First of all, I love the lightweight division. That being said, I'm really confused as to what the UFC can do with it right now. I was so excited to see Anthony Pettis get a title shot, then it turned out he was dropping to 145 pounds. Then, I watched Gilbert Melendez beat Benson Henderson and lose a decision anyway, so I thought a rematch was coming. Then Dana White comes out and says the winner of Gray Maynard-T.J. Grant will be getting a title shot? I really like watching Grant fight but what has Maynard done to earn another chance to fight for the title? His fight with Clay Guida stunk. If the UFC doesn't want to give Melendez a rematch, why are they setting up a potential third title shot for Maynard, of all the guys at 155 pounds? The whole division feels stuck to me. -- Judd from Montana
Tristen Critchfield, associate editor: While it does seem a little bit peculiar to have Maynard back “in the mix” already, consider what we have seen or will see in recent months: Nick Diaz getting a welterweight title shot coming off a loss and suspension; Chael Sonnen challenging Jon Jones in his first 205-pound appearance in years and Pettis leapfrogging the entire queue of featherweight contenders to face Jose Aldo in August. And that doesn’t even include Antonio Silva, who will square off with Cain Velasquez for heavyweight gold just two fights after suffering a lopsided loss at the hands of the champion.
Maynard’s win over Guida was far from aesthetically pleasing, but if he can get by Grant at UFC 160, he will have consecutive wins over Top 10-level opponents (Guida was ranked at the time) -- something we can’t say for many so-called title contenders who have received their opportunity in the name of entertainment. It is also important to remember that Maynard had Frankie Edgar reeling in both of their title confrontations, and with just a little different scoring, he might have emerged as champion at UFC 125. When he is at the top of his game, there are few lightweights in the world who are better than “The Bully.”
That said, it would be foolish to overlook Grant. Up and down at 170 pounds, the Canadian has reeled off four consecutive victories since dropping down a division. Included in that run is an entertaining slugfest with Evan Dunham in which Grant showcased improved striking and a first-round stoppage of the notoriously durable Matt Wiman. The 29-year-old has toiled primarily on preliminary cards during his recent tear, so his exploits have probably not received as much attention as they should have. However, his blend of physicality, aggressive standup and grappling acumen should make him an interesting foil for Maynard. If Grant were to earn victory on May 25, it would be hard to deny his title worthiness.
As for Melendez, it is hard to imagine him straying too far from the championship discussion. I don’t necessarily agree that “El Nino” beat Henderson, but it was a fight where each round was decided by the slimmest of margins. Considering the rash of rematches that occurred during Edgar’s title reign, it was a wise move to put a return date with Henderson on hold for now. Another quality win for Melendez can only boost his stock and build interest in another showdown with Henderson, assuming “Smooth” can get by his next challenge.
And finally, let us not forget about Pettis, who would seem to have unfinished business at 155 pounds. A win over Aldo would certainly change his itinerary, but “Showtime” recently told the New York Post that the move to featherweight was only temporary. So, while the obvious No. 1 contender is off to pursue a lucrative superfight, the lightweight division is too loaded to be stuck for long. For example, if Maynard or Grant emerges with a dominant performance or finish at UFC 160, it will only enhance the winner’s legitimacy as No. 1 contender. These things have a way of working themselves out.
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