Sorting out the UFC's Messy Lightweight Division Title Picture

Nathan McCarterFeatured ColumnistAugust 27, 2014

Aug 23, 2014; Tulsa, OK, USA; Rafael Dos Anjos (blue gloves) celebrates after defeating Benson Henderson in the Main Event, Lightweight Bout at BOK Center. Mandatory Credit: Mark D. Smith-USA TODAY Sports
USA TODAY Sports

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
RankingFighterRecordLast FightNext Fight
ChampionAnthony Pettis17-2d. Benson Hendersonvs. Gilbert Meldendez
1Gilbert Melendez22-3d. Diego Sanchezvs. Anthony Pettis
2Khabib Nurmagomedov22-0d. Rafael dos AnjosN/A
3Rafael dos Anjos22-7d. Benson HendersonN/A
4Benson Henderson21-4loss to Rafael dos AnjosN/A
5Donald Cerrone24-6 (1 NC)d. Jim Millervs. Eddie Alvarez
6Josh Thomson20-7 (1 NC)loss to Bobby GreenN/A
7Bobby Green23-5d. Josh ThomsonN/A
8Jim Miller24-5 (1 NC)loss to Donald CerroneN/A
9Myles Jury14-0d. Diego Sanchezvs. Takanori Gomi
10Michael Johnson15-8d. Melvin GuillardN/A
11Edson Barboza14-2d. Evan DunhamN/A
12Rustam Khabilov17-2loss to Benson HendersonN/A
13Jorge Masvidal27-8d. Daron Cruickshankvs. James Krause
14Ross Pearson16-7 (1 NC)d. Gray MaynardN/A
15Gray Maynard11-4-1 (1 NC)loss to Ross PearsonN/A
NREddie Alvarez25-3d. Michael Chandlervs. Donald Cerrone
NRNate Diaz17-9d. Gray MaynardN/A
NRTJ Grant21-5d. Gray MaynardN/A
UFC.com

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.