The UFC's lightweight division is the most stacked weight class in the entire promotion.
It wasn't always this way. Two years ago, the idea of immediate rematches between B.J. Penn and Frankie Edgar wasn't such a bad thing, mostly because there were no other real contenders prepared to step up and face championship-level fighters.
Those days are over. The top of the division is crowded and filled with plenty of fighters who are deserving of title shots. But instead of getting their crack at gold, they're forced to wait and take fights in the interim. It rarely works out in their favor: just ask Anthony Pettis and Jim Miller.
But 10 pounds below, the featherweight champion awaits without a truly interesting and deserving challenger. Jose Aldo needs an opponent, and Hatsu Hioki, easily the most deserving contender at the moment, just doesn't interest the masses.
Hioki challenging for the title doesn't even interest me, and I'm a journalist and hardcore fan.
But it's a situation that is easily rectified. There are plenty of lightweights who sit just outside of title contention, but they can jump directly into the championship fray by dropping weight and moving to featherweight.
For most of these names, all they need is one solid featherweight win and they'll either earn a title shot or be very close to title contention. Sounds like a good deal, right?
Let's take a look at five lightweights who should seriously consider the drop.
Kamal Shalorus is currently in the midst of a two-fight losing streak and will likely face the chopping block if he loses his next fight.
The easiest way to fix that? A drop to featherweight.
Shalorus is heavily muscled. He's only 5'8", short for a lightweight, and has plenty of experience with weight cutting through his years of Olympic wrestling. His wrestling and strength would give him a real advantage at 145 if he chose to take advantage of it.
Unfortunately, we rarely see Shalorus play to his strengths. He often chooses to stand and engage in fruitless striking battles in the name of putting on exciting fights for the fans, but may choose to revert to his wrestling base with his back against the wall.
Shalorus would likely need two dynamic wins in order to secure his title shot. He's further away from Aldo than anyone else on this list. But he's good enough, if he fights a smart fight, to see his way up the ladder.
Dennis Siver's inclusion on this list is a bit dishonest, as the Russian-born kickboxer has planned a move to featherweight for quite some time.
Siver was scheduled to face Ross Pearson in his 145-pound debut at UFC on Fuel 2 next month, but will instead face Diego Nunes.
Looking at Siver, you might wonder how in the world he could ever make featherweight. He looks like an absolutely enormous lightweight, and that's true to a certain extent. Siver is build like a fire hydrant, with gigantic legs and a frame packed with dense muscle.
But the key to remember is that he's only 5'7". He's got plenty of muscle, but it's packed on a frame that is far shorter than many of his former lightweight compatriots. All he really has to do is cut back on the weight training a bit and he'll make featherweight without many problems.
A win over Nunes won't earn Siver a title shot, but he'll be a lot closer than he was at lightweight.
Guida is coming off a loss to Benson Henderson in his last fight, which means he wouldn't get an immediate title shot with a drop to featherweight. But Guida's Everyman persona and his popularity with the fans would certainly vault him into contention with a single win.
Prior to losing to Henderson, Guida racked up four consecutive wins. If he'd beaten Henderson, it would have been Guida in the cage with Frankie Edgar at UFC 144 last month.
Guida would have plenty of problems with Aldo in the cage. It's a bad style match-up. But there would be plenty of fan interest in Guida challenging for the title, and that's an important thing at this early stage of Aldo's tenure as champion in the UFC.
They need viable challengers, but they also need challengers that fans will tune in to see.
Guida fits that bill. Even if he can't beat Aldo, he'll at least make you care.
Gomi is a fighter that the UFC clearly wants to push to the moon.
He's a well-known name from the glory days of PRIDE in Japan, which means he has a ton of value for the UFC as they continue their expansion into Asian markets.
He has a ton of charisma, a trait that translates with American fans. His is an exciting style, with all five of his UFC fights ending before the final whistle. When Gomi goes in the cage, you know you're in for an exciting time, no matter how long the fight actually lasts.
The only problem? He loses way too many fights.
Gomi is 2-3 in his UFC career and likely saved his job with his TKO win over Eiji Mitsuoka at UFC 144 last month. The win buys him at least two more fights in the UFC, but he'll always be undersized against the crop of massive lightweights that are creeping towards the top of the division.
He's never been completely ripped at 155, which leads me to believe that he could shed the baby fat and make 145 without many problems. He's got enough power to create problems at featherweight, and he's the kind of marketable star that the division needs.
I've discussed this in detail in a previous post, but I'll reiterate it: the absolute best move for Anthony Pettis is a drop to featherweight for an automatic title shot at Jose Aldo.
Pettis was promised a shot at the winner of last January's fight between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Due to circumstances beyond his control, he didn't get it. He was a good company man and took a fight against Clay Guida instead of sitting on the sidelines.
He lost to Guida and barely beat Jeremy Stephens in October. It wasn't the best two-fight fun of Pettis' career, to be sure.
But he followed it up with a vicious knockout of Joe Lauzon at UFC 144. Yes, Joe Lauzon: the same guy who had submitted presumed top contender Melvin Guillard in October.
Prior to the Pettis bout, Lauzon revealed on Ariel Helwani's MMA Hour that UFC matchmaker Joe Silva had all but told him he'd likely get a title shot with a win:
From talking to Joe Silva, he kind of led me to believe a little bit that part of the reason why me and Pettis were going out there was because if something happened with Ben, then one of us would step up and fight for the title. He didn’t completely come out and say it, but he was like, ‘it would be a really good thing to have two top-ranked guys out there in case something happened with Ben.
After the event, UFC President Dana White said that Pettis would "probably" get the next title shot, but he was forced to take a backseat yet again when it was announced that Henderson and Edgar would rematch this summer.
Pettis has been patient over the past 12 months, but it's time for him to get his due. A drop to featherweight would give Aldo an immediate title challenger with name recognition. It may not sell a pay per view, but it would be one hell of a title fight for the UFC on FOX show in August.
It would also virtually guarantee an exciting fight, with Aldo's vicious striking skills going against Pettis and his unpredictable kicks.