The UFC lightweight division is stuck in a perpetual log jam.
Every time it looks like things are about to get moving again, another immediate title rematch rears its ugly head.
First, there was a pair of championship fights between Frankie Edgar and B.J. Penn in 2010. The following year, fans were treated to a double-header of Edgar against Gray Maynard.
Now, with Edgar dropping the strap to Benson Henderson last month, a second encounter between the two is slated for some time this summer, leaving the rest of the top lightweights to fend for themselves.
When Jim Miller and Nate Diaz signed on to fight each other in the main event of UFC on FOX 3 in East Rutherford, N.J., May 5, both fighters figured they were competing for that coveted No. 1 contender spot.
But now that Edgar is back in the picture, their futures are far more murky.
Miller admitted he feels Edgar deserves the rematch and has what it takes to regain the gold.
“I thought it was a very close fight,” Miller said at a recent press event. “In my opinion, Frankie didn’t really fight the way he normally fights. He had a lot of respect for Benson’s ground game and wasn’t really willing to engage with it. That’s not the way he usually fights.
“It was close, but he made some mistakes. I’m confident in saying he could win a rematch.”
Since an exact time and place for the rematch has yet to be decided, there’s no immediate timetable for when Miller or Diaz could get their title shot.
To further complicate things, Anthony Pettis has a legit claim to a championship opportunity, having defeated Henderson on the final WEC card more than a year ago. He’s also riding a two-fight win streak after snagging a split decision over Jeremy Stephens and knocking out Joe Lauzon.
Miller isn’t convinced Pettis’ UFC stint warrants a crack at the title, though.
“Nate and I have proved that we’re the top guys in this division,” Miller said. “I personally don’t feel that Pettis’ win over Stephens and then the knockout of Lauzon (warrants) a title run. But I don’t make those decisions.”
Both Pettis and Miller have felt the sting of the deadlocked lightweight division in the past.
Pettis’ UFC debut was supposed to be a title shot against the winner of Edgar’s and Maynard’s UFC 125 bout early last year. When the two went to a draw, Pettis’ championship hopes were temporarily derailed after he lost a unanimous decision to Clay Guida.
This opened the door for Miller, who was long considered the top challenger. But after Maynard and Edgar both suffered injuries that further delayed their rematch, Miller went on to drop a one-sided decision to Henderson last August.
Miller admitted he was suffering from both a kidney infection and mono prior to the Henderson bout, but makes no excuses for his performance.
“Yeah, I kick myself (for taking the fight),” Miller said. “I should have known something was going wrong. But I’m a big boy. I still signed the waivers, I still stepped inside the octagon, still made my mistakes and he capitalized on it. He was the better man that night.
“If I can earn my opportunity at him again, then I’ll put on a show.”
Surprisingly, this is Diaz’s first taste of the lightweight log jam. Following his split-decision loss to Maynard in early 2010, he took off for the welterweight division, where he went 2-2. After getting rag-dolled all over the octagon by B.C.’s Rory MacDonald, Diaz returned to competing at 155 pounds.
Since then, he has steadily climbed the lightweight ladder, submitting Takanori Gomi and battering Donald Cerrone en route to a thrilling decision victory.
Though he’ll have to wait and see how everything plays out in the coming months, Diaz is at least looking forward to facing an aggressive fighter like Miller.
“Sometimes you get those guys that sit there and hold on or run around and get away with it for five rounds or three rounds,” Diaz said, taking a jab at Carlos Condit’s controversial decision win over his brother, Nick. “It’d be great to have someone who wants to come in there and fight. It’s the UFC — the fighting championships. Hopefully that could happen all the time.”
MELENDEZ STUCK IN STRIKEFORCE LIMBO
In an ideal world, current Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez would be next in line after Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar lock horns for the UFC strap again.
Sadly, Melendez is stuck in Strikeforce with only rumours and the possibility of a rubber match with Josh Thomson to keep him warm.
Lately there have been rumblings that one or more UFC lightweights could jump to Strikeforce to challenge Melendez. Names thrown around have included B.J. Penn, Anthony Pettis and Gray Maynard.
But if Zuffa brass really wanted to see Melendez compete against UFC fighters, why didn’t they just move him over when they were busy gutting Strikeforce of its big-name talent? The whole thing makes so little sense.
Melendez is arguably the best lightweight in the world today. As long as he’s stuck in Strikeforce, he’ll never get the opportunity to prove it.
Training partner Nate Diaz thinks Melendez would run through the UFC lightweight division.
“I think Gilbert Melendez deserves to be the champion right now, but they’re keeping him in Strikeforce,” Diaz said. “If he comes over here, he’s going to do his thing and I’m going to do mine. But I think he should be champion right now.”