There is perhaps no division in the UFC that is more competitive than the lightweight class. Its combination of depth and high-ceiling talent means that there are any number of fighters, at any given time, with the potential to steal the crown.
But of course, not everyone can have a turn.
Ben Henderson currently sits atop the heap and has defended the strap three times without fail. Still, the sheer number of legitimate contenders rushing to take what he has—coupled with the two extremely close calls Bendo has already experienced as champ—suggests the title will be continually under threat.
Here we assess the UFC lightweight class' current landscape, examining the title aspirations of each of the division's top 10 fighters, as ranked by the UFC.
Each contender has been tagged with a probability that identifies the likelihood of them ever gaining the strap. That probability is based on a number of factors, including ability, age and current station within the division.
Read on to see who is most likely to adorn lightweight gold, before they call it quits.
Claiming that Nurmagomedov has as good a chance to win the title as guys like Gray Maynard or Gilbert Melendez would be overstating his ability, if we're talking about the immediate future. But "The Eagle" is still just 24 and will likely be in his prime when most of the current top 155ers are on the down slopes of their careers.
Of course, he'll have a new set of contenders to deal with, but he is already well-positioned to be the de facto leader of that next wave. As it sits right now, he's already begun to blur the line between present and future.
With a very well-rounded set of skills, the Russian shows promise all over the MMA map. And as he continues to gain experience and notch bigger and bigger wins, his title aspirations are only becoming more and more realistic.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 30 percent
When he debuted in the UFC back in 2008, dos Anjos did so to little fanfare. He wasn't considered a particularly promising new talent nor did his immediate results do much to change that perception.
A few years after making his debut, dos Anjos proved worthy of a job with the promotion, but there was still little to point to him ever being a top-10 fighter, let alone a title challenger.
The Brazilian, however, has stepped up his game of late, and he now ranks as the ninth best fighter in what is perhaps the UFC's deepest division. And he is making considerable strides towards becoming a legitimate title threat.
He still has a fairly long road to the championship, which diminishes his odds somewhat, but looking back at his last three fights is enough to convince me that it is within the realm of possibility for him to one day wear the division's crown.
Chance of capturing UFC lightweight title: 15 percent
Thomson's return to the UFC really couldn't have gone any better. Not only did he beat a contender in emphatic fashion, the guy he recently took to a split decision also hung toe-to-toe with the UFC champ.
Based purely on last Saturday's results, Thomson has a very reasonable chance of winning the title. But he still has some work to do, and at 34, he doesn't have all that much time to do it.
He seems to be in his prime right now, but that won't last forever. And the lightweight division is so deep that one failure can put you years away from a title shot.
I remain pessimistic about Thomson's odds but concede that they do exist—something I would have scoffed at prior to last weekend.
Chance of capturing UFC lightweight title: 20 percent
Like Raphael dos Anjos, Grant was a late-bloomer, but bloom he did.
After beginning his UFC career at welterweight to the tune of a 3-3 record, Grant made the decision to drop to 155, and the move appears to have worked incredibly well. Since changing divisions, the Canadian has put up a 4-0 record, finishing twice.
The competition he's faced has been solid, if unspectacular, but his upcoming UFC 160 bout with Gray Maynard undoubtedly represents the toughest test of his career. The good news is should he past that test, he will find himself fighting for the title later this year.
Calculating Grant's odds of becoming champ essentially comes down to assessing his chances of beating Maynard, then parlaying his title shot into a title win. But because he is just 29, he gets a few extra ticks for the possibility of subsequent runs somewhere down the line.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 20 percent
Awhile back, Diaz was cutting through the lightweight division with seeming ease, but when his title shot came, he faltered badly. And his rebound attempt at UFC on Fox 7 went even worse.
What's more is that Diaz is pondering a return to welterweight. Everyone in the universe seems to be advising him against it, but when was the last time one of the Diaz brothers listened to reason?
So he may not even factor in at 155 any longer. And even if he changes his mind and decides to stay the course, his title chances still have to be considered limited.
