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Intelligently Defending 12.13.07: UFC Lightweight Division Ready for a Huge 2008

December 13, 2007 | Posted by Ken Kobel

The Ultimate Fighter 6 Finale took place this past Saturday and helped remind people of one simple fact: the UFC lightweight division is good.

Real good.

In one last hurrah before 2007 came to a close, Roger Huerta and Clay Guida fought in the card’s main event. It was an epic back-and-forth battle that displayed all that is good in the world of MMA. Make no mistake about it; this was THE fight of the year.

It was a fitting end to the year for a division which over the past twelve months has emerged as one of the most exciting and deepest in all of MMA. It seemed as if every UFC event in 2007 included a lightweight war which was immediately thrown into the mix of fight of the year candidates. The division was brought to a role of prominence through fights like Edgar/Griffin, Huerta/Garcia, Fisher/Stout, and Griffin/Guida — and deservedly so.

Still, as great as 2007 was for the still young 155-pound weight-class – 2008 should be even better.

This potential for the lightweight division starts at the UFC Lightweight Title.

A champion is the face of a weight-class. They are the person who gives the division its credibility and the person that all other fighters in the division are measured up to. The lightweights were without this crucial component for the entire second half of 2007 after Sean Sherk tested positive for steroids in his only title defense of the year. It was a crushing blow to a man who looked like he could hold the title for years to come.

The Sherk steroid saga began after UFC 73 in early-July and officially came to an end last week when the former champion was stripped of his title. Soon afterwards, Dana White confirmed that B.J. Penn vs. Joe Stevenson at UFC 80 will crown a new UFC Lightweight Champion.

This will be a good fight to get the title back on track and it is going to be closer than most think.

B.J. Penn has been considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world for many years. His world-class BJJ and powerful stand-up makes him a tough opponent for anyone. While his only win in the current lightweight division came against an overmatched Jens Pulver, the UFC deemed his career resume to be solid enough to warrant a title shot. If he is motivated – IF being the important word – Penn has the ability to defeat anyone in the UFC at 155-pounds.

The Ultimate Fighter 2 winner Joe Stevenson will be the one to challenge Penn in England. This marks the first time a TUF winner has earned a title shot since the show began – and no, TUF4 winners did not actually earn their shots. Stevenson has been on a roll since dropping to lightweight in mid-2006. He is currently 4-0 in the division with impressive wins over Yves Edwards, Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Melvin ‘Slalom’ Guillard, and most recently Kurt Pellegrino in a hard fought unanimous decision victory. Stevenson is still just 25-years-old despite having fought professionally for the past eight years. He has excellent grappling abilities and his hands are coming along. The career of Joe Daddy will be a great one.

Penn will certainly be the favorite in this fight and should win. However, Stevenson is going to come in hungry. If Joe can weather the storm by lasting past the first few rounds he will be in good shape. B.J. has shown lackluster cardio in previous fights and if Stevenson can reach rounds four and five with something left in his tank he will have a shot at the upset.

Whoever leaves Newcastle with the UFC Lightweight Title will then defend it against former champion Sean Sherk. As mentioned, Sherk was officially stripped of the belt last week. This move from the UFC was absolutely necessary. Though Sherk’s suspension was reduced from one year to six months, he was still found guilty – and because of this he could not be allowed to keep his title under any circumstances.

Still, his suspension is over in January which means he will probably fight for the championship around May. Basically, difference from him having the title and him being stripped of the title is that he will enter the arena first instead of second when he gets his shot.

Don’ let the steroid scandal fool you. It is not as if Sherk will come into his next fight looking like Starvin’ Marvin. He will be every bit the animal he was and to make matters worse for his opponent – he will also have a chip on his shoulder the size of the Titanic. Sherk will be a madman with something to prove.

Sherk possess some of the best wrestling in the division along with a great BJJ game – his manhandling of BJJ Black Belt Hermes Franca proved this fact. The winner of Penn/Stevenson will have his hands full and if it is B.J. this will be the biggest fight in the history of the UFC lightweight division.

The path of the UFC Lightweight Title gets tricky after Sherk gets his opportunity.

It is apparent that the division is one of the most stacked in MMA and finding a clear cut contender will be tough. Here is what it boils down to at this point: There are four fighters in the weight-class that are coming off big wins and have positioned themselves above the rest of the competition — outside of Penn, Stevenson, and Sherk. The always-improving Kenny Florian stopped Din Thomas at Fight Night 11. The tenacious Tyson Griffin outlasted Thiago Tavares at UFC 76. The wrestling-machine Frankie Edgar dominated Spencer Fisher at UFC 78. And, most recently, the now validated Roger Huerta choked out Clay Guida at TUF6 Finale.

With these four men at the top of the list, an unofficial mini-tournament should be constructed and held over a series of events. It would not only provide a way to determine a future title contender, but it would also give fans some great bouts to look forward to. All four of these men have shown the ability to put on a great fight and an undying desire to reach the top of the mountain. The possibilities are enough to get even the most jaded of MMA fans excited – Florian vs. Griffin, Huerta vs. Edgar, Florian vs. Huerta, Edgar vs. Griffin 2. The UFC needs to make this happen.

The sky is the limit for the UFC lightweight division in 2008. If the current year was any indication of what is to come then fans should expect more show-stealing fights, more rising stars, and — if all goes well – at least three title bouts.

Important Note: As many of you know has recently added a comments section to their columns – no registration is required. So let’s put this bad-boy to use. What was your favorite lightweight fight of 2007? Which lightweight is ready for a huge run in 2008? What match-ups in the division do you want to see? What are your predictions for the already announced title fights? Post thoughts to these, or any other relevant questions, along with feedback in the comments section.

All other feedback is always encouraged. Send mail to [email protected] – all emails will be answered.


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Ken Kobel
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