February 22, 2018

James Vick and the Tough Climb Up the Lightweight Ladder

By Raphael Garcia

James Vick is on a one-man warpath towards the top of the UFC lightweight division. After another victory last weekend at UFC Fight Night 126, he’s taken additional steps toward that destination. However, it doesn't seem like he’s getting any closer to his goal.

The UFC lightweight division is usually considered one of the deepest weight classes in the sport. With killers like Conor McGregor, Khabib Nurmagomedov, and Tony Ferguson swimming at the top of the divisional shark tank, it’s difficult for prospects to make their way to even the tier below them. That’s the situation that Vick is in today. Even with a 9-1 record in the UFC, he sits in the bottom third of the UFC Top 15, and there’s no telling when that will change for the fighter known as "The Texecutioner.”

Looking at Vick’s resume, he’s only faced one Top-15-ranked opponent, Beneil Dariush back in 2016 at UFC 199. Dariush stopped Vick via knockout in the first round of that fight. Since that attempt to break through, Vick has not faced another ranked opponent, but he is on a four-fight win streak.

The question is, who do you match Vick against to help him reach a higher ranking within the division? “I’m ready to fight for the title if anything happens with Khabib and Tony,” Vick said after his win over Francisco Trinaldo. “I beat guys that they have faced and I beat them even easier.”

While that is true in many ways, it’s not enough to get Vick on the short list of contenders. He’s calling out names such as McGregor, Ferguson, and Nurmagomedov, but the fact is, for these men and the promotion as well, Vick is far off the list of suitable opponents, regardless of his splendid record. This is especially true at 155, where more notable names like Dustin Poirier and Justin Gaethje are higher ranked than he. He’s doing a great job calling out the men with the titles, but Vick should focus on fighters such as Edson Barboza and Kevin Lee, as well as the winner of that Poirier vs. Gaethje fight. These are the fighters Vick needs to face and defeat in order to make a claim for a higher ranking, one which has the potential, but not the promise, of leading toward a title shot.

But there’s another side to this equation. Just as Vick seeks to climb the ladder against higher-ranked fighters, the question becomes whether he will afford fighters ranked below him the same kind of opportunities to fight their way up the rankings by facing him. Anthony Pettis and Evan Dunham are two intriguing bouts for Vick, but with them ranked below him, he could very well scoff at the idea of  taking those fights. This is how Vick can quickly find himself treating new contenders the same way he claims existing contenders are treating him. 

The lack of divisional turnover in the UFC is a challenge for its matchmakers to fix. UFC Fight Night 126 provided an excellent example of this challenge, as James Vick still seeks a way to rise to the top in the lightweight division. He’s facing a tough climb, even beyond the action that goes on in the Octagon.



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