Saluting the Gatekeeper in Every UFC Division Right Now
The term "gatekeeper" is so often used pejoratively. I beg to differ.
How else do you know who is truly befitting of the VIP section without someone manning the velvet ropes? What is a bar without a bouncer? Just a bunch of drunken chaos is what.
We can't have the UFC being in chaos, so we must have gatekeepers. It's a vital role. And in these slides, we salute the gatekeeper in every weight class—that man or woman who separates the contenders from the masses.
This salute is a job that often falls to me, and it's a task I relish. I'm like the gatekeeper of the gatekeepers. That's my role. Anyway, here goes.
Women's Bantamweight: Miesha Tate
Last two wins: Liz Carmouche, Rin Nakai
Last two losses: Cat Zingano, Ronda Rousey
It's still a young division, but it doesn't get much more cut-and-dried than this.
Miesha Tate loses to the best ones and beats the other ones. The only two fighters in the weight class who are head and shoulders above the rest—Rousey and Zingano—had to go through Tate to get there.
This one is probably a little more fluid than more established divisions, but for now the choice is clear.
Flyweight: Tim Elliott
Last two wins: Jared Papazian, Louis Gaudinot
Last two losses: Ali Bagautinov, Joseph Benavidez
One could make a case here for Bagautinov, Benavidez or even someone like John Moraga. For my money, though, no one occupies the nether region between contender and foot soldier like Tim Elliott.
Part of it is the unorthodox stand-up style. It's fun to watch but also hard to deal with. The guy is tough as nails, too, which is classic gatekeeper. If you want to beat him, you have to beat him, as it were.
On the other hand, Elliott has never received a title shot in the UFC. To me, that can be a gatekeeper giveaway. It's not a hard-and-fast rule, but if you've gotten a chance to fight for the belt (especially recently), that makes your gatekeeping case a little harder to make, as it suggests you're a cut above the pack.
Bantamweight: Eddie Wineland
Last two wins: Brad Pickett, Yves Jabouin
Last two losses: Renan Barao, Johnny Eduardo
Clocking in for the bantamweights, by a nose over Iuri Alcantara, it's Eddie Wineland!
The high-energy boxer from Indiana is tons of fun to watch and plenty popular as a result. I'm surprised it has been two years since his last fight bonus.
In fact, he hasn't fought in the UFC since May. Who is manning the gates, I ask? Who indeed.
Featherweight: Clay Guida
Last two wins: Hatsu Hioki, Tatsuya Kawajiri
Last two losses: Chad Mendes, Dennis Bermudez
There are very few constants in life. Death is one of them. Taxes? Good, that's another. How about obnoxious Philadelphia sports fans? Very nice, let's add that to the white board. But allow me to now include my own: Clay Guida as a UFC gatekeeper.
It's hard to believe he's only 32 years old. He's like one of those college basketball players who never seem to graduate. And good for him. Survival is an underrated quality.
Lightweight: Joe Lauzon
Last two wins: Michael Chiesa, Mac Danzig
Last two losses: Jim Miller, Michael Johnson
This is a big moment for Joe Lauzon, as Donald Cerrone hands over the lightweight mantle to his successor.
Cerrone held the spot for a long time, but now he's fought his way out of it. In steps J-Lau, who's on a two-fight winning streak that is sure to extend to three after he out-bloodlets Diego Sanchez in November. Then he'll get a contender like, say, Josh Thomson, and the cycle will begin anew.
Welterweight: Jake Ellenberger
Last two wins: Jay Hieron, Nate Marquardt
Last two losses: Rory MacDonald, Robbie Lawler
Jake Ellenberger may not be quite as well-known as some others in the gatekeeping community, but if you look at how his recent record shakes out, he's as straight an arrow as they come.
Actually, his entire UFC career has been that way. If you're at the top, you can beat him. Otherwise, you can't.
Middleweight: Michael Bisping
Last two wins: Alan Belcher, Cung Le
Last two losses: Vitor Belfort, Tim Kennedy
These days, Michael Bisping is dangerously close to the novelty circuit. Those cries are going to go louder when, er, if Luke Rockhold beats him next month.
But don't kid yourself. Michael Bisping is as solid a gatekeeper as exists on this crazy blue marble of ours. The bottom line is that you want him on that wall. Not only that, but you need him on that wall as well.
Otherwise, you'd have people talking about a Cung Le title shot. Having a challenger like that in our middleweight division, with a cloud of scandal and potential cheating hanging over everyone's head, would just be unseemly.
Light Heavyweight: Ryan Bader
Last two wins: Ovince Saint Preux, Rafael Cavalcante
Last two losses: Glover Teixeira, Lyoto Machida
Keep the faith in Ryan Bader. That tidy three-fight win streak isn't going to keep him away from his appointed rounds.
That said, he has done a heck of a nice job lately. We all owe him a debt of gratitude for so thoroughly exposing Saint Preux for the green and underskilled pretender that he is. Thank you, Ryan.
Heavyweight: Roy Nelson
Last two wins: Cheick Kongo, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Last two losses: Daniel Cormier, Mark Hunt
Roy Nelson has stood atop this post for time immemorial. He's like a mentor to other gatekeepers. He's the Gandalf of gatekeepers.
There's no question the heavyweight division is thin. But chances are, if you're in the title discussion (Hunt, Andrei Arlovski, Stipe Miocic), you've had to go through Big Country.
At age 38, he shows no signs of flagging. He's still there, sorting wheat from chaff and chaff from wheat, fight in and fight out. A drop to light heavyweight is probably no longer on the table. He's here, and he'll always be here. For that, I know I'll rest a little easier.