, and using his great strength in the clinch to control the fight.
Frankie Edgar, the former champ, is considered the #1 contender, and has been given a rematch opportunity against Henderson at UFC 150 in August. Edgar is a smaller lightweight, but has used crazy speed, footwork, and pinpoint boxing, along with tremendous cardio, to frustrate his opponents. Edgar, a wrestling coach at Rutgers, also tends to be able to dictate whether the fight takes place standing up or on the mat.
Lying in wait is Nate Diaz, who possesses sick jiu jitsu; a Black Belt under Cesar Gracie. His cardio is top notch, and he is always a dangerous and game opponent. Diaz has some of the best boxing in the division, utilizing his tremendous cardio to throw tons of punches. He almost always comes forward and never stops throwing, and isn’t afraid of being taken down due to his active and dangerous guard. He will give problems to either Edgar or Henderson once he gets his title shot later in 2012.
But the fun doesn’t stop there. Gray Maynard, who had an epic trilogy with Edgar, has a huge matchup with Clay Guida on June 22 in the main event of “UFC on FX 4.” Should Maynard win that fight, he is presumably one win away from another title shot, and with his excellent wrestling and powerful punches he remains a big factor in the division.
And of course there’s the last man to defeat Ben Henderson; the last WEC lightweight champion, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis. This slick 155er is trained by Duke Roufus, and has some of the flashiest kicks and striking in the division. He needs to learn some takedown defense, but fighters like Pettis and the dynamic Brazilian striker Edson Barboza may be the wave of the future in the lightweight division.
Solid well-rounded fighters like Jim Miller and Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone aren’t even in the top 5 of this stacked weight class. And one of the biggest sharks out there, Gilbert “El Nino” Melendez, may be swimming over from the Strikeforce pond into the UFC Ocean sometime soon. After all, Zuffa owns both waters. When and if “El Nino” comes into the UFC, the best division will get even better. New rivalries will form, and the excitement doesn’t look to be slowing down any time soon. Sit back and enjoy the show.