B/R Official Rankings for September: The Top 10 Lightweights in MMA
The month of August was an important period of time for the lightweight division in mixed martial arts. Benson Henderson successfully defended the UFC lightweight championship in a rematch with former top dog Frankie Edgar. However, that was hardly the only activity that occurred in the division.
In a pair of outstanding bouts, Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone each picked up exciting victories against Jamie Varner and Melvin Guillard, respectively.
Big-named fighters moved in and out of the division in August as well. Welterweight star Diego Sanchez officially announced a return to lightweight, while Frankie Edgar is the newest member of the UFC featherweight roster.
As if that's not enough, the next challenger for Henderson and his UFC championship were announced in the form of Nate Diaz.
This is the official Bleacher Report MMA rankings of MMA's lightweight division for the month of September 2012.
These rankings are the combined efforts of some of Bleacher Report's best MMA writers, as we continue to try and provide you with the best content on the web. For the latest MMA news and freshest MMA opinions, follow them on Twitter:
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10. Michael Chandler
Most Recent Fight: Won against Akihiro Gono at Bellator 67
Next Fight: TBA
Previous Ranking: 9
Many don't know how to feel about Michael Chandler and the success that he has achieved in the past 12 months. While the undefeated juggernaut has defeated world-ranked Eddie Alvarez and former PRIDE star Akihiro Gono, he has yet to defeat a star known for a UFC tenure.
Why is that relevant? Unfortunately, in the MMA world, the Zuffa boys have a near-monopoly on lightweight talent, and many fans refuse to acknowledge the accomplishments of any man outside of the company.
In any event, B/R MMA recognizes the incredible skills of the NCAA All-American.
It is assumed that the reigning Bellator champion will meet recent tournament winner Rick Hawn in his next contest, although a date has yet to be announced.
9. Joe Lauzon
Most Recent Fight: Won against Jamie Varner at UFC on FOX 4
Next Fight: Gray Maynard at UFC 155
Previous Ranking: N/A
With Frankie Edgar dropping down to featherweight, room was made in the divisional rankings for some new blood. Help me welcome Joe Lauzon into the newly available position.
Lauzon is a finisher who has been successful in three of his past four bouts, and kicked off August by breaking the record for most fight night bonuses in UFC history.
Winning both Fight of the Night and Submission of the Night in a victory over Jamie Varner, the man known as J-Lau might also be en route to picking up Fight of the Year honors for the contest.
Lauzon has signed on for the toughest test of his career at UFC 155 when he meets top contender Gray Maynard on the New Year's event. The two men could have met in the finals of The Ultimate Fighter season five, but were both eliminated in the tournament's semi-final round.
8. Clay Guida
Most Recent Fight: Lost against Gray Maynard at UFC on FX 4
Next Fight: TBD
Previous Ranking: 8
Has enough time gone by for fans to forget the less-than-popular gameplan adopted by Clay Guida in his June fight against Gray Maynard? I didn't think so.
Despite having a reputation for throwing caution to the wind, the two-time Fight of the Year winner is on the outs with fans for evading "The Bully" for much of their UFC on FX encounter. While the bout won't win any year-end honors, it showed that "The Carpenter" is capable of evolving and fighting with his brain for a change.
No fight has been announced for Guida, although a rematch with Diego Sanchez sounds exciting now that "The Nightmare" has returned to the lightweight division.
7. Jim Miller
Most Recent Fight: Lost against Nate Diaz at UFC on Fox 3
Next Fight: TBD
Previous Ranking: 7
Does the UFC still not have a bout for tough-as-nails Jim Miller? The lightweight star has been off of our televisions since a May loss to Nate Diaz, but he is hardly out of title contention.
After winning nine of his first 10 contests in the UFC, Miller has been pegged by many as a future world champion. Unfortunately, in two of his past three bouts, Miller was dominated by both Diaz and reigning champion Benson Henderson.
Always active, regardless of his fighting schedule, Miller will compete against Jamie Varner and others in the Spartan Race this month in his home state of New Jersey.
"As a UFC athlete I am always looking for ways to challenge myself physically and mentally at the highest levels and Spartan Race is the perfect opportunity for me to do so. I am looking forward to participating in the September event in my home state of New Jersey."
