mma / Columns

The 411 MMA Top 10 12.10.12: Top 10 Lightweights

December 10, 2012 | Posted by Alex Rella


Top Ten Lightweights
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Hey there gentle readers, I am Alex Rella and this is the MMA Top Ten. This week we will be looking at ten fighters to compete at lightweight.

Thoughts from last week and other random stuff:

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• Last week was the top ten Pride fighters and the comment section was quite busy but I really hope some of you were kidding with the Bob Sapp stuff.
• It also somehow turned into whether Anderson Silva was better than Fedor. I think Silva has the edge but Fedor isn’t that far behind.
• On a side note, The Immortal Matt Brown continued to be awesome this weekend as he went 4-0 this year. It’s nice to see him finally start to break through to the top of the division.

Back to this week’s list

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Since the UFC lightweight title fight headlined this weekend’s card it seemed like a good time to rank the 155 pound weight class. The lightweight division is probably the deepest in all of MMA at the moment. The top ten and honorable mentions are pretty diverse with fighters from the UFC, Strikeforce, Bellator, Dream, Pride and WEC. This week’s list is based on each fighter’s record, dominance, titles and significance during the time of their careers. Some personal opinion will be in there too.

Honorable Mentions:
• Jamie Varner- Former WEC champion that got released after a rough 2010 but has earned his place back in the UFC.
• Shinya Aoki- Dream lightweight champion, Strikeforce number one contender, also competed in Bellator and Pride.

10: Eddie Alvarez
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Hopefully Eddie Alvarez decides to come over to the UFC now that his contract is up with Bellator. It’s his chance to prove that he can hang with some of the top lightweights in the world today. Hopefully he has a better debut than Hector Lombard. After spending the first part of his career competing in Dream and other smaller promotions, Alvarez debuted at Bellator 1 in 2009. He would win their lightweight tournament and became their first lightweight champion. He only defended it once due to Bellator rules but he did defeat Pat Curran, Roger Huerta and Josh Neer while champion. Alvarez lost his title to Michael Chandler at Bellator 58 in a great fight. He since rebounded by avenging an earlier loss to Aoki and winning possibly his final fight in the company against Patricky Freire. He’s stated in the past that he wants to fight Gilbert Melendez, which would make for a good first fight in the UFC for both guys.

9: Kenny Florian
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Kenny Florian fought in four different weight classes in his career but he was best at lightweight. Florian took on Sean Sherk for the lightweight title in only his second fight at 155 pounds. He went the distance but he ended up losing by unanimous decision. Florian then won his next six fights to earn his second title shot against BJ Penn. Florian fell short again but this time by rear naked choke. Florian came close to another lightweight title fight but he lost to Maynard in a number one contender fight. Florian dropped down to featherweight to challenge Jose Aldo but was preparing to return to lightweight before he decided to retire. It’s easy to criticize Florian and call him a choker but he still defeated guys like Guida, Gomi, Lauzon and Huerta. His only three losses came against guys ranked higher than him on this list.

8: Sean Sherk
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The Muscle Shark only fought six times at 155 pounds but he made it count. Sherk spent the first part of his career at welterweight going 32-2-1. Sherk’s first fight at lightweight was for the UFC title that was just brought back. Sherk beat Florian in a fun bloody fight at UFC 64 but would only defend his title once against the currently imprisoned Hermes Franca before testing positive for steroids. BJ Penn won the vacated title while Sherk was suspended. Sherk would be unable to reclaim his title but it was still a good fight. Sherk has only fought three times since then due to a never ending flow of injuries. He said in October that he wanted to come back and fight in early 2013 but I’ll believe it when I see him in the cage.

7: Gray Maynard
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The Bully has been one of the best since he debuted in TUF season 5. Maynard is most known for his awesome trilogy with Frankie Edgar. Maynard was undefeated before he took on Edgar for the title at UFC 125 having defeated top fighters like Florian, Roger Huerta, Denis Siver, Edgar himself and Nate Diaz. Their second fight was epic as it went to a draw and was one of the best fights ever. The third fight was also good but this time Maynard would get knocked out in the fourth round. They’re still technically tied so I’m sure we’ll see a fourth fight at some point. Maynard rebounded with a win over Guida this year and was supposed to take on Joe Lauzon later this month but he injured his knee. I expect him to be only another win or two away from a title shot when he returns.

