Sorting Out the UFC Lightweights

By Greg Savage Apr 9, 2008
As Kenny Florian (Pictures) showered Joe Lauzon (Pictures) with punches from the mount at UFC Fight Night, the final pieces of a very muddled lightweight picture were undoubtedly being shuffled for the umpteenth time in the mind of UFC matchmaker Joe Silva.

With Sean Sherk (Pictures) set to challenge champion B.J. Penn (Pictures) for his former title May 24, Silva will have some time to sort things out after watching four of his most promising 155-pounders secure victories last Wednesday in Colorado.

"The lightweight class is stacked," said Florian, highlighting Silva's propitious dilemma. "Look at all the guys who won [Wednesday] night and some of the guys who lost. They are all tough."

Florian (9-3-0) had his way with a game Lauzon after tiring out the young prospect in the thin Rocky Mountain air. In victory, he stated his case for another step up in competition.

With hopes of earning another crack at the belt he saw slip through his grasp in a decision loss to Sherk 18 months ago, Florian mentioned Roger Huerta (Pictures) and Tyson Griffin as possible matchups that would propel him closer to his goal.

"I want to fight the two top guys in the division or the winner of Sherk-Penn," stated the 31-year-old Bostonian. "Huerta or Tyson are both top guys, and that is all I want to fight."

Though he hasn't heard anything official from Zuffa, Florian continued to point toward Huerta as his most desired opponent.

"[Huerta] is the most impressive guy out there right now for me," Florian said. "There are no easy fights in this division, and I just want to keep fighting guys that will move me closer to the title shot and Roger Huerta is that kind of fighter."

Huerta (20-1-1) has been mentioned as a possible participant for UFC 87, which is scheduled for August in his adoptive hometown of Minneapolis. A Florian-Huerta battle would go a long way in determining a contender for the winner of Sherk-Penn.

Huerta's manager, Matt Stansell (Pictures), told that his charge has been approached about fighting in Minnesota and could very well compete on the card. Stansell acknowledged that Florian would be an acceptable opponent.

Other UFC lightweights turning in notable performances at UFC Fight Night included Marcus Aurelio, who, albeit against a late replacement, tied the record for fastest submission; Gray Maynard (Pictures), who put the first blemish on Frankie Edgar's record; and Nate Diaz, who scored a slick submission over Kurt Pellegrino (Pictures).

With Maynard and Diaz relatively early into their UFC campaigns and Clay Guida (Pictures) still trying to establish himself as a contender after some tough losses, it appears that outside of Florian, Aurelio is positioned best to make a run at the title. He probably has to win at least one more fight against a top lightweight after his dismantling of less than stellar opponents Luke Caudillo and Ryan Roberts. A fight with Tyson Griffin would make a lot of sense and provide another title-worthy contender.

More positive notes from the UFC Fight Night card, which featured seven lightweight bouts in all, came from former reality show performers and future stars Maynard and Diaz.

After asking for a fight with Edgar, a guy people were not lining up to fight, Maynard (5-0-0) had little problems imposing his will and proving he belongs in the upper reaches of the division. However, it was not all good news for the former Michigan State wrestling standout. He suffered a broken bone in his right hand that will require at least eight weeks to heal, putting him out of action for the next few months.

Once he is healthy, Maynard, with his stellar wrestling credentials and emerging striking ability, should continue his progression into an all-around mixed martial artist. By his own admission, he understands he still has a considerable way to go before he can be considered a title contender.

"I think this win is a big step for me, but I have only been doing this for a couple years," Maynard told after his win over Edgar. "I know I still have a lot to improve."

Diaz (9-2-0) is cut from the same cloth as his older brother, but he could soon shed the shadow that has followed him since he began down the path first blazed by Nick. First he won "The Ultimate Fighter" and now he has established himself as an up-and-comer with his latest victory. He showed his moxie while surviving an early onslaught by a seasoned Kurt Pellegrino to notch a classic triangle submission victory, double-barreled salute and all.

Diaz is in possession of a fluid submission game that makes him capable of ending a fight just about anytime. He has proven he will take advantage of the slightest mistake, as Pellegrino found out after dominating right up until he was tapping out.

It is always better to have too much of a good thing than not enough. And for Joe Silva and the UFC brass, the lightweight division has turned out to be just that. The matchmaking combinations are innumerable, but one thing is for certain: No matter who wins between Penn and Sherk, there will be a deep pool from which to choose the champion's next opponent.
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