Oh lord, this is going to be the toughest Meet the Cast yet. Bear with me.
Way back in the day, the UFC’s Lightweight division was so shallow that they cancelled it. But that was then. Since reestablishing it around 2006ish, 155 lbs has been one of the most active divisions in the company, especially since the UFC bought and absorbed the WEC promotion and brought a number of its Lightweight fighters over into the Octagon.
The belt has been something of a hot potato recently, especially with the close title fights associated with one Frankie Edgar. But I might be getting a little ahead of myself.
(Full Disclosure: Frankie Edgar is one of my top 2 favorite UFC fighters, so some of what I might say about the Lightweight division has quite a bit of bias associated with it, especially in light of the results of UFC 150 last weekend. But I’ll try to keep it down.)
Well, enough of my babbling, let’s get to the fighters!
The Champ: Benson Henderson (17-2)
Bendo won the title against Frankie Edgar back in February at UFC 144, and then won the rematch this past weekend. He’s a big lightweight with great footwork, speed, and very solid wrestling. See those big ol legs? I would advise not getting kicked by him. But it’ll probably happen. His gas tank has yet to show signs of emptying, and he does a good job of being aggressive and pushing the pace.
Bendo also has the useful talent of not appearing to take damage in his fights; it’s amazing how often something like that can come in handy if the judges look at the scorecard and they see that one fighter hasn’t really taken any visible damage. (Note: BJ Penn has a very similar superpower that served him very well)
If one can come up with a criticism of Bendo, it’s that he has yet to finish a fight in the UFC. For someone that’s as big a lightweight as he is, he shouldn’t be lacking in power or in submissions (he doesn’t have too many TKOs to his name, but he does have great submissions and can definitely finish fights). And he will need that finishing power against Nate Diaz, the next title contender that Bendo will probably face on the last big Fox card this year.
The #1 Contender: Nate Diaz (16-7)
Nate’s record isn’t the best in the UFC, but don’t let it fool you. This kid is DANGEROUS. 2 of his losses were razor close split decisions that definitely could have gone the other way against top competition (Gray Maynard and Clay Guida), and 2 of his other losses were from his brief stint at Welterweight where he got controlled by bigger guys. But at 155, he is a savage. 9 of his 11 UFC wins were finishes (8 of those 9 submissions). He chases post-fight bonuses like his house is about to be foreclosed. And he’s got a very useful size for 155. He’s tall, at 6 ft and lanky, his boxing and gas tank are relentless, and he’s always looking to put the fight away. Much like his older brother Nick, Nate is there to fight somebody. There is no doubt about his intentions.
As I see it, Nate’s only weaknesses are a lack of kicks as a dangerous part of his arsenal, and his takedowns are not the most impressive. His boxing is also a bit slow and lumbering, but he’s got power for a lightweight and if he gets his hands on you while you’re on the ground, you are in trouble.
He will present an interesting matchup for Bendo; Bendo will not enjoy the height, reach, and size advantages that he did over competitors like Frankie Edgar and Jim Miller, and if Diaz is taken to the ground it could be problematic for the champ. Having said that, the champ is a lot faster than Mr. Diaz, so it should be a pretty interesting contest.
In the Mix:
Frankie Edgar (14-3-1)
It causes me so much pain to have Frankie Edgar listed here. In the mix. After being the most exciting champion in the UFC for the last two years. When Anderson Silva fights, you think to yourself “well, time to see another victim.” Same thing with GSP. And Jon Jones. And Jose Aldo. Just men so much better than the other competitors in their division that it’s scary. But with Frankie, we didn’t know how it was going to end up. All we knew is that there was this guy who was smaller than the rest of the competition who somehow couldn’t be finished or even beaten and found ways to get the best of guys who were always better on paper.
I thought Frankie won his last two fights against current champ Ben Henderson (although I’ll admit that perhaps the first fight was a bit of a reach for The Answer), and now it’s anyone’s guess where he’ll end up.
He’s smaller than most lightweights, easily able to fight at 145 or maybe even 135, has less power than a lot of his competition, and takes damage in his fights. And yet he is impossible to finish. Superman can’t put him away. He’s got speed like a mongoose, he can’t be finished, and he’s got heart for days.
