Two weeks ago, Melvin Guillard opened up a can of worms by suggesting to ESPN.com that the only way to sort through the lightweight division’s growing list of contenders was to hold a 155-pound grand prix.
This idea was, of course, ludicrous. Then it wasn’t. Then it became a topic of philosophical discussion, to the point that Heavy.com asked Dana White about it ahead of UFC 132. While White didn’t exactly embrace the idea, he didn’t say no, either.
“A lot of fights aren’t making sense, and I don’t really have a choice [but to fight Shane Roller] because of the traffic jam with the weight class,” Guillard said at the time. “[Frankie] Edgar/[Gray] Maynard still haven’t fought again, so right now everybody’s at a stand still. The only solution I see is them doing a 155-pound grand prix tournament, and putting everybody in brackets and weeding [out] the losers to giving a true No. 1 contender a fight here in the next year or so.”
This seemed like a fairly open-minded way to think, but highly unlikely given the scheduling complexities it would present. But when you think about the inherent interest in such a tournament, with the likes of Clay Guida, Guillard, Dennis Siver, Donald Cerrone, Ben Henderson, Anthony Pettis, and possibly Gilbert Melendez among the participants, it begins to at least pique the imagination. There are a lot of lightweights who dig the idea too, beginning with the man that it would benefit least -- Gray Maynard -- who is already locked into a title shot against current champ Frankie Edgar.
“I like grand prix's -- I like the tournament style,” Maynard told ESPN.com. “I wish there was more of the tournament style. To me, in wrestling, the state tournament, the national tournament, the NCAAs, it was about winning. Getting to that championship and that’s where you shine. Obviously the key is to beat them as good as you can, and that usually happens in the earlier rounds, but as you get up, then it’s going to be tougher fights, tougher matches.”
It’s the old idea of survival and ascension that speaks to the former all-American wrestler Maynard, and the pending No. 1 contender, Jim Miller, has a similar outlook on this hypothetical grand prix. He’s locked into a fight with Ben Henderson on Aug. 14 in Milwaukee, and he -- like many -- can’t see how the scheduling could work out.
“I think a grand prix would be fun,” Miller said. “It leads to a lot of good match-ups, and it would be exciting to watch. I don’t really think it’s that feasible right now -- it’s just too hard with all the match-ups that they have made already. There are few guys with good runs between myself, Melvin [Guillard], Clay [Guida] … but it’s hard because everybody’s got fights booked. But you know what? Anything can happen.”
Anything can happen. That’s what we have to remember before dismissing the idea.
That’s why Fedor Emelianenko is getting ready to fight Dan Henderson outside of the heavyweight grand prix in Strikeforce. It’s one of the reasons they’re taping the 13th season of the “Ultimate Fighter,” because there’s something about win-or-go-home situations that makes for good television. Everybody talks about the parity in the UFC’s lightweight division. Why not add some fan-friendly attrition to the mix? And, one would hope, some clarity?
If the UFC wanted to do a lightweight grand prix, it could. Right now Pettis, Guida, Guillard, and Siver are without fights. Ben Henderson and Jim Miller fight in August, as does Donald Cerrone. And, though it’s been sworn that he won’t jump ship for the UFC, current Strikeforce champion Melendez is currently without a fight. Leaving Maynard and Edgar out of it, and even Jim Miller, who might not be willing to forfeit his title shot should be beat Henderson in Milwaukee … couldn’t the rest be divvied into brackets? Surely.
Problem is even Maynard and Miller wouldn’t want to be left out of something that speaks so directly to their competitiveness. Mere logistical problems. But even if it’s a long shot to happen, you’ve got to admit that lightweight grand prix would be fun.