Chance of capturing UFC lightweight title: 7 percent
A finisher by trade, Cerrone has cultivated a reputation for himself as one of the most dangerous fighters in the lightweight division. It's a reputation that is well-earned in a sense but also somewhat misleading: In spite of the danger he poses to most, he's never been able to beat a contender.
While Cerrone has compiled many impressive wins throughout his time in the WEC—and the UFC since then—but his hit list is void of anyone counting as a consensus top-10 competitor. He's had opportunities to add such names—Ben Henderson twice, Nate Diaz, Anthony Pettis—but has lost each time.
His striking is good but not great, and while his submission game is indeed great, his wrestling is just mediocre. Consequently, good strikers can usually take him on the feet, while good wrestlers can choose where the action takes place.
The holes in his game are definitely troubling. In consequence, I don't see a title in Cerrone's future—just many more solid wins and a plethora of fight nights and bonuses.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 7 percent
Had it not been for his poor showing in the Nate Diaz fight, I'd be more generous in assessing Miller's title chances. As it stands, his aspirations are realistic but not exactly overwhelming.
He is a very durable guy and one who can overwhelm even high-level opponents. His striking is adequate, his wrestling is good, and his submission game is dangerous. He may not do any one thing perfectly, but he is comfortable everywhere—which gives him a chance in any fight.
That said, his recent 2-2 record has him closer to those ranked behind him than to those ahead of him in terms of odds. Granted, his strength of schedule has been brutal, but there is no easy road to the lightweight title for anyone, especially now with the influx of Strikeforce talent
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 18 percent
It's quite possible that Maynard has been closer to winning a UFC title without actually winning it than anyone else ever has been. And he's been there twice.
He could earn himself another shot too, if he can just get by T.J. Grant at UFC 160. It's a fight he'll be expected to win, yet it's not an easy one. But if he finds his way through the test, it's an unfamiliar champion who will greet him.
Since his tie and loss in title fights to Frankie Edgar, a new king has been crowned. Somewhat comically, Ben Henderson has shown himself to be quite comparable in overall effectiveness to Edgar, given his and "The Answer's" two razor-thin decisions.
If Maynard and Henderson do enter the cage together, there is every reason to believe their tussle would be a close one. That means Maynard's chances are realistic. However, he cannot overlook Grant, or else he'll never even have the opportunity.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 33 percent
So, Anthony Pettis probably has a better shot at winning the featherweight title at this point in time, but he claims that after challenging Jose Aldo, he'll step it back up to lightweight. If that's the case, then he'll still have plenty of time to capture gold at 155.
Already owning a win over the current champion says a lot about "Showtime's" chances. On the other hand, a loss to Clay Guida and his struggles against Jeremy Stephens says something very different.
I struggled to find a number for Pettis, but taking into account his brief absence from the division, his issues with wrestlers—and the possibility he overcomes them—and his current level of performance, I arrived at the following percentage (a compromise between 35 and 40).
It's definitely much more generous than I would have given him a year-and-a-half ago, though I assume some readers will still find it too low.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight gold: 38 percent
Given how close he came to capturing the title in his UFC debut, I can't really say that Melendez's chances are anything short of significant. Still, he'll have to beat some fighters who aren't far behind the champion, if he is to earn a rematch, so the road only gets more difficult for him.
The former Strikeforce champion surprised a lot of people, myself very much included, by putting on such a competitive fight at UFC on Fox 7. Many, myself not included, even thought he deserved to leave with the W.
It will be interesting to see who Melendez is given next. It will likely be a high-level fighter, which means it will be a challenge. But that also affords him the opportunity to linger near the top of the division.
Figuring Melendez's chances comes down to the likelihood of him earning another shot, then making good on the chance. If he had been given an immediate rematch, he'd probably be around 50 percent. But he wasn't, so his odds have to be lower than those we'd give him in a rematch with Bendo.
Chances of capturing UFC lightweight title: 33 percent