Lightweight wheels to spin once again

Picture for a moment the Octagon operating like a highway. Better yet, the autobahn. Choose your favorite sports car, get on the gas and open it up on the manicured asphalt and you have a suitable metaphor for how business should regularly go down.

Few hang-ups, delays and traffic jams. Only smooth sailing, heavy horsepower and jaw-dropping performance.

It's been said for several years that there isn't a division in MMA more talent rich than the 155-pound class. Based on the volume of high-end fighters between 145-160 pounds in all combat sports, it's a chore to argue otherwise. Boxing's best tend to fall in this weight range as well.

But despite the abundant excellence that exists, the past three years have offered repetitive high-speed racing at 155 pounds in the UFC.

Rather than new challengers earning opportunities, the division delivered a cycle of close calls followed by rematches, which, while justifiable, essentially immobilized an intriguing group of young fighters, who could sit in the pits or partake in dangerous contests and risk their status.

This arc is supposed to close Saturday, when, for the second time in seven months, Frankie Edgar and Benson Henderson meet at UFC 150 in Denver. This comes after consecutive fights, nine months apart, between Edgar and Gray Maynard, which came after consecutive fights, four months apart, between Edgar and B.J. Penn.

Though no one could have known at the time, Edgar's victory over Penn in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, in April 2010 set off a string of highly competitive and compelling title bouts. Edgar's stunning fights against Maynard rank among the best of 2011. The title contest in Japan that resulted in Henderson winning the UFC belt on points was as good as the others.

No one could suggest that the past five UFC title fights haven't been dynamic contests, which is why No. 6 is expected to be just as impressive. It should tell you something that, even with a wide array of challengers lingering at lightweight, the UFC opted for rematch after rematch after rematch.

There’s a point, though, when enough is enough. The division has reached it.

"It's tough fighting a guy back to back," Edgar said Thursday. "I've been doing it. You kind of get used to it. It's kind of comfortable to me right now. You look forward to a new opponent, but I'm just fighting the same guys again."

Regardless of what happens between Henderson and Edgar, fighters lying in wait will soon have their moment, mostly because they deserve one.

Nate Diaz is ready and, according to UFC president Dana White, will receive the next shot. Anthony Pettis, the former WEC champion who owns the only victory over Henderson in 10 fights under the Zuffa banner, could have waited but chose to compete. He lost to Clay Guida yet has since repositioned himself as a clear contender.

Others, such as Saturday's co-main event pair, Donald Cerrone and Melvin Guillard, are perhaps a win or two away.

"I've always been one of the guys to step up and fight anybody," Guillard said Thursday. "I want to fight as much as possible. I don't like waiting six months to fight. Back when I had my five-fight win streak, I probably could have waited, but then I decided to keep fighting."

While Henderson, Edgar, Maynard and Penn have done nothing but put on meaningful and all-around excellent MMA contests, it seems everyone is eager to see a new crop avoid protracted contendership in a sport that makes continuous winning extremely difficult.

"Am I interested in giving rematches?" Henderson wondered aloud this week. "No, not really. I don't really want to fight the same guys I already beat. I like to face new challenges.

"But that being said, am I interested in fighting whoever Dana White puts in front of me? Absolutely. It could be the same guy 10 in a row if that's what Dana White says. If fans want to see me fight the same guy 10 times in a row, I’ll do that. Am I super interested in that? No, not really."

The traffic jam is almost cleared, which means this is a moment when the lightweight division could manifest a new star, confirm the greatness of a former champion or propagate the reign of a young talent. There's no way of knowing what will happen at 155 pounds during the next couple of years. In the wake of all these rematches that breed familiarity and, in some instances, apathy in the minds of fans, lightweight will surely benefit from a dose of the unpredictable.

It's time to strap in. Lightweight is ready to roll again.