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State of the UFC Lightweights

Frankie EdgarNovember is a month without any title fights, which makes it a good time to take a long view of the future title picture in each weight class. Today, we look at the lightweight division.

It feels a little strange that we're about to look at the UFC lightweight division and B.J. Penn won't even be part of the conversation, but that's the way it works after UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar beat Penn twice this year, the second time by an absolutely dominant unanimous decision. Penn's next fight is at welterweight and he's not really part of the lightweight picture anymore, and so we'll file Penn away as part of the lightweight division's past, and we'll look here at the division's future.

Next title fight:
Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard, UFC 125, Jan.1, 2011: Although there's plenty of talk that an Edgar-Maynard main event isn't exactly a pay-per-view barn-burner, it is a fascinating fight between the champion of the division in Edgar and the only man who has defeated him in Maynard. The first time these two fought, at UFC Fight Night 13 in 2008, Maynard used his superior wrestling to win a one-sided unanimous decision, 30-27 on all three judges' scorecards. We know Edgar has improved as a fighter since then, but we'll find out on New Year's Day whether he's improved enough to avenge his loss to Maynard -- or whether Maynard can simply control Edgar from the top for 25 minutes and become the lightweight champ.

Key fights to watch:
1. Ben Henderson vs. Anthony Pettis, WEC 53, December 16: The final fight in the history of World Extreme Cagefighting will determine who gets to take on the Edgar-Maynard winner. From a purely competitive standpoint, I'm not sure that either Henderson or Pettis is really worthy of entering the UFC as the No. 1 lightweight contender: Not many people view either of these guys as Top 10 lightweights. But it makes sense for the promotion to want to unify the UFC and WEC lightweight belts, and Henderson and Pettis are both likable, marketable young fighters who have great futures ahead of them. So for business reasons, the fight makes sense.

2. George Sotiropoulos vs. Joe Lauzon, UFC 123, Nov. 20: Sotiropoulos just keeps on winning; his current six-fight winning streak is the fifth-longest active streak in the UFC, behind only Anderson Silva, Gray Maynard, Georges St. Pierre and Cain Velasquez. If he keeps winning he can't be denied a title shot much longer.

3. Jim Miller vs. Charles Oliveira, UFC 124, Dec. 11: Two of the most impressive records in the lightweight division: Miller is 18-2 and his losses came by decision to Edgar and Maynard, while Oliveira is 14-0.

4. Clay Guida vs Takanori Gomi, UFC 125, Jan. 1: The UFC would love to see Gomi get himself in the title mix; that Pride video library is full of enough Gomi highlights to fuel an entire Countdown show. Guida isn't really in title contention, but he's a fan favorite who went 2-0 in 2010.

5. Kenny Florian vs. Evan Dunham, UFC Fight for the Troops 2, Jan. 22: After Dunham suffered his first loss by split decision to Sean Sherk at UFC 119, UFC President Dana White said he disagreed with the decision and would treat Dunham as if he had won. That's certainly what's happening here; a win over Florian would be the biggest of Dunham's career and would put him in a good position to get into title contention late in 2011.

Others in the title mix:
We've pretty well covered it above, with this exception: If the UFC could sign the lightweight champions of Strikeforce (Gilbert Melendez), Dream (Shinya Aoki) or Bellator (Eddie Alvarez) any one of those three could be, like Jake Shields at welterweight, a single UFC win away from a title shot.

Potential breakout fighter: People have been talking about Chris Horodecki as a potential breakout fighter for so long that it's hard to believe he's only 23 years old. Horodecki has been set back by a couple of disappointing losses and a bulging disc in his neck that forced him to miss a year, but if he beats Donald Cerrone at WEC 53, Horodecki will enter the UFC as one of its most promising young lightweights.

Predicted champion at end of 2011: Gray Maynard

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