UFC Fight Night 49 saw another shake-up in the lightweight division when then No. 5-ranked Rafael dos Anjos defeated No. 1-ranked contender Benson Henderson.
This followed the UFC's announcement of Eddie Alvarez coming over to the organization to battle Donald Cerrone at UFC 178. Win or lose, it is hard to envision a scenario that does not involve Alvarez ranked in the top 15 post-178.
The lightweight title is on hold until after The Ultimate Fighter season 20 airs, and that gives the division a lot of time to work itself out. Although, it has failed to do so in the past 12 months since Anthony Pettis won the strap from Henderson at UFC 164.
Also left out of this equation is Nate Diaz, a former top-five-ranked contender who is in a contract dispute with the UFC. Should he return, he will undoubtedly be involved in a premiere bout, but in light of UFC President Dana White's comments about them still being far apart on a new deal we will leave him out of this discussion.
So, how can the UFC fix this issue?
|Current UFC Lightweight Rankings|
|Ranking||Fighter||Record||Last Fight||Next Fight|
|Champion||Anthony Pettis||17-2||d. Benson Henderson||vs. Gilbert Meldendez|
|1||Gilbert Melendez||22-3||d. Diego Sanchez||vs. Anthony Pettis|
|2||Khabib Nurmagomedov||22-0||d. Rafael dos Anjos||N/A|
|3||Rafael dos Anjos||22-7||d. Benson Henderson||N/A|
|4||Benson Henderson||21-4||loss to Rafael dos Anjos||N/A|
|5||Donald Cerrone||24-6 (1 NC)||d. Jim Miller||vs. Eddie Alvarez|
|6||Josh Thomson||20-7 (1 NC)||loss to Bobby Green||N/A|
|7||Bobby Green||23-5||d. Josh Thomson||N/A|
|8||Jim Miller||24-5 (1 NC)||loss to Donald Cerrone||N/A|
|9||Myles Jury||14-0||d. Diego Sanchez||vs. Takanori Gomi|
|10||Michael Johnson||15-8||d. Melvin Guillard||N/A|
|11||Edson Barboza||14-2||d. Evan Dunham||N/A|
|12||Rustam Khabilov||17-2||loss to Benson Henderson||N/A|
|13||Jorge Masvidal||27-8||d. Daron Cruickshank||vs. James Krause|
|14||Ross Pearson||16-7 (1 NC)||d. Gray Maynard||N/A|
|15||Gray Maynard||11-4-1 (1 NC)||loss to Ross Pearson||N/A|
|NR||Eddie Alvarez||25-3||d. Michael Chandler||vs. Donald Cerrone|
|NR||Nate Diaz||17-9||d. Gray Maynard||N/A|
|NR||TJ Grant||21-5||d. Gray Maynard||N/A|
The most pressing issue is having a No. 1 contender ready come December or early January. Khabib Nurmagomedov, the current No. 2-ranked contender behind Gilbert Melendez after Henderson's fall down the rankings, is out with a knee injury and not expected back until early 2015. It is unlikely the UFC would award him the next title shot while on the injury list.
That brings dos Anjos to the forefront with Cerrone and Alvarez just behind. Dos Anjos' win has propelled him up the rankings, where he now sits at No. 3. The fight that makes the most sense is to have dos Anjos battle the winner of Cerrone-Alvarez in a title eliminator bout.
Of course, the UFC could always grant Alvarez's wish—should he win—and give him the title shot straight away. That would force Dos Anjos to take on a different top-10 fighter.
That would deprive fans of seeing Alvarez fight more often, though. Thanks to contract disputes with Bellator, he has only fought three times since 2012.
Dos Anjos vs. Cerrone or Alvarez in a title eliminator makes the most sense for late 2014 or early 2015.
So, what about the rest of the top contenders?
Nurmagomedov would be the next likely contender, but his injury may prevent that. The UFC can subsequently put him in a title eliminator in early 2015. There are several prime opponents such as No. 7-ranked Bobby Green, or even better a returning TJ Grant.
Grant has been out with a concussion, but he is targeting a fall return to the cage. If he is cleared, the UFC could give him a little more time to coincide with the title eliminator against Nurmagomedov. One has to remember that Grant was the next in line for a title shot before the injury. This would be a great way for him to jump back into the deep end right away.
Green is on an eight-fight win streak, and he is 4-0 in the UFC. This includes a win over the No. 6-ranked contender Josh Thomson, who was ranked at No. 3 when Green defeated him by split decision. He is certainly worthy of a top-tier fight.
This makes the winner of either bout the contender for the summer.
Those proposed title eliminator bouts allow the UFC time to rebook the likes of Thomson and the loser of Cerrone-Alvarez in contender bouts for 2015. It would make sense for young guns like Michael Johnson and Myles Jury to take on those names as they are on the cusp of breaking through to the next level.
The field is completely wide open at 155 pounds.
If you are looking for the most simple fix to the logjam at lightweight, the two proposed title eliminators are the best options. However, there are no shortage of possibilities. Only time will tell how Joe Silva and Sean Shelby will address the most stacked division in the UFC.
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