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UFC 127 Roundtable

B,J. Penn battles Jon Fitch at UFC 127.After a slow weekend in mixed martial arts, the action heats back up on Saturday night when the UFC heads to Australia for UFC 127, featuring B.J. Penn taking on Jon Fitch in the main event and a couple of intriguing fights on the undercard.

To get geared up for the fight card, I engaged Ben Fowlkes in a discussion about where Penn and Fitch fit in the welterweight division (Ben disagrees with me about where Penn should rank if he wins), what Chris Lytle can prove by extending his current winning streak to five and how close George Sotiropoulos is to lightweight title contention.

Read our discussion below.

1. UFC President Dana White says B.J. Penn vs. Jon Fitch is for No. 1 welterweight contender status. How meaningful is that?

Michael David Smith: Approximately as meaningful as it was when White said Fitch vs. Thiago Alves was for No. 1 welterweight contender. Which is to say, not meaningful at all.

First of all, the UFC books title fights based on what will sell pay-per-views, not on who has won "No. 1 contender" fights. Secondly, events that transpire after someone is declared the No. 1 contender often change who the No. 1 contender is. Just ask Anthony Pettis. Or Rashad Evans. Or Yushin Okami. Or Junior dos Santos. Or Josh Grispi. All of those guys were declared No. 1 contenders in 2010, and none of them are getting the title fights they thought they had coming to them. Stuff happens.

Having said all that, Penn vs. Fitch is a very meaningful fight. Although they were both dominated by Georges St. Pierre, the winner absolutely deserves to be considered the No. 2 welterweight in the world, and probably one of the 10 best pound-for-pound fighters as well. It's a great fight, even if it's not really for the No. 1 contender crown.

Ben Fowlkes: Just so I'm clear on this, you're saying that if B.J. Penn beats Jon Fitch, that alone will make him the number two welterweight in the world? Or at least, that in conjunction with his recent victory over an aging Matt Hughes? Not to diminish Penn's accomplishments -- at least at lightweight, he's already established himself as one of the greats -- but that's hard for me to swallow.

Penn is 2-3 as a welterweight in the UFC, and both his wins have come against the same person. If he beats Fitch (and, for the record, I don't see him doing that), that would be impressive, but I'm not sure it's enough to justify giving him a crack at the title in a division where he'd still be just a .500 fighter.

That, combined with the point you already made regarding the last time Fitch won a number one contender fight, is what makes me question the whole number one contender tag here. I think the UFC feels like it's the only way to sell this as a main event, and while I can see the reasoning behind that, it feels vaguely insulting to my intelligence. It's an interesting fight (at least on paper), and I'm looking forward to watching it. Can't that be enough? Or do we really need to believe, if only for a little while, that this has an immediate consequence?

2. Chris Lytle: Relevant fighter in the welterweight division or just a guy who earns himself a bunch of bonus checks?

Michael David Smith: More the latter. It's true that if he beats Brian Ebersole, he'll be on a five-fight winning streak, and five-fight winning streaks are sometimes enough to earn title shots, but Lytle hasn't been facing the quality of competition that you need to face to put yourself in the running for a belt.

If Lytle were 26 and riding a four-fight winning streak I'd say he could be a future title contender. But he's 36, and his best days are likely behind him. Lytle is always fun to watch, and he may just earn himself another bonus check this weekend, but I don't see him ever beating anyone in the Top 10.

Ben Fowlkes: Before Lytle can beat someone in the top ten, he first needs to get a fight with one of them. He was originally slated to face Carlos Condit in Australia until Condit pulled out with an injury, so it's not as if we can blame Lytle for the quality of his competition this weekend. Losing to guys like Josh Koscheck and Thiago Alves (I would argue he got hosed on the decision against Marcus Davis, but whatever) is nothing to be ashamed of.

As for whether he's relevant, well, yeah, I think so. At least, he's relevant in the sense that he can beat the vast majority of UFC welterweights on any given night. Even the ones who he can't beat are going to know they were in a fight when it's all over, and in the meantime he's going to make sure the fans get their money's worth. You need fighters like that on the roster, just like you need the GSP's and Anderson Silva's. Even if he never fights for a UFC title, I can't bring myself to call a guy like Lytle irrelevant.

3. Where does George Sotiropoulos fit in the 155-pound division?

Michael David Smith: I don't think many people realize just how good a record Sotiropoulos has. If he beats Dennis Siver at UFC 127 he'll be 8-0 inside the Octagon. Do you know how many fighters in UFC history have stepped into the Octagon eight or more times and come out victorious every time? One: Anderson Silva. Obviously, there are some pretty big caveats: Sotiropoulos got knocked out by Tommy Speer on The Ultimate Fighter, and he hasn't exactly faced a murderer's row of opponents. But still. An 8-0 record would really be something.

So where does that mean he fits? I think he'd be worthy of a title shot if he beats Siver, but realistically the timing for that won't work out. Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard still need to settle things, and then the winner of that is expected to face the winner of Anthony Pettis vs. Clay Guida. So Sotiropoulos has to get in line for a chance at the belt. But if he keeps winning, it's a chance he'll have earned.

Ben Fowlkes: If nothing else, you just made a convincing case for the lightweight division as the toughest place to make a name for yourself in the UFC. There are just so many good fighters, and with the influx of talent from the WEC there's a real bottleneck near the top.

Sotiropoulos' win streak is impressive, even if, as you alluded to, his recent victories are far more meaningful than some of the earlier ones. Still, he beat Joe Stevenson, Kurt Pellegrino, and Joe Lauzon all in a row, and that has to count for something. The problem is, the people who haven't taken notice of him yet aren't likely to be wowed by a win over Dennis Siver.

That's not a shot at Siver, who is as tough as they come, even if he's a little limited in some areas. It's just that this fight feels like a way to a) set Sotiropoulos up for a win in front of his countrymen, while also b) keeping him in something of a holding pattern until the title picture clears up. Ask yourself, would Siver jump to the top of the list of contenders with a win here? Probably not, which tells you that this is more about grooming a contender than discovering one.

Sotiropoulos wins this, but the wait will continue. There's at least one more fight after this one blocking the path to a title shot.

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