6. Donald Cerrone
Record: 19-4, 1 NC
Most Recent Fight: Won against Melvin Guillard at UFC 150
Next Fight: TBD
Previous Ranking: 10
Donald Cerrone had a memorable August. Winning both Knockout of the Night and Fight of the Night against highly-regarded Melvin Guillard, Cerrone took home an additional $120,000 in bonus money, along with his four-spot boost in the rankings.
Winning eight of his past nine bouts, Cerrone has been viewed as a contender within the lightweight division for some time, although losses to champion Benson Henderson and contender Nate Diaz could hurt his chances of competing for the belt in the near future.
Cerrone has campaigned for a fight against Anthony Pettis, and there have been talks of booking the bout before the year's end. Nothing official has been announced as of press time.
5. Anthony Pettis
Most Recent Fight: Won against Joe Lauzon at UFC 144
Next Fight: TBD
Previous Ranking: 6
After being passed up for a title bout with Benson Henderson, Anthony Pettis elected to undergo shoulder surgery to correct lingering problems.
The final WEC champion has been off of our televisions since a phenomenal knockout of Joe Lauzon at UFC 144. The victory was enough to make many fans forget his lackluster UFC debut last summer against Clay Guida, but not enough to see "Showtime" challenge for the belt.
Pettis has the distinction of being the last man to defeat reigning champion Benson Henderson. If he can get past expected-challenger Donald Cerrone, a fight for the belt will be tough to deny.
4. Gilbert Melendez
Most Recent Fight: Won against Josh Thomson at Strikeforce: Barnett vs. Cormier
Next Fight: Pat Healy at Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Healy
Previous Ranking: 4
Despite Frankie Edgar's departure from the division, Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez will not move up in the rankings this month. Our rankings team has not overlooked the fact that "El Nino" was less than impressive in recent wins against unranked opponents Josh Thomson and Jorge Masdival.
UFC President Dana White has shown interest in bringing Melendez into the world's top fighting organization, but contractual obligations have not allowed the move to occur. Has the Cesar Gracie fighter grown stagnant in his Strikeforce home?
Melendez must be excited by the upcoming battle between Daniel Cormier and UFC star Frank Mir. If a former champion like Mir can come into Strikeforce for a cross-promotional contest, certainly the stacked lightweight division can also send over a top-notch competitor.
3. Gray Maynard
Record: 11-1-1, 1 NC
Most Recent Fight: Won against Clay Guida at UFC on FX 4
Next Fight: Joe Lauzon at UFC 155
Previous Ranking: 3
Gray "The Bully" Maynard is in an interesting position. Although he failed twice to capture the UFC lightweight championship, the man who bested him has now left the division, and Maynard holds a victory over contender Nate Diaz.
If Diaz is successful in his attempt to capture the belt from champion Benson Henderson, a pairing with Maynard is a no-brainer for Spring 2013.
However, "The Bully" will need to be successful against finish-machine Joe Lauzon if he hopes to fight for gold for a third time. The two meet in a main card battle at December's UFC 155.
2. Nate Diaz
Most Recent Fight: Won against Jim Miller at UFC 144
Next Fight: Benson Henderson at UFC on FOX 5
Previous Ranking: 5
Sometimes, Dana White promises a title shot to the winner of an exciting matchup, but fails to deliver after the fact. That is not the case for top-contender Nate Diaz.
Diaz defeated Jim Miller back in May in order to earn a shot at the UFC Lightweight championship, but first had to wait on the rematch between champion Benson Henderson and Frankie Edgar.
Since returning to the lightweight division, Diaz has put together a trio of stellar wins against contenders Takanori Gomi, Donald Cerrone and Jim Miller in order to earn his crack at the belt.
Will he successfully cash in his chance at gold, or will he be the second member of the Diaz family to come up short in 2012?
1. Benson Henderson
Most Recent Fight: Won against Frankie Edgar at UFC 150
Next Fight: Nate Diaz at UFC on FOX 5
Previous Ranking: 1
Champion Benson Henderson may not have convinced everyone that he was the better man at UFC 150, although he was able to walk away with a gold belt strapped around his waist. The win put to rest a rivalry with former champion Frankie Edgar and established Henderson as the undisputed top lightweight in the world.
The champion is 5-0 since the UFC absorbed WEC talent, and has only lost once in his past 16 fights.
Henderson will make his second title defense against well-rounded stud Nate Diaz in December. Will he fall prey to the taunting standup of his opponent? Is he willing to take this bout to the ground against a dangerous submission artist who has earned tapout victories in 11 of his 16 professional wins?