Heading into his Ultimate Fight Night 20 Main Event against Nathan Diaz, Gray Maynard knew that a win over the brash TUF 5 winner would most likely mean a chance to challenge BJ Penn for the lightweight title.
Almost immediately after the split decision results were read in Maynard’s favor, the speculation started. The Internet lit up with fans and media alike asking, “who should be next in line for BJ?” or something to that extent.
For many, it comes down to two men: Maynard and Frankie Edgar.
If those are the two in consideration, there is only one answer, and it’s not “The Answer.”
Yes, Edgar has the bigger “name brand” win in recent memory, defeating former champion Sean Sherk at UFC 98 in a bout that earned each fighter a Fight of the Night bonus. He collected the same bonus money for his recent submission of Matt Veach on the TUF 10 Finale as well.
While Maynard hasn’t cashed any bonus checks or beaten any former champions, he’s rattled off seven straight wins in the UFC, and remains undefeated in his career. Included in that list of conquests is one Edgar.
Now, it is well understood that the UFC is a business and fights are made as much on marketability and entertainment value for the fans, but choosing Edgar over Maynard would be an indication that records and results are only secondary.
When the two options are equal in virtually every area, picking the fighter who has the greater connection with the fans makes obvious sense. But when there is a clear deciding variable, like say a head-to-head win, the winner should be the one getting the title shot, shouldn’t he?
First, let me say this: regardless of who fights BJ Penn, they’re going to get beaten. Right now, “The Prodigy” is head-and-shoulders above everyone else in the UFC lightweight division, and it will remain that way until further notice.
Though I understand that Maynard’s style of grinding out close wins and not really having a big connection with the fans plays a part in the decision-making process, overlooking his dominant win over Edgar in favor of a “more marketable” matchup is a mistake to me.
It would be like offering Martin Kampmann a chance at Georges St-Pierre’s welterweight belt, despite the fact that Paul Daley just destroyed him at UFC 103.
If Maynard’s victory over Edgar is less important than how well the UFC marketing department can sell the fight, the company risks sending a message that being able to sell yourself takes precedent over results.
Maynard certainly didn't offer up a highlight reel performance or any evidence that he can pry the lightweight title from the hands of "The Prodigy," but are we really to believe that a man "The Bully" completely dominated would do any better?
The UFC needs to put merit over marketability and do the right thing like Spike Lee.
Give Gray Maynard the next Lightweight title shot.
Update (as of 4:04 PST):
According to Jeremy Botter of Heavy.com, Frankie Edgar has been offered the next shot, not Maynard.
More as the story continues to develop.