Lightweight like welterweight was a division that in 2017 both Bellator and LFA emphasized, not so much for Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series.
Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series on the other hand held eight events but only two fights at lightweight. It wasn’t until Week 7 that the first lightweight fight took place, a bout where Mike Santiago defeated Mark Cherico. The next week, the final week of the series, Matt Frevola defeated Jose Flores in the main event. Flores was awarded a UFC contract following his fight while Santiago just eleven days later took a replacement fight against Zabit Magomedsharipov at UFC Fight Night 115. Neither Cherico or Flores has fought since with Cherico holding a record of 11-2, Flores’ first professional loss left his record 7-1.
Of the 30 shows LFA held last year there were 34 main-card fights at lightweight, second only to welterweight at which LFA held 35. It was at LFA 17 that Robert Watley won the inaugural lightweight belt by defeating Thiago Moises while his win over Daryl Wilson served as his first title defense. One standout to keep an eye on is Alexander Hernandez who only fought once in the last year-and-a-half but holds a record of 8-1 with five wins in a row, his 2017 fight being a win over three-time LFA vet Derrick Adkins.
Bellator held 26 shows total but only 22 “numbered” events with the other four being Nascar throwaways. Of those 22 events’ main cards 15 fights were at lightweight with the sole title fight being Brent Primus taking the title from Michael Chandler. In previous years lightweight was one of the divisions Bellator emphasized with Chandler having two high-profile fights against now former UFC champion Eddie Alvarez and now UFC vet Will Brooks and Chandler even appearing in Dave & Busters commercials. Primus although now undefeated at 8-0 does not get the same attention as Patricky Freire who at 18-8 was given bouts against UFC vets Josh Thomson and Benson Henderson in 2017. Overall this is an active competition for Bellator but one declining in emphasis in favor of the UFC rebounds.
The lightweight division can’t be covered without mentioning legendary Shinya Aoki, one of the best fighters to have never fought in the UFC. 39-8 Aoki may be on the verge of retirement now that he took two losses in 2017 and three in a row. After losing his One Championship lightweight belt to Eduard Folayang he went on to lose a grappling match in One to Gary Tonen then moved up to welterweight to challenge champion Ben Askren, the loss to Askren serving as the final fight before he retired still undefeated at 18-0. Folayang went on to defend the belt against Ev Ting then lose the belt to Martin Nguyen who is now 10-1.
It is difficult to tell what to make of Professional Fighters League, the successor of WSOF, at this point in time as they are supposed to be starting a league format while on questionable financial ground. UFC vet Jon Fitch last year defeated Brian Foster and is currently listed as champion. Foster won the WSOF tournament in 2015 then lost a title fight to now-UFC vet Justin Gaethje then defeated Luiz Firmino before losing to Fitch. Firmino picked up a win last year in one of the few PFL shows when he actually finished a fight, a TKO of Eddy Ellis. With Jake Shields also also picking up a win in PFL last year it looks like this division is the strongest for PFL assuming they last.
Also keep an eye out for ROC regional champion Bradley Desir, CFFC’s Joseph Lowry, and CWFC’s Chris Fishgold. Mike Bronzoulis in theory is still active and has experience in LFA, Titan FC, and Bellator but has not fought in two years as his 2016 Bellator bout and 2017 Road FC fight fell through.
Champions and standouts
- Bellator: Brent Primus
- CES MMA: vacant
- CFFC: Joseph Lowry
- CWFC: Chris Fishgold
- LFA: Robert Watley
- M-1 Global: Damir Ismagulov
- One Championship: Martin Nguyen
- PFL: vacant
- ROC: Sidney Outlaw
- TFC: Raush Manflo
- VFC: vacant
- Other standouts: Michael Chandler, Mark Cherico, Jose Flores, Daryl Wilson, Patricky Freire, Edward Folayang, Ev Ting, Brian Foster