MMA: Power Ranking Every UFC and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion
So long as both Strikeforce and the UFC are under the same subsidiary, both the fans and media alike will continue to compare and contrast the opposing rosters.
The lightweight class has proven to be the most talent laden of all divisions as a constant crop of contenders emerges in what seems like a month-to-month basis.
Though Frankie Edgar and Gilbert Melendez remain the rulers of their respective organizations, where do all the champions of past and present rank amongst each other?
The Wildman first earned Strikeforce gold when he bested Josh Thomson over the course of five rounds. However, he dropped the title when Cesar Gracie fighter Gilbert Melendez bested him after their 25-minute affair.
Since then, Guida has become a perennial contender in the UFC’s lightweight class where victories over Rafael Dos Anjos, Nate Diaz and former Pride champion Takanori Gomi anchor the resume of the enigmatic fighter.
“The Carpenter” is currently reeling from defeat when he was edged by Benson Henderson, though both men earned “Fight of the Night” for their back-and-forth barnburner from last November.
A veteran of the Octagon, this AKA product has tangled with some of the best fighters in the world. Though “The Punk” may always be remembered for his highlight reel knockout loss to veteran Yves Edwards, his accolades outside of the UFC should merit recognition.
Thomson entered Strikeforce in 2007 where a victory over The Ultimate Fighter season 12 semi-finalist Nam Phan cinched him the Strikeforce U.S. lightweight title. The aforementioned Guida dethroned Thomson, though the 32-year-old later made amends by defeating the world renowned Gilbert Melendez in a one-sided bout in 2009.
Melendez exacted revenge in their subsequent rematch, though Thomson has since earned victories over Pat Healy and JZ Cavalcante along the way.
There’s something to be said about a man who’s only losses have come at the hands of current or former UFC champions. Sean Sherk removed himself from the welterweight fray in 2006 after incurring losses to both Matt Hughes and Georges St-Pierre.
A victory over Nick Diaz in his final 170-pound affair earned Sherk his shot at the then vacant 155-pound title, taking on Kenny Florian. For five rounds, the former collegiate wrestling stud took down "Ken-Flo" time and time again, grinding out the decision win.
Sherk defended his title once against Hermes Franca, though the bout was mired in controversy after both men tested positive for steroids. For allegedly taking performance enhancing drugs, the California State Athletic Commission served Sherk with a six-month suspension, which prompted the UFC to strip the Minnesota fighter of his title.
Since then, Sherk has gone 2-2 in his last four outings, last earning a victory over former contender Evan Dunham in September of 2010, which cinched both men “Fight of the Night” for their exciting rout.
Arguably the most important figure of the lightweight division, Jens Pulver was the man that started it all. “Lil Evil” first garnered praise amongst those in the mixed martial arts community when he entered the UFC, showing off the crippling power in his left hand with a knockout win over submission whiz John Lewis.
The victory propelled Pulver into the front of the line for a shot at the UFC’s 155-pound crown, where he defeated Caol Uno to earn the newly minted belt. Title defenses over Dennis Hallman and BJ Penn—who incurred his first loss at the hands of the former Miletich product—followed, cementing Pulver’s legacy as one of the all-time greats in the division.
A former two-time world champion, BJ Penn has seen and done it all.
The Hawaiian was unsuccessful in his first two bids at the lightweight belt, though a run in the welterweight class proved to be more lucrative as Penn defeated then pound-for-pound great Matt Hughes with a rear-naked choke, upsetting the wrestling powerhouse inside of the first round.
After a falling out with the UFC, Penn returned to the Octagon in 2006 and was a featured coach on the fifth season of The Ultimate Fighter, coaching opposite of rival Jens Pulver.
In the finale, “The Prodigy” deftly submitted Pulver with his patented rear-naked choke, earning him a shot at the recently vacated 155-pound crown.
On his third try, Penn earned lightweight gold when he finished off Joe Stevenson before the final bell. The Hilo kid defended the belt three times, finishing off Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian and Diego Sanchez in subsequent performances.
He remains one of the smaller men in the division, but what Frankie Edgar lacks in size and conventional strength, the New Jersey native more than makes up with his technique and unbreakable will.
The once beaten Edgar ascended the ranks thanks to his fast pace, boxing prowess and wrestling skills which helped him upset the recently dethroned Sean Sherk in 2008. The victory put Edgar on the short list of contenders for the lightweight title, where he eventually met with champion BJ Penn at UFC 112.
Though many pundits feel that the Penn did enough to earn the win, Edgar left Abu Dhabi with the belt, however the Hawaiian was granted an immediate rematch against Edgar. In a five round shutout, the Ricardo Almeida protégé dominated Penn from start to finish, solidifying his spot as the undisputed champ.
A “Fight of the Year” bout with rival Gray Maynard followed as “The Bully” was able to rock and drop Edgar early, though the former collegiate wrestler was able to survive the early onslaught and steal the later rounds, making the fight a decided draw amongst the judges.
In their rubber match, Maynard was able to show his punching power once again, nearly stopping Edgar in the first five.
Edgar turned in a Rocky-esque performance when he was able to rally back in the fourth, stopping the Xtreme Couture product on strikes, earning “Knockout of the Night” with the win.
Both Edgar and Gilbert Melendez can battle back-and-forth for the top spot, as the coveted No. 1 slot is interchangeable between the two lightweight notables.
After abandoning the featherweight class in 2005, Melendez made a commitment to higher pastures when he deftly defeated UFC vet Clay Guida after five rounds of action, which earned him the vacant Strikeforce title.
Soon after, Melendez would earn infamy in the division when he earned a contentious decision over powerhouse Tatsuya Kawajiri under the Pride banner.
Undefeated, Melendez was riding on wave of confidence; however, losses to Mitsuhiro Ishida and Josh Thomson—who dethroned “El Nino” for the belt—brought Melendez back down to reality. Melendez quickly regrouped with a knockout victory over Sengoku vet Rodrigo Damm.
The win over the Brazilian earned Melendez his rematch with Ishida and the Santa Ana native made the most of his opportunity when he throttled the Japanese fighter in the third, claiming the TKO.
With the decisive finish of his formidable foe, Melendez challenged the returning Thomson for the lightweight title. In a fan friendly battle, Melendez edged “The Punk” on points, thanks to his heavy hands which wilted Thomson to the mat on several occasions.
In the end, Melendez regained his title and in the process avenged the last loss of his career.
Since then, the father of one defended his belt three times with decisive victories over Shinya Aoki, the aforementioned Kawajiri and Jorge Masvidal, respectively.