Thursday, January 19, 2012

WALKER: The MMA Stock Exchange - A Look at the Rising and Falling in the UFC's Lightweight Division

By: Brad Walker, MMATorch Contributor

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Here is a brief summary of what I will be doing here; I'm going to look at the current champ from each division and label them "now." Then I will look at who I feel has the best chance to dethrone that champ and label them "next." Next I will select two each of the following: fighters with rising stock, fighters with stagnant (unchanging) stock, and fighters with dropping stocks. I will give explanations as to why I feel each one is placed where they are, and feel free to give me any feedback you believe would be a credible argument, after all analysis is partially opinion, now let's roll our sleeves up and dig in.

LIGHTWEIGHTS

Now: Frankie Edgar. One of the best all-around fighters in the game right now, he has strong points in wrestling, Jiu-Jitsu, and great boxing. Frankie is kind of an anomaly; when he first earned a title shot against B.J. Penn I thought he was going to be another lame duck contender, and I could not have been more wrong. Frankie has taken control of the division, and he doesn't look to stop anytime soon. With the exception of his first two fights against Gray Maynard, Edgar has steamrolled the competition, and finally in his last bout, defeated Maynard. His potential has yet to be reached in my opinion, as I truly believe his striking game will continue to evolve as more opponents try to test his chin. Edgar is a break out star who will continue to shine as time passes, but I don't expect him to hold onto that strap permanently, as there are more than a few good contenders out there ready to take it.

Next: Gilbert Melendez. The Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, who has spent the better part of the last two years squashing the opposition. I have a hard time believing that there is another lightweight on the planet who can hang with Melendez right now. This is a guy who has gone out there and, unfortunately for him, beaten up lesser talent over the last year or so, with the one exception being Shinya Aoki. Melendez has two losses to his record, both by decision, and both he avenged within a year or so of the loss. I believe anyone that the UFC sends to Strikeforce to fight this guy is going to get smashed, regardless of who it is. Melendez will enter the UFC still holding the Strikeforce strap, and take the Lightweight title away from whomever is holding it at that point in time.

Rising Stock: Nate Diaz. What can I say about this guy that he didn't state for himself in his last fight with Donald Cerrone? He came out with some of the most accurate and incredible boxing we've ever seen in MMA, and took Cowboy out of his comfort zone so badly that Diaz was able to pick him apart. Nate doesn't have the best record in the division, but since his fight with Gomi ended with such an incredible arm bar Diaz has just raised his game exponentially. I would love to see Dana White make a Diaz vs. Maynard III fight for an upcoming event, just to prove that what Diaz brings to the table now is so much more than he did just a year ago. His incredible 76 inch reach at lightweight certainly doesn't hurt either, as he can stand and bang with the best in the business, and not get knocked out. Diaz is a future champion one way or the other, but he's in a very talent stacked division in the UFC, so above all others Nate is going to have to continue to prove his worth in the Octagon. What's next for Diaz is uncertain, but I would love to see him up against the winner of Miller-Guillard or Gray Maynard again.

Rising Stock: Benson Henderson. This guy is an absolute ball of fire in the cage, and his Jiu-Jitsu game is one of the best in the division. Henderson is going to be facing off with Frankie Edgar for the title in his next bout, and don't be surprised if he goes home with it. He's performed very strongly in almost every fight in his career, only having dropped two fights: one to Anthony Pettis and the other to Rocky Johnson, but that bout was at welterweight. Coming off of three consecutive wins, look for Henderson to take down Frankie Edgar and maneuver for a submission to win his first UFC title. I can't say enough about this guy, he's a phenomenal athlete, and he knows how to dictate the pace of a fight.

Stagnant Stock: Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone. Honestly, I had a hard time putting Cerrone as stagnant, because as a fan I love this guy to death. On the other hand, as an analyst I had to watch him at UFC 141 and think to myself "What the hell is he doing?" He was off of his game throughout the fight, and only showed quick flashes of the Cowboy we've gotten used to of late. This is a guy who has finished 14 of his 17 wins - 13 submissions and 1 knockout - and was a true star in the making. He hasn't done well in the last couple years against top flight competition, but I think we all want to believe that he can. Cerrone's strikes are absolutely lethal, and if he drops you, if he doesn't knock you out, he's going to choke you out, one way or the other. I'd love to see Cowboy go up against Clay Guida in his next bout, as it would make a very entertaining fight, and a win like that is all he needs to get going.

Stagnant Stock: Clay Guida. This one is hard to call too, not only because I share a hometown with Guida, but because the man is one of the more entertaining fighters to watch. Clay comes into every fight toting impeccable balls of steel, and is willing to stand and trade with the best strikers in the game. His submission skills are excellent, and he excels on the ground. The only hole in Clay's game seems to be his inability to finish fights when it's absolutely necessary. He shows determination, he's even shown domination, but we've never seen Clay snap into desperation mode. He has a huge fan following that want to see him get to that title fight, and as much as I would love to see it, without reeling off three or four big wins in a row, it won't happen for him. Clay has every bit of talent necessary to make it work; now he just needs to put them to use and climb back up the ladder. As mentioned earlier, I would love to see him face Cerrone in his next bout.

Dropping Stock: Jorge Masdival. This is a guy who I have never been able to consider a top 10 fighter in the division. He tends to get to the top of the ladder, only to get knocked all the way back down in quick fashion. Oh, and did I mention that he likes to dabble at welterweight too? The opponents he does beat are not the best, and probably never will be. The ones he loses too sometimes aren't even the best, like Paul Daley or Toby Imada. All around his skill set is pretty good, he possesses great striking for his size, and his wrestling is pretty impressive too. Alas, we must face the fact that Masdival fits the bill as a gatekeeper, not a contender, nor a champion. Could he win a belt? Sure, in fact he has in other organizations, but in the elite ranks of UFC or Strikeforce he's not going to have Dana White pinning a #1 contender badge on him, ever. Jorge is a good fighter, don't get me wrong, but he's going to continue to get beat up by better fighters each time he gets closer to the top. Let's give him another fight with K.J. Noons and see how he does coming off of a loss.

Dropping Stock: Gray Maynard. I don't know how to explain why I feel his stock is dropping aside from pawning off his run in the division as a fluke. I could be wrong, hell I hope that I'm wrong, because he's an extremely exciting fighter to watch and his striking skills are incredible. He has defeated a number of top 10 fighters, only to come up short in back to back fights against Frankie Edgar. We are likely to see a strong comeback by Maynard where he climbs up to another title fight, and he could win a title, I wouldn't be too surprised. His striking on the ground is downright scary, and his powerful slams are so powerful, he's actually knocked himself out performing them (TUF 5 Finale). How many fighters out there are so gung-ho on their takedowns that they will knock themselves out to get a guy on the ground? It's at least a little bit reckless, but Maynard will hopefully bounce back from his current place in the division. I would love to see him either move over to Strikeforce and fight Gilbert Melendez or jump into the cage with the loser of Miller-Guillard after they fight on Friday.

Source: http://www.mmatorch.com/artman2/publish/Staff_Editorials_19/article_12201.shtml

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