We’ll see what Frankie wants to do after this. It seems like the entire MMA community wants him to go down to 145, and he certainly could do it. If he does decide to go down a weight class, those featherweights better watch out. (If you haven’t gotten the chance to watch either of Frankie’s fights against Gray Maynard, go do it. I DARE you not to be a fan of his after watching those)
Donald Cerrone (19-4)
If there’s one thing this man loves, it’s fighting. If there’s two things this man loves, it’s fighting and money. Thankfully, he has found a profession that allows him to do both of those at the same time. Cerrone has fought in the UFC only since the beginning of 2011, and yet he has fought 7 times with an 8th looking likely before the end of the year. And he’s chasing bonuses like he needs bail money. The man is 6-1 in the Octagon so far with his only loss coming from a decision to Nate Diaz where Cerrone has since admitted he looked past the scary man from Stockton. But Cerrone is dangerous everywhere. He has great kicks, solid jabs, good footwork and movement, and if you go to the ground with him you had best watch out, because he’s comin to get ya. He’s got 4 finishes in the UFC so far across multiple means; when you get in the Octagon with “Cowboy” you better be ready for someone to hurt you. There is no mercy from Cerrone, and his upcoming bout against Anthony Pettis should be phenomenal.
Anthony Pettis (15-2)
Poor Anthony Pettis is the red-headed stepchild of the 155 lb division, with one very important difference: He’s really good. The last Lightweight champion of the WEC was supposed to get a title shot against the winner of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard…and then they drew. And then Pettis lost a boring wrestlefest against Clay Guida.
It’s been a tough road back to the top for Mr. Pettis, but coming off of a headkick knockout of Joe Lauzon earlier this year, Showtime is looking to climb back into the spotlight and will get the chance to fight for the title shot (hopefully; Pettis here is proof that “title shots” are by no means guarantees) when he fights Cerrone on the last Fox card of 2012.
I should also mention that Pettis was the last man to beat current champion Ben Henderson…and this happened in that fight:
So yeah. He’s pretty good.
Gray Maynard (11-1-1)
I have some sympathy for Gray Maynard. He is tough as nails, and a ruthless competitor. He’s been around the UFC for many years now, after having earned his slot based on solid Ultimate Fighter performance. Although he was for years a “lay n pray” fighter, he worked hard to amp up that KO-level boxing. Unfortunately, in that time he has fought Frankie Edgar twice (good luck putting him down, and MAN did Maynard try) and Clay Guida once (while Guida is one of MMA’s warriors, he danced around and tried to fight solely on points that fight and Maynard won another boring decision that wasn’t really his fault this time). I hope Gray gets another shot at UFC gold, although if he has to go through Frankie to get it, he’s boned. Against anyone else in the division though, he stacks up well.
Jim Miller (21-4)
The only men who have ever beaten Jim Miller are Lightweight champions (Frankie Edgar, Ben Henderson) or recent #1 contenders (Gray Maynard, Nate Diaz). The man is incredibly tough, and loves to get in there and submit the other guy. He’s been in the UFC for a solid 4 years now, and is one of the top guys at 155. We’re not sure what’s going to happen to him next with a lot of the top contenders at 155 already spoken for, but I’m excited for when he fights next. Only one man has ever finished him, and I’d say that’s probably a fluke.
Joe Lauzon (22-7)
Joe Lauzon has only seen the judge’s scorecards one time. ONE. In 29 fights! He has 9 submission wins in the UFC and is the current post-fight bonus leader in the UFC with 11 bonuses. When he steps in the cage, get ready for a show. His most recent adventure against Jamie Varner was a textbook example of what MMA should look like at its most exciting, when two fighters go back and forth in search of that finish. Although Lauzon’s chances of a fight do go down as the fight goes on, he is very good at preventing it from going that far. (Note: his win against Gabe Ruediger at UFC 118 was one of my favorite victories ever. They were both on the same season of the reality show; Lauzon was a good dude and Gabe was a prick. And this fight was one of the most lopsided beatings I have ever seen. I could youtube muggings that were less vicious than that fight; go watch it if you get the chance. It’ll only take about 3 minutes of your time)
Next up: Featherweights! And as always, comments welcome!