6: Benson Henderson

The current UFC lightweight champion took care of business this weekend with his second title defense. I thought Diaz was going to walk away with the title but Henderson surprised me and I’m looking forward to his next fight. Henderson is truly a complete fighter with backgrounds in wrestling, taekwondo, jiu-jitsu and Muay Thai. Henderson debuted in WEC in 2009 and was holding gold by his third fight in the company. He defeated top WEC fighters like Donald Cerrone and Jamie Varner before losing his title to Anthony Pettis. Henderson came over to the octagon at UFC 129 and is undefeated in the company. He defeated Jim Miller and Clay Guida to earn his shot against Frankie Edgar. Now two title defenses into his reign and it should be interesting to see who gets the next title shot.

5: Jens Pulver
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The past few years have not been kind to Jens Pulver but the first part of his career was good enough to get on here. Pulver became the first UFC lightweight champion when he defeated Caol Uno at UFC 30. Pulver defended his title first against Dennis Hallman and then became the first person defeat BJ Penn. Pulver left the UFC after his second title defense and found solid success there before ending up in Pride in 2004. He went 2-2 in the organization losing to other greats Gomi and Sakurai. He returned to the UFC in 2006 when he took on Lauzon at UFC 63. Lauzon upset the former champ even though he was a 7:1 underdog. Despite the loss, Pulver was chosen to coach TUF season 5 opposite BJ Penn. He lost by rear naked choke in the second round but it was a pretty good fight. This was his last fight at lightweight as he dropped down to featherweight to compete in the WEC.

4: Takanori Gomi
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The Fireball Kid makes back to back appearances in the top ten. Last week he was ranked ninth in top Pride fighters and this week he’s fourth on the lightweight list. Gomi spent the first couple years of his career in Shooto where he won there welterweight title (154 lbs). While in Pride, Gomi won the 2005 Pride Lightweight Grand Prix and their lightweight title. Yes, it was a 161 pounds but it’s close enough. Things haven’t been as good for Gomi since Pride shut down. He joined the UFC a few years too late in 2010 and is 3-3 in the octagon. But he has won two in a row and there have been rumors that his next fight is with Diego Sanchez. He’ll never be champ again but that would be a big fight that could push him back up the lightweight ladder.

3: Gilbert Melendez
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I imagine some people will disagree with him being placed this high but El Nino definitely deserves to be here. Melendez has been with Strikeforce since its first show and is a two time Strikeforce lightweight champion. The former WEC lightweight champion defeated Clay Guida at the second show for the title and then competed in Pride twice before returning. He lost the title to Josh Thompson but would take it back and come on top in their trilogy that finished this year. Melendez has defended his current title four times and this includes quality fighters like Aoki and Kawajiri. I was disappointed he isn’t fighting at the last Strikeforce show last month but I expect to win gold in whatever weight class he chooses to fight at in the UFC.

2: BJ Penn
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As seen last night BJ Penn is truly a lightweight and the best runs of his career were spent at 155 pounds. Some will say he deserves the top spot but the number one guy has a slight edge over him. The Prodigy spent the first part of his career at lightweight defeating guys like Matt Serra, Caol Uno and Gomi. But he was unable to claim the UFC lightweight title twice before decided to move up to the larger weight classes for about four years. Penn returned to lightweight to take on Jens Pulver in a rematch. Penn avenged his loss from five years earlier and took on Joe Stevenson for the vacant lightweight in his next fight. This was really the peak of Penn’s career. He beat Stevenson and Diego Sanchez to bloody messes and defended his title against Florian and Sherk. Penn lost his title to Frankie Edgar at UFC 112 and was unable reclaim it at UFC 118. Penn has since moved back to welterweight where he has been unable to have the same success.

1: Frankie Edgar
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This is one of the closest top tens I’ve done as there is so little space between the top two guys. Frankie Edgar tried out for season 5 of TUF but was turned down. But shortly after, he was asked to compete at UFC 67 against Tyson Griffin. Edgar showed his heart and toughness off in his first fight in the octagon when Griffin had him in a tight kneebar but Edgar was able to last until the end of the final round. Edgar continued his rise through the lightweight division when he took on Penn for the lightweight title at UFC 112. Edgar was a large underdog but pulled off the upset and defended it in the rematch. Then came the awesome second and third fights of his trilogy with Maynard. I personally thought Edgar won both fights with Henderson as well. I see where the first fight could have gone either way but the second was a bad call by the judges. Edgar is preparing for his fight at featherweight with Jose Aldo but he’ll move back up to lightweight at some point and another title run isn’t out of the question.

• So let me know how you guys would rank them or maybe I left a fighter out that you thought should be in the top 10.
• As always, let me know if there are any topics or fighters you would like to see ranked in the future.
• Next week will be BJ Penn’s top ten fights.

Bonus Ken Shamrock Moment of The Week

Try not to die until next week.

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Alex Rella

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