Guillard-Miller Closer to Title Shot than it Seems at First Blush
When Melvin Guillard gave an interview in which he stated his fight with Jim Miller was a #1 Contender match, everyone had themselves a good laugh. Rightfully so. Two fighters coming off of losses simply can not be paired for a shot at the title in today’s UFC.
With that said, when you get past the absurdity of the claim and really look at the division, it becomes apparent that he’s about as minimally incorrect as you can ever be when making such a claim about two fighters on 0-fight winning streaks.
Luke Nelson of Head Kick Legend had an excellent piece in which he looked at every fighter in the UFC’s lightweight division and broke down where they stood in terms of consecutive wins and losses. For a division that saw multiple fighters climb to five-plus consecutive wins last year, you may be surprised with what you find. Only four fighters have a winning streak more than two fights long outside of current title challenger Ben Henderson.
Jacob Volkmann has won five straight bouts, but nobody is of the misunderstanding he is anywhere near title contention. That Volkmann has yet to feature in any UFC broadcast as a lightweight, and was the second fight of the night in his last outing tells you all there is to know about where the UFC places Volkmann in the division.
Edson Barboza’s four straight wins has him second, and riding high on a thrilling wheel kick KO of Terry Etim seems destined for a big name in his next fight, but as yet has not faced an opponent with even a single top-25 vote on any ballot, and took narrow and contentious decisions against lower-half level competition in his prior two outings. Barboza is still a couple fights from being offered a shot at the belt.
Gleison Tibau and Tony Ferguson have each won three straight. Tibau has stumbled every time he’s faced top competition, including losing handily to Miller and a disputed decision to Guillard. Ferguson is a TUF winner being given the standard slow build. Neither is ranked higher than either of Friday’s main event fighters, and neither is likely to be closer to the title, either.
So, where are all the names of the division? Well, we got to see what happens to a division when the belt is put on hold (when Henderson enters the cage in February, he will be the first man other than Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard and BJ Penn to battle for the belt in over 26 months.) A group of top fighters separate themselves from the herd, but with no end game available, they ultimately beat each other up and before you know it, nobody near the top of the division is on a great run. Here is where the lightweights currently ranked in the consensus Top-25 sit, via Nelson’s article:
Two wins: Nate Diaz, Joe Lauzon
One win: Frankie Edgar, Anthony Pettis, Sean Sherk, Evan Dunham, Matt Wiman
One loss: Gray Maynard, Clay Guida, Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone, Melvin Guillard
Two losses: George Sotiropoulos
Half of the twelve ranked fighters outside of Edgar and Henderson have lost their last fight. One has lost two straight. The four highest ranked fighters outside of the current title fight are all coming off losses. Cerrone will be dropping come the next edition, surely, but it remains that in that event the top three fighters outside the title fight will be coming off losses, all to the two men set to fight for the belt.
A long win streak always continues to carry some merit even after a loss, and in a division where nobody at the top is on a long winning streak, it will hold extra bearing. The front-runners of the title chase now appear to be Diaz and the winner of the Pettis-Lauzon fight. The winner of a proposed Guida-Maynard pairing, similar to the Miller-Guillard winner, will instantly be back “in the mix” on past equity and a win over a highly ranked opponent. Either Miller, having won eight of nine with the loss to the current title contender, or Guillard, winner of six of seven and fresh off a win over the #7 lightweight in the world, would not be out of place among any of those fighters. Barboza could be thrown into the mix, but will more likely be just below the lead pack and paired off with a fringe top-20 opponent before getting a jump right to a title contender.
Coming out of the title fight, barring an injury or the need for yet another rematch for Edgar, there are two main scenarios which can ensue. The champ will either want a quick turnaround in June/July, or a longer wait until the fall.
Champion fights in early summer
In this scenario, the next shot will almost certainly go to Diaz, despite a relatively weak title resume, or the winner of the Pettis-Lauzon fight. For the man left over and not getting his shot, the obvious pairing becomes a match-up with the winner of Friday night’s fight, barring a set of events where Guillard and Lauzon both win while Diaz is given the title shot. With the state of the division, that fight could well prove to be a #1 contenders bout, or at worst, will place the winner of the bout in a fight for a shot. At most, Friday’s winner should find himself needing just a three fight winning streak to get a chance at the title.
Champion fights in the fall
If the champion decides he needs some time off to recover, this is more bad news for the men mentioned as front-runners than it is for Friday night’s combatants. If nobody is getting a title shot until later in the year, the men at the top of the division will be left to throw down among themselves to find out who is worthy of the chance at the title. It’s difficult in a scenario with this many variables to predict the exact series of bookings which will ensue, however it again becomes difficult to see how it takes more than Friday, a pairing with another front-pack opponent in the spring and then a #1 contender bout with whoever else has emerged from the 2012 dust cloud unscathed to finally earn what escaped in late 2011.