Monday, January 11, 2010

The So-Called "Great" Lightweight #1 Contender Debate

With BJ Penn (15-5-1) sitting pretty atop of the worldwide 155lb. division, it is becoming increasingly difficult for UFC fans to picture anyone within the organization taking his championship belt. Unless you consider rematches, in which case I think Kenny Florian deserves a second crack somewhere down the line, there are really only two obvious contenders left for Penn. Those fighters are Gray "The Bully" Maynard (8-0) and Frankie "The Answer" Edgar (11-1).

No matter who fights BJ Penn next it will be seen by many as a forgone victory for "The Prodigy," but both Edgar and Maynard at least possess the wrestling chops to give BJ's unorthodox one-footed takedown defense technique a real hop for its money. Rumour even has it that this fight could take place at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi-- a highly anticipated event that is also rumoured to include Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort and is confirmed to feature Matt Hughes vs. Renzo Gracie.

A Jersey boy who worked as a plumber well into his UFC career, Edgar has a style that emphasizes lightening-quick strikes, but his greatest asset by far is his wrestling. Maynard is very much a similar fighter, except that what he lacks in speed he more than makes up for in strength. That strength was on display when the two met at UFC Fight Night 13 in April 2008. It was a clear-cut victory for Maynard who simply overpowered Edgar en route to a unanimous decision. If Maynard wins at tonight's UFC Fight Night 20, he will be undefeated in the UFC at 7-0 and will have defeated Nate Diaz who was the only fighter ever to defeat "The Bully" in an exhibition match on The Ultimate Fighter 5.

Here is where the "great" debate comes in. Some have argued that Edgar's body of work, combined with his supposedly more-electrifying style, may give him the edge he needs to lock up the next shot at BJ Penn even despite the a loss to Maynard on his record. Personally, I can not see a way to justify such a move in terms of competitive fairness. Regardless of that, I also do not believe that Edgar is so clearly more marketable. Besides, the UFC has a show planned for New Jersey this march, at which Edgar has already expressed interest in fighting, perhaps against fellow Northeast coast fighter, Kenny Florian.

Ultimately, the "great" number-one contender debate is essentially a non-starter because if Maynard wins tonight and doesn't get the shot it will be a blight on the UFC's reputation as a legitimate sporting event, while a Maynard loss would make him unmarketable for an immediate shot and, thus, throw the proverbial door wide open for Frankie Edgar.

Check out Edgar below in this video interview with Steve Cofield, he discusses this minor controversy as well as other topics including MTV's guido-based hit The Jersey Shore.

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