Lightweight – December 2011
Without a doubt, the Lightweight division contains the deepest pool of talent in all of MMA. Couple with that the diversity of strikers, wrestlers, judoka, BJJ practitioners and it becomes clear why there are so many compelling fights to make at 155 lbs. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar sits atop the list for now, but in the ever-changing, ultracompetitive lightweight division, the next guy is always ready to step up so none of these fighters should feel too comfortable making the cut.
1. Frankie Edgar – At UFC 136 in Houston, Frankie Edgar proved why he deserves to be at the top of this list. He was almost knocked unconscious in the first round (sound familiar?) only to recover and dominate Gray Maynard for 3 more rounds before handing the challenger his first ever stoppage loss via TKO. And on top of that, Dana White labeled him the #2 pound for pound best fighter in the world. High praise from the boss and it’s certainly well deserved. He’ll next face Benson Henderson at UFC 144 in Japan.
2. Ben Henderson – If you only knew Ben Henderson as the guy who got “ShowTime kicked” by Anthony Pettis in the final WEC event ever, shame on you. Since coming to the UFC, Smooth Ben Henderson has been out to prove that it was no fluke that he was the WEC champ and made it clear that he was coming for UFC gold. His victories over Mark Bocek and then #1 contender Jim Miller were both lopsided decisions and certainly caught the eye of UFC brass. Most recently he defeated Clay Guida in the best fight of the year that no one saw and earned a crack at Frankie Edgar who he’ll face in Japan at UFC 144 in February.
3. Gilbert Melendez – Yes, he’s fighting Jorge Masvidal in December under the Strikeforce banner, but MMA fans can hardly wait for this guy to cross over into the UFC. His striking is excellent, his wrestling and jiu jitsu are top notch, and he blends all three together in spectacular fashion. Hopefully he’ll get to show his skillset in the deepest division in the UFC sooner than later.
4. Gray Maynard – Instead of the boogeyman, Gray Maynard sees only Frankie Edgar in his nightmares. In two consecutive fights, he had the champ on the ropes barely hanging by a thread and somehow on neither occasion was able to seal the deal. While that will haunt Maynard for some time, there’s no shame in losing to Edgar. His fights with the champ have been classics and Maynard still has plenty of time to round out his game and learn to close. Don’t expect this setback to hold him down on this list for too long..
5. Anthony Pettis – We knew that this kid was one of the most dynamic strikers in MMA early on in his career, but after suffering a loss to Clay Guida a few months back, Pettis added a new wrinkle to his game; wrestling. Against Jeremy Stephens at UFC 136, he was able to take Stephens down and control him from on top. Pettis had already proved his potential by winning the last WEC lightweight championship, but now that he’s improving his wrestling, how much longer will it be before we see him in another title fight? He’ll face Joe Lauzon in his next bout as
he continues his climb back up the lightweight ladder.
6. Clay Guida – Clay Guida has always been a great fighter and a fan favorite. He’s not afraid to mix it up with anyone and his movement and pace are second to none in the division. But since he’s moved his camp to Albuquerque, things have really fallen into place. He dropped his last fight against the always tough Benson Henderson at UFC on Fox 1, but don’t expect the Carpenter to sit still for long. He’ll be back to work soon looking for his next chance to prove he deserves a spot among the lightweight elite.
7. Donald Cerrone – Is there a hotter fighter out than Donald Cerrone? This guy seems to be on every fight card and at the same time manages to walk away with bonuses night after night. He’s already won four fights this year, the last a brilliant performance against Dennis Siver where he landed a head kick and then transitioned to Siver’s back where he sunk in the decisive rear naked choke all without even breaking a sweat. Cerrone is as tough as nails, fights with a chip on his shoulder, and has the well rounded game to challenge anyone out there. He’s earned the good graces of the UFC who have given his next bout against Nate Diaz co-main event status at UFC 141 in December.
8. Shinya Aoki – Aoki is another guy who will likely be held back unless he can find more talented competitors to face on a regular basis. There is speculation about a rematch between Aoki and Eddie Alvarez which would make for a great fight, but beyond that, Aoki’s potential is limited. When he faced Gilbert Melendez last year, El Niño exposed some holes in his game, but when the fight hits the mat, there isn’t a lightweight around that would fare too well against him.
9. Jim Miller – When you’ve had 23 career fights and your only losses were to Frankie Edgar, Gray Maynard, and Ben Henderson all via decision, it’s a sure bet that you qualify to be counted among Lightweight elite. Unfortunately after earning the #1 contender status, Jim Miller lost his last fight to Ben Henderson and has slid back in the pack. This is a young fighter though who was overlooked for a long time before he finally started receiving the recognition he deserved. As he starts making the climb back towards the top, don’t expect him to go unnoticed this time around. He’ll start that climb anew by squaring off against Melvin Guillard at UFC Fight Night 26 in January 2012.
10. Nate Diaz – After a brief stint at Welterweight, Nate Diaz is back where he belongs at Lightweight. In his last fight against Takanori Gomi, Diaz showed just how skilled he is. His boxing was extremely tight and he transitioned from striking to grappling beautifully as he finished Gomi off with a textbook arm bar. He’s proven that he’s never in a boring fight and will have the chance to showcase his skills again as part of the co-main event of UFC 141 when he faces Donald Cerrone. The winner of that fight will undoubtedly vault towards the top of this list.
Up Next: Featherweight