Ever since champ Frankie Edgar battled challenger Gray Maynard to a draw at UFC 125, there’s been something of a traffic jam clogging the road to the top. No, wait, scratch that. There hasn’t been a traffic jam as much as there’s been a jackknifed tractor trailer, a ten-car pile-up, and an overturned school bus inexplicably dumping angry kangaroos out onto the pavement, cluttering the 155-pound highway and turning it into an absolute mess. Who is next in line for a title shot after Edgar and Maynard complete their trilogy? Who of the UFC’s talent-rich division has earned it? After this weekend’s TUF 13 Finale, we know Anthony Pettis’ top contender status has faded, but there are still a number of other tough, accomplished guys ready, willing and waiting. Therefore, here’s MMA Convert’s definitive list of who is (and is almost) worthy.
Jim Miller – He may not have won a WEC belt, but Miller has beaten almost everyone the UFC brass has put in front of him. His only losses – ever – have been to Edgar and Maynard, and his current win streak is up to seven. With jiu-jitsu, wrestling, ever-improving striking and a limitless work ethic, Miller is far and away next in line. He just has to get by former WEC champ Ben Henderson at a UFC Live: “Hardy vs. Lytle” in August first.
Clay Guida – After keeping Pettis on the ground for three rounds on Saturday night and extending his win streak to four, Guida earned himself a whole lot of points in the grand scheme of things. But back-to-back losses to Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez make it hard to justify his claim to the belt. For defeating Pettis, he’s ahead of most of the pack; however, he’s still got a little ways to go.
Anthony Pettis – Pettis was promised a title shot by virtue of his status as last WEC champ ever, and with his dangerous guard and thrilling kicks, few could argue against that. It’s a shame Edgar and Maynard put the division in suspended animation, though, because it forced Pettis to take the Guida fight. Now it’s back to the drawing board for the promising 155er – although a couple more electrifying wins could easily put him back in the running.
Ben Henderson – The well-rounded Henderson may have lost his WEC belt to Pettis, but he still remains one tough hombre, and he had little trouble reminding us of that when he took on Mark Bocek at UFC 129 and thumped the Canadian grappler for three rounds. Though Henderson is probably a couple victories away from earning his shot, if he were to defeat Miller in August all bets are off. Beating the top-top contender means you get to cut ahead of the line, ‘cause the maître d’ has got a table for you, and would you like to see the wine list, sir?
Don Cerrone – The “Cowboy” was a contender in the WEC, and with a few key wins in the Octagon, he could be a contender there as well. Cerrone is facing Vagna Rocha at UFC 131 this weekend, which should be a decent test of his jiu-jitsu defense. If he gets past that, he could conceivably give someone like Diego Sanchez, Sean Sherk or Evan Dunham a bit of the ol’ ultraviolence.
Melvin Guillard – Back in 2005, Guillard was a TUF 2 washout with a glaring hole in his game (submissions). Now, however, he’s transformed into some sort of deadly fist-dispenser that thinks before he acts. And while he lost to Nate Diaz in 2009, he’s since been coming out on top, and he totally crushed Dunham earlier this year. I say give him a couple more “name” guys and see where he stands. Guillard might end up surprising all of us.
Dennis Siver – Like Guillard, only a bit more German, Siver is another person who’s metamorphosed into a competent, capable fighter. In his last excursion he derailed top contender George Sotiropoulos, and at UFC 132 he’s facing Matt Wiman. A win there, plus maybe a couple more after that, should have him painted as a viable challenger for the belt, too.