The belief that undersized fighters could deliver at the till was ludicrous to many. American mixed martial arts fans were so obsessed with heavier fighters and their presumptive knockout power, they argued, that there wasn't time to care about skinny lightweights.
Yet there they were, "L'il Evil" and "The Prodigy," overshadowing "The Iceman." And
At the time, the bulk of the best lightweights fought in Japan, where holding the Shooto belt at 154 pounds garnered immediate respect. In a lot of ways, Pulver and Penn were attempting to do the same for the UFC belt and raise the profile of their division.
Both fighters offered skill and heart, but Pulver took the title in a five-round decision victory. When the champion had the title stripped two months later because of a contractual issue, fate seemed intent on disrupting the forward track of the division. Poor decisions, unfulfilled tournaments, and an extended hiatus for the weight class in the UFC didn't help. Four-and-a-half years after Pulver gave up the belt,
Following his first title defense against
And on May 24 he'll meet Sherk in what could be the most important lightweight fight in years.
So why does any of this back story matter? Because it's led to plenty of confusion regarding which fighter in the division can make a real claim to being the best. While 155 stuck, mired in the UFC from 2004 to 2006, a lot of focus shifted overseas as lightweights flourished in a robust international scene.
That's the main reason
Not surprisingly, many believe that person to be Penn. A thin record at 155 has caused a vocal minority to lobby against Penn's placement at the top, but few deny his skill and natural ability. When he's ready to fight, it's difficult for mixed martial artists anywhere to match Penn's game piece for piece. While Gomi has loitered on the sidelines, Penn's never been better. He has a chance with an impressive victory over Sherk -- another UFC pay-per-view main event coming courtesy of the lightweights, the deepest division across all classes around the world -- to lay claim to being the best in the world in his class. Sherk, of course, could do the same if he puts away Penn.
And if not Aoki, then perhaps
Of the many names spread throughout Affliction's barrage of news-conference announcements to promote its July 19 event, two caught my eye.
First, "TBA." Or, as I read it, The Belarusian Arlovski.
May 19 is the day when
A representative from Arlovski's camp explained there was "nothing to report," though continued on to say negotiations with the UFC were ongoing.
If the UFC lets Arlovski go, it will have seen "The Pitbull,"
Should Arlovski and Affliction complete their deal, the Belarusian is expected to appear at next Tuesday's press conference at the in Century City, Calif., to announce a fight against former International Fight League heavyweight champion Ben Rothwell.
The other name that jumped out was
Greenberg's presence at the press conference suggests there is something to rumors that the undercard of the July 19 Affliction event would be broadcast live on FSN. Asked to confirm why Greenberg was attending the announcement, Affliction declined to comment.
It sounds like
Fill in the brackets any way you like. I'm still picking "The Crusher."