In almost any division in every promotion, there is always that one person who stands between the elite and the fighters that are still learning. Generally, we call them gatekeepers, they hold the key that will get you to the next level. Fail, and you will surely be on the undercard, succeed and you get your next shot on air. In most cases there are more than one gatekeeper, but lets look at the UFC's main favorite middlemen in each division.
By far the best example of a gatekeeper in the UFC. Guida does not know the definition of quit, his cardio is rarely met and never exceeded and his record speaks of his experience inside the cage. While still ranked in the top 10 in the division, Guida has met little success when trying to get past other contenders. He has, however, proven to be the line in the sand when it comes to who is promoted as being an elite fighter within the division. He is 5-5 in his past ten fights, but has only lost to those such as Florian, Sanchez, Huerta, and Griffin. No one outside the top ten has beaten Guida in the past three years, but he has not bested any either. Guida is the textbook gatekeeper.
Although he has not been a constant in the UFC, Lytle proves a worthy opponent when vying for position in the top 10. A true fighter at heart, he throws everything he has in every fight. To prove this you only have to look at the bonus' he has accrued in the past 10 fights. Of those 10, he has 4 Fight of the Night, 2 Submission of the Night, and 1 Knockout of the Night Honors. He has only lost to the top tier opponents in the past 3 years, and has set back every mid-tier fighter in the same. Lytle will continue to prove his love for the game in years to come, though a dream of a title run looks to be just outside his reach.
Since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter 3, Herman has been the go-to man in the middleweight division when the bosses want a good fight to see where Herman's opponent ranks. Though you can say that he has taken more than one fight on short notice, you have to also acknowledge his lack of ability to top better fighters in the division. Recently, he has only lost to Maia, Belcher, and the undefeated ACS prospect Aaron Simpson. Though he never has a bad showing, he is currently 2-3 in his past five fights, which should paint a target on his back when White and Co. are looking to shed some weight off the budget.
With one of the worst records, but still employed, in the UFC at 6-6, Jardine must be doing something right. My guess would be to never turn down a fight. He has to be feeling heat to get a win (currently 1-4 in the past 5), and he has his work cut out for him when he faces Matt Hamill at the TUF 11 Finale next month. The only loss to a sub top 10 in the UFC however was to Stephan Bonnar 4 years ago. While he seems to be in favor when giving the UFC brass a good fight when they beckon, Jardine seems to be the go-to gatekeeper for the time, and age is not on his side.
If you had to chose a gatekeeper in such a thin division, Kongo seems to fit the bill the best. It may be due to his strong kickboxing background, and very underskilled ground game, but Kongo cannot push beyond the top tier fighters in the UFC. His most recent win was impressive as he bested Paul Buentello, but Buentello is at the end of his career. The possibility of a stunning knockout will keep him on the main cards, as well as the size of the division, but it seems his best role in the UFC is as gatekeeper.
While this list contains fighters who I think will never truly be at the top of their divisions, I want to emphasize their importance, and their skill. It takes a lot of heart, training, and tons of raw talent to do what they do. They give us exciting fights, many on short notice. While they may be gatekeepers, at least we should look forward to the key-holders that open the gates.