Let the debate begin.
Lightweight Rankings—155 lbs.
1. B.J. Penn (UFC)—(12-4-1), Current UFC Lightweight Champion, Former UFC Welterweight
Penn is one of the top pound-for-pound MMA fighters in the world regardless of weight class. He has beaten a who’s who list of fighters including former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver, current UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra, and former PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi.
Penn’s strengths include his knockout power in his hands, overall flexibility and control of his body at all times, and his incredible Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu skill.
He’s fought at 155, 170, 185, and even 205 in his MMA career. He has only lost one time at 155, to Jens Pulver back in 2003. His other losses came at 170 (Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre) and at 205 (Lyoto Machida).
I would stack up Penn against this list and the entire welterweight list, except for Georges St. Pierre, and feel confident that he could dictate the tempo of the fight.
He’s set to defend his UFC Lightweight Championship at UFC 84 against Sean Sherk. Look for Penn to exploit Sherk with his striking and to not get caught out of position on the ground and come away with the victory.
2. Takanori Gomi (World Victory Road)—(28-3), 1 no contest, Former PRIDE Lightweight Champion
Gomi is arguably the best non-UFC fighter in the world not named Fedor. He is the former Shooto Welterweight Champion and PRIDE Lightweight Champion. “The Fireball Kid” has unusual knockout power in his hands for a lightweight—and he has it in both hands.
Many MMA publications have Gomi ranked No. 1 in the world at this weight class, however, I am placing him at No. 2 due to his head-to-head loss to Penn.
Gomi is also dynamite on the ground. He’s an accomplished international wrestler, having captured two All Japan Combat Wrestling Championships. His notable wins are over Pulver, Sakarai, Kawajiri, and Ishida.
3. Gesias Calvancanti (DREAM)—(14-1-1), 1 no contest
“JZ” is the best fighter out of the American Top Team camp and is largely unknown to the UFC faithful. He is an incredibly rounded fighter. He has five wins by knockout and seven by submission. JZ’s last loss was back in 2004 via decision to Joachim Hansen.
JZ is coming off a controversial no contest against Aoki at the DREAM 1 event in March 2008. He landed an illegal elbow to the back of Aoki’s head. The fight was briefly stopped, however Aoki was unable to continue and it was ruled a no contest.
This was supposed to be the best fight at DREAM 1, but all the attention was focused on Mirko Cro Cop’s first fight with the DREAM organization instead.
4. Hayato Sakurai (DREAM)—(32-7-2)
Sakarai has won nine of his last 10 fights with the only loss coming to Gomi. Sakurai is 32 years old now, but at one time he was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. He is still capable of beating anyone in the world at this weight class.
Sakurai has been around the fight game since 1996 and has accumulated a great deal of skill and experience along the way. He’s big for a lightweight and has fought some of the best fighters in the world. He defeated the likes of Jens Pulver, Aoki, Joachim Hansen, and Frank Trigg.
5. Shinya Aoki (DREAM)—(11-2)
Aoki is a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu wizard and one of the best submission artists in the world. Eight of his 11 victories have come by submission. I have seen him ranked as high as No. 3 by some MMA publications.
Aoki's last fight was a no contest with Calvancanti, due to the fact that he could not continue because he took an illegal elbow to the back of the head. Aoki is eagerly anticipating a rematch with Calvancanti and a victory would shoot him up this list even further.
He is a big lightweight and has plenty of experience at 170 pounds as well. The rematch with Calvancanti should be a war.
6. Sean Sherk (UFC)—(31-2-1), Former UFC Lightweight Champion (stripped due to failed drug test)
Sherk is currently training at the Minnesota Martial Arts Academy with trainer Greg Nelson to prepare to win back his UFC lightweight belt against B.J. Penn in May.
It has been well documented that he takes the term “gym rat” to an entirely new level. He out works his opponents in training so he can out work them in the octagon. For the most part that holds true.
Sherk needs his fights to go to the ground to be successful. That gives him the best chance to end a fight. He’s a powerful wrestler and exceptional take down artist.
Both of his losses have come at 170 to Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre. He has beaten notable UFC lightweights Karo Parisyan and Kenny Florian previously and now has his sights on Penn.
Also, look for Sherk to fight at UFC 87 in Minneapolis regardless of the outcome at UFC 84.
7. Vitor Ribeiro (K-1 HERO’S)—(19-2)Ribeiro, like Aoki, is an accomplished Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu fighter. Twelve of his wins have come via submission. He’s beaten Kawaijiri, Ishida, and Joachim Hansen. Both of his losses have come by way of knockout on his feet.
He is still raw and needs more improvement on his feet. He is one of the best in the world on the ground, but at this point in his young career he needs his fights to take place on the ground to be the most successful.
8) Mitsuhiro Ishida (DREAM)—(16-3-1)
Ishida is a grinder, plain and simple. Fourteen of his fights have gone the distance and been decided by a decision. Twelve decisions have gone in his favor. e, like Sherk, is well-known for his wrestling, his conditioning, and his ability to outlast his opponents.
While his opponents are gassing in the late rounds he is still able to control the tempo on the ground. He won 10 of his last 11 fights, including a victory over Melendez at Yarennoka New Year’s Eve 2007. His one loss came at the hands of Gomi.
9. Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce)—(14-1)
Melendez is an up-and-coming lightweight force. He’s only 26 years old and he already has wins over Kawajiri and Clay Guida on his resume.
He is an incredibly well-rounded fighter who loves to ground and pound, but he has no problem striking on his feet. Eight of his wins have come via knockout.
10. Tatsuya Kawajiri (DREAM)—(21-4-2)
A lightweight known for his strength in the clinch and his ground and pound? That is exactly how Kawajiri developed his nickname “crusher.”
His overall strength might be the best in this weight class in the world. He holds notable wins over Ribeiro and Joachim Hansen. His notable losses have been to Gomi and Melendez, which are both more than respectable.
- Kenny Florian is a guy some will wonder about coming off an impressive victory over Joe Lauzon. Florian is creeping up the ranks but he still has not beaten any top level international fighters at 155. He lost the three toughest fights he’s had up to this point (Fickett, Sanchez, and Sherk). However, he is definitely in the top 15 comfortably.
- This was by far the hardest weight class to rank due to the sheer number of MMA organizations it crosses.
- DREAM is the leading MMA organization with regards to lightweight fighters, and it’s not close.- The UFC middleweight division gets all the publicity for being the weakest in the UFC, however, the middleweight division still carries more top level middleweight fighters (Silva, Henderson, Franklin, Okami, Marquardt) than any other MMA organization in the world in my opinion. In reality, it’s the UFC lightweight division that is lacking the top level talent compared to other organizations.