A lineal championship begins the first time the number one and number two fighters in a weight division battle each other. The origin of the lineal Lightweight Championship varies depending on whom you ask. FightMatrix traces it to a Shooto bout in 1990(!), while others claim it was established when Caol Uno knocked out Rumina Sato in their Shooto rematch in December 2000. I find both arguments problematic.
FightMatrix relies on post-hoc interpretation; believe it or not, there weren't nerds talking about MMA lineal titles from the sport's inception. Establishing the championship with Uno's second win over Sato means arguing that Uno should have still been ranked as one of the top two lightweights in the world when he lost via submission in his prior bout.
I take a conservative approach and begin the lineage with Jens Pulver's January 2002 win over B.J. Penn. Both men were the clear top two lightweights in the sport. Regardless, after Pulver's upset decisions over Uno and Penn, "Lil' Evil" was universally recognized as the lineal champ.
And that's when the title got away from the UFC.
Pulver walked out over money, with the UFO group in Japan offering him significantly more for a multi-fight deal. UFO held one event before it went belly up. Three fights after he departed the UFC, Pulver was knocked out by Duane Ludwig. "Bang" returned the lineage to the UFC for one bout in April 2003, a controversial points victory over Genki Sudo (and a match that inspired the Sudo Rule – if a ref halts ground fighting to check on the severity of a fighter's cut, the combatants are now restarted in the same position on the ground as opposed to in a standing position).
Ludwig subsequently left the lightweight division, and the lineal championship became vacant. A new champion wasn't established until the top two fighters in the division fought again, in September 2005, when Takanori Gomi took out Tatsuya Kawajiri in the semi-finals of a Pride Grand Prix.
Gomi won and lost the championship to Marcus Aurelio. The fate of the championship gets tricky post-Gomi, and depends on whether you agree with the Nevada State Athletic Commission overturning Nick Diaz's defeat of Gomi based on Diaz testing positive for marijuana.
If you disagree with the call and consider Diaz the rightful champ, then we can follow the championship from Diaz to K.J. Noons, from Noons to Jorge Masvidal, from Masvidal to Gilbert Melendez, and, as of April, from Melendez to Ben Henderson.
If you agree with the official "no contest" ruling for Diaz-Gomi, then Gomi doesn't drop lineal recognition until he loses to unknown Russian Sergey Golyaev in a November 2008 Sengoku fight. A number of different fighters carry the lineal flag forward in Japan until it returns to the United States in April 2012.
How can the UFC Lightweight Title holder become the legitimate, true champion - the man who beat the man? Well, it's complicated; the championship is currently tied up in the courts.
And so we await the outcome of Eddie Alvarez v. Bellator FC.
Alex Williams has been an MMA Torch contributor since 2008. Follow him on Twitter @williamspsych.
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