The State of the UFC Lightweight Division

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The State of the UFC Lightweight Division
USA Today

The UFC's Lightweight Championship has been on ice for nearly a year due to recurring injuries suffered by champ Anthony Pettis, and it could be another year before anyone not named Gilbert Melendez earns a title shot.

But still, the division chugs along. Today, we take a look at the state of the division as a whole, from the title picture all the way down to two prospects who could make loud noise in 2015 and beyond. 

 

The Title Picture

Anthony Pettis

Yes, Anthony Pettis is still in the UFC lightweight title picture. He is the champion, after all, though nobody would begrudge you for forgetting that nugget of information. He has only competed in the Octagon five times since coming over to the UFC after the closure of World Extreme Cagefighting, and he has yet to defend his title since winning it from Benson Henderson last August.

In fact, he'll be out of action until December, and that's assuming he doesn't injure himself again. But he's the champion until someone comes along and takes the belt away from him. And given his prodigious talent, that might take awhile.

 

Gilbert Melendez

Thomas Mendoza/Associated Press

Melendez, the man many consider to be the rightful UFC champion after his 2013 performance against then-champion Benson Henderson, will get another crack at the belt in December. First, he'll have to join Pettis in Las Vegas and coach 16 female strawweights vying for UFC gold in the next season of The Ultimate Fighter.

 

Benson Henderson

Henderson, the former champion who scraped by with many decisions during his title reign, began a new chapter in his UFC career by finishing the ultratough Rustam Khabilov earlier this month. Not one to waste time, Henderson has already agreed to a return to the Octagon; he'll face Rafael dos Anjos in August.

 

On the Verge

Reinhold Matay/Associated Press

Khabib Nurmagomedov

The Dagestani native might be the future of the lightweight division, though we can't quite be sure; he's never faced anyone in the championship picture. He's won 22 consecutive fights, which is impressive in a combat sport, no matter the level of competition.

It is true that his latest opponent—Rafael dos Anjos, whom he defeated in April—was by far the toughest opponent of his career thus far. But he also handled Dos Anjos in much the same way he has everybody else. Nurmagomedov is due for a top-ranked opponent whenever he returns to the Octagon.

 

Josh Thomson

The former Strikeforce champion was scheduled to get a title shot of his own last December, but a knee injury suffered by Pettis forced the cancellation of the bout. Thomson went on to lose to Henderson in January, and then he hemmed and hawed about retirement.

He ultimately decided to stick around, though, and will face the surging Michael Johnson next month. A win would put him right back in title contention, though he likely will not be on the immediate short list of contenders.

 

A Long Way to Go

PAUL BEATY/Associated Press

Donald Cerrone

Cerrone is always fun to watch, and he makes frequent trips to the Octagon. His popularity with the fans, along with his willingness to fight whenever and wherever the UFC asks him to, will put him near the top of the division on a perennial basis.

The thing is: Can Cerrone finally break through and beat top contenders when he's paired with them? Thus far, he hasn't been able to do that. Losses to Nate Diaz, Pettis and Dos Anjos have derailed his title hopes. Still, "Cowboy" keeps plugging away, and it's not inconceivable to think that he might be gunning for the belt in 2015.

 

Rafael dos Anjos

RDA is a big fight or two away from title contention. In August, he'll get the chance to take the first step when he faces Henderson. If Dos Anjos beats Henderson in impressive fashion, he'll be in the mix to face the winner of Pettis vs. Melendez, though he'll likely need at least one more win before he gets there.

 

The Prospects

Michael Johnson

After a middling post-TUF career, Johnson has strung together three consecutive wins over Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau and Melvin Guillard. He takes a major step up in competition when he faces Josh Thomson next month. A win would give Johnson plenty of wind in his sails as he attempts to move from prospect to title contender.

Jeff Chiu/Associated Press

 

Myles Jury

Jury is perhaps the UFC's best title prospect at 155 pounds. He's undefeated in his career and has met stiffer challenges with aplomb each time in the Octagon. His March win over Diego Sanchez can't be considered his trademark win due to the decline in Sanchez's abilities. Still, one can easily see Jury continuing his march up the ladder to gold.

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