They are invisible men. Both of them. Inexplicably.
OK, Gray Maynard and Clay Guida are headlining the UFC on FX 4 event Friday night in Atlantic City (9 p.m. ET, FX), so they're not totally out of sight. But in terms of the lightweight division's championship picture, they seem to have vanished.
Nowhere in the buildup to this bout has there been even the slightest buzz about title implications. When was the last time we could say that about a fight between top-shelf 155 pounders?
Back in late February, whenever the lightweight division was being bandied about, all we heard about was Anthony Pettis. Minutes after he had crumbled Joe Lauzon with a highlight-reel head kick at UFC 144, Pettis was decreed the first challenger to Benson Henderson, who that same night had beat Frankie Edgar to become champion. Asked at the post-fight press conference if "Showtime" had earned the first shot at Henderson with his showy knockout, fight promotion president Dana White said, "I think he's going to get it."
A couple of months later, Dana was singing a different tune. In the days leading up to the Nate Diaz vs. Jim Miller main event at UFC on Fox 3, White told MMA Fighting, "Should Diaz win, Diaz is definitely getting a title shot." And Nate proceeded to grab his opportunity with gusto, submitting Miller and leapfrogging Pettis.
As it turned out, though, neither Pettis nor Diaz was truly next in line. Edgar, who as champion had given rematches to his previous two opponents, ended up being granted one himself. He'll try to cut short Henderson's reign at UFC 150 on Aug. 11 in Denver. While Diaz and Pettis wait.
And Maynard and Guida? They'll just fight their fight -- an appealing matchup, even if it's the first UFC main event I can recall in which both guys are coming off a loss -- and then go stand off to the side waving their arms furiously, trying to get noticed. Or at least Friday night's winner will.
This is what the perplexing world of the MMA weight division pecking order has come to. It's a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately culture, which is appropriate to a point. But consider the status of Maynard (10-1-1, one no contest). He's suffered only one loss in his career -- it just happens to have come in his most recent bout. Never mind that a short while before he fell that night last October, he was the one doing the beatdown. For the second straight time, he'd opened a fight with Edgar by battering the champion for the better part of a round. So on two occasions he was one solid punch away from having the leather strap wrapped around his waist. So close, then so close again, and now so far.
If Edgar still owned the belt, it would be understandable for Maynard to be pushed back a few places in line. They've already met three times -- prior to the loss and the draw, Maynard handled a pre-championship Frankie back in 2008 -- and a trilogy is enough unless you're Manny Pacquiao and Juan Manuel Marquez. But now that Henderson is the champ, you'd think Gray would be back at -- or near -- the head of the line.
Guida's situation is a bit more complicated. Just last November, he dropped a unanimous decision to Henderson in a No. 1 contenders' eliminator that propelled Ben into his shot against Edgar. So maybe it makes sense for Clay to lay low on the lightweight ladder for a spell. But how many rungs should he descend? Below Diaz ... whom he beat? Below Pettis ... whom he also beat?
It would make perfect sense if the winner of Friday night's main event were to step to the front of the pack. But that doesn't seem likely. Then again, maybe Dana White & Co. are bullish on Maynard and Guida, too, but having learned from their own history, are being cautious with any definitive pronouncements. I have my doubts.
Neither Maynard nor Guida has stepped into the octagon since their shouldn't-be-career-defining losses. So maybe this is an out-of-sight-out-of-mind thing. Or maybe the UFC simply wants to see fresh faces in big fights. Whatever the case may be, it actually might serve Guida well for this bout not to have a title shot promise written all over it. Twice before he fought in No. 1 contenders' eliminators. Twice he has lost -- to Henderson, of course, and also to Kenny Florian, back in 2009.
That's not deterring Guida one bit. He's imagining a future with a shiny brass-and-leather strap wrapped around his waist , and is not shy about saying what he needs to do to get what he wants, telling MMAWeekly Radio, "Running through Gray Maynard."
As if Maynard were invisible.