UFC: The Top 10 Lightweights
With UFC on FOX 5 now a thing of the past and Benson Henderson firmly entrenched as the 155-pound champion, it’s time to take a look at who the best men the UFC has to offer in that class presently are.
*Note: With his contracted fight at featherweight for UFC 156, Frankie Edgar is removed from the rankings. With his contracted fight at featherweight for UFC on FOX 6, Clay Guida is removed from the rankings.
10. TJ Grant (19-5)
The Canadian has been a remarkably tough out since dropping to lightweight, the division that he seems to have been made for all along.
He’s a true grinder in every sense of the word and is probably underappreciated as a result. The fact remains, however, that he’s got a three-fight win streak going against respectable competition in a weight class that not many people go on prolonged runs in. Not to mention all of his UFC losses have come to serious welterweights.
He needs a big step up in competition next time out, but he's quietly becoming a guy to watch out for.
9. Rafael Dos Anjos (18-6)
Dos Anjos is fresh off of a steady outclassing of Mark Bocek at UFC 154, a fight that confirmed what many believed for most of 2012: The young Brazilian is coming into his own.
His standup has improved drastically, his grappling has never been a real pitfall, and he’s as aggressive and ruthless as anyone out there at 155. Look for him to find himself across from a bigger name in his next fight, which will likely serve as his ticket to the big time with a win.
8. Melvin Guillard (30-11-2)
The enigmatic Guillard can just never seem to put it all together. He’s got all sorts of wrestling, judo and grappling credentials, a lifetime of kickboxing and streetfighting in his rear view mirror and an astounding number of MMA fights to his credit for someone still a ways off from 30.
And yet, every time it looks like he’s about to break through, he loses a fight he should win and ends up skidding back to the lower half of the top 10.
He’s lost three of four, all to guys ranked ahead of him and is about a week out from trying to right the ship against former WEC champion Jamie Varner.
7. Joe Lauzon (22-7)
The ever-popular “Creepy Joe” has become a true force as he’s entered his late 20s, keeping the pace and ferocity he’s known for and climbing the ranks as a result. He’s never been in a boring fight in his life and has made enough money in “…of the Night” bonuses that he’s paid off his student loans before most people his age are even finished school.
He’ll meet Jim Miller at UFC 155 in a guaranteed barnburner, and also a fight that could see him move to 4-1 in his last five—the type of run that may put him on the doorstep of a big contender bout.
6. Jim Miller (21-4)
The tough, nasty, relentless younger sibling of MMA’s Flying Miller Brothers, Jim has hit a bit of a skid in the past year or so. Losses to Benson Henderson and Nate Diaz derailed his hopes of a title shot, and now he finds himself out of the top five despite having not lost for nearly two years not that long ago.
Still, with his skill set, he’s never out of the conversation, and a win over Lauzon at UFC 155 followed up by another defeat of a big name will have him nipping at the heels of Henderson and a rematch he badly wants.
5. Donald Cerrone (19-4)
Cerrone has been on a mission to do as much damage to the UFC’s lightweight division as humanly possible since joining the promotion in early 2011, amassing a 6-1 record in that time.
He’s dynamic everywhere, a born fighter and a guy who has fought his way into title contention by worrying a lot more about fighting than about titles.
Old school guys like this are a dying breed.
4. Anthony Pettis (15-2)
The flashy and explosive Pettis has been one fight or less away from a title shot so many times in the past two years that it’s gotten silly to keep counting. The UFC has turned him away from promised chances multiple times, be it due to scheduling or injury, and once again he finds himself a fight away as a result.
He’ll meet Cerrone at UFC on FOX 6 in a fight that has long been rumoured and is also an absolute certainty to deliver the type of gleeful carnage that makes network executives antsy when they’re broadcasting MMA live.
3. Nate Diaz (16-8)
UFC on FOX 5 proved what many 209 enthusiasts had long feared: Nate Diaz still can't handle big guys with strong wrestling. He was manhandled for much of his title fight against Benson Henderson, hardly getting off any of his signature boxing or even more well-known trash talk.
Diaz will still give most of the division fits, but if you have certain physical gifts or a style that relies on power, the highly technical Nate will likely succumb. Still, he's one of the best in the world at 155 lbs and should bounce back against a top contender within a few months.
2. Gray Maynard (11-1-1)
With no Frankie Edgar, Maynard is back on track to be a title threat again before the middle of 2013. Aside from Edgar, there are few men in the world who can best The Bully at lightweight due simply to his sheer brutality.
He’s a great wrestler with a growing standup arsenal, he’s proven to be durable, and he’s the most powerful man in the division—all to say nothing of his underrated athleticism.
Look for him to win a fight or two next year on his way back to a crack at the champion.
1. Benson Henderson (18-2)
Henderson once again looked like what he is—a physically imposing, sometimes dominant athlete who has found success in MMA—during his second title defense at UFC on FOX 5. He ragdolled a very game Nate Diaz for much of the fight, beating the challenger from pillar to post and collecting his sixth straight decision win.
It's interesting to see where the champion goes from here, as his success hasn't resulted in a growing fanbase or increased recognition of his ability, but there's no denying that he's the best lightweight in the world right now. Expect a rematch with either of Cerrone or Pettis in the spring, or possibly a unification bout with soon-to-be Strikeforce import Gilbert Melendez.