10 Fighters Poised to Make a Run in the UFC's Lightweight Division

Craig Amos@@CAABRMMAFeatured ColumnistJuly 18, 2013

10 Fighters Poised to Make a Run in the UFC's Lightweight Division

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    There is perhaps no division in the UFC with as much depth as lightweight.

    Though champion Benson Henderson lacks the reputation of dominant titleholders like Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo, the list of 155-pound elites and prospects with high ceilings goes on for days. 

    At any given time, there are a number of fighters clamoring for a title shot, a few more establishing themselves as stars and a horde more looking to break into the division's upper echelon.

    Here we will take a look at 10 fighters on the precipice of making a run in the UFC lightweight division.

    For the most part, this list is concerned with fighters who have shown promise, but have not yet made a pronounced step toward the title. In a few instances, inclusions have already begun a title run in earnest, but need to stay hot to get over the hump.  

Edson Barboza

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    We don't have to give him a mulligan on the Jamie Varner lost to buy him as a future contender. Few fighters go without suffering a defeat prior to breaking through, and many actually become better for it.

    That may be the case with Barboza, who has scored a pair of stoppages since losing to Varner.

    It would be nice to see him earn a W over a tough wrestler before proclaiming him ready to take on a top-notch lightweight, but it's hard to ignore his overall results.

    Barboza is 6-1 as a UFC competitor and should be given a step up in competition for his next bout. If he is able to handle that test, the lightweight division's top 10 will officially be on notice. 

Michael Chiesa

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    The Ultimate Fighter winner has a big August showdown with Jorge Masvidal. A win there and he goes from up-and-comer to already there.

    Chiesa has proven a terror on the mat against UFC hopefuls and roster members alike, cutting through TUF competition and UFC opponents with equal ease. He currently holds a 2-0 mark in the promotion with both of his wins coming via submission.

    Masvidal represents the toughest challenge of Chiesa's career, but he also represents the grandest opportunity. With a victory, Chiesa may very well earn himself a top-10 opponent in late 2013 or early 2014, which would signify the kickoff of his run. 

Rafael dos Anjos

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    It took dos Anjos a couple of years to really find his footing as a UFC fighter, but he has recently come into his own.

    He is currently riding a four-fight win streak, which includes a couple of impressive opponents (Mark Bocek, Evan Dunham), and is now on the precipice of breaking into the division's upper crust.

    This August, the Brazilian will take on Donald Cerrone in what will be the biggest opportunity of his career, and his recent development is convincing enough to suggest he at least has a chance of pulling off the upset.

    If he does manage to pull it off, dos Anjos will be the division's newest contender. 

Pat Healy

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    Technically, Pat Healy still hasn't posted a result in the UFC—well, not since 2006—but that's only technically.

    He actually thumped Jim Miller in a war of attrition, which Miller specializes in, but was denied a victory solely for testing positive for marijuana metabolites during his post-fight drug test.

    Healy has been on some kind of run since 2011, winning six straight fights under the Strikeforce banner. In 2013, he reentered the UFC as a quasi-contender, but his performance was enough to shake the "quasi" part of that label.

    He's now just a contenderone who is poised to make a move toward the lightweight title. He is still serving a suspension, but will be able to fight this fall.  

Myles Jury

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    Jury failed to win The Ultimate Fighter back in 2012, and it was disappointing, but he still has as much promise as anyone from the season.

    In fact, no fighter from TUF: Cruz vs. Faber has lit it up inside the Octagon like Jury has since the show's finale.

    The 24-year-old has posted a 3-0 UFC record, with two finishes and a dominant decision victory over Michael Johnson. 

    He takes a well-rounded approach to fighting and has looked like an improved version of himself each time he's competed over the last year and a half. 

    If his development keeps pace, he'll soon break into the UFC lightweight division's upper echelon.

Rustam Khabilov

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    "The Tiger" made a not-so-quiet UFC debut in December of last year, scoring a suplex knockout over a stunned Vinc Pichel.

    The Russian followed up that performance by going back to the suplex well in his next outing against Yancy Medeiros. Though the result—a TKO due to thumb injury—wasn't as spectacular as his first go inside the Octagon, the injury was as much a consequence of Khabilov's control and wrestling as it was happenstance.

    Khabilov is just 26, holds a 16-1 MMA record and won a Combat Sambo World Championship in 2007.

    Add it all up and he looks every bit the part of a future star. And considering how outstanding he's already looked on the big stage, he already has some momentum going as he climbs the ladder.  

James Krause

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    Krause is more of a late-bloomer than an up-and-comer, but he's just recently positioned himself to make a real impact at 155.

    The American is a well-rounded fighter, but really excels in the submission department. He is currently riding an eight-fight win streak, which includes June's UFC debut—a third-round submission victory over Sam Stout.

    He has no upcoming fight scheduled as of yet, but has plenty of time left to make 2013 the pivotal year of his career.

    Also, the internet tells me that his nickname is "The James Krause," which automatically makes him great. 

Khabib Nurmagomedov

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    Nurmagomedov isn't exactly a secret anymore, but he still needs that signature win to kick his run off in earnest.

    Going 4-0 in the UFC and 20-0 overall is no mean feat, nor is setting the UFC record for takedowns in a fight, but these accomplishments really just put Nurmagomedov in a spot to make a run—they haven't yet taken him where he wants to be.

    "The Eagle" knows that he has to beat a contender to become one, so he's turning his sights toward the division's more accomplished and recognizable options. He recently expressed his desire to compete against B.J. Penn and TJ Grant, opponents who could potentially thrust him toward the top of the division.

    There are few young fighters in the game today that are as promising as Nurmagomedov. It's just about time to see how well that promise translates to success against elite competitors. 

Josh Thomson

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    Thomson is the most accomplished fighter on this list, but still hasn't done very much in the UFC—yet. 

    Sure, his win over Nate Diaz was a nice start, but that doesn't put him at his destination. He is not yet a UFC titleholder. He still has work to do. 

    Thomson is sans opponent at the moment, but he should figure into a lightweight affair later this year, and should garner a solid opponent.

    He may just be a win away, maybe two, but the former Strikeforce star is already on the brink of a title chance.

Francisco Trinaldo

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    Trinaldo crashed out of The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil pretty early on in the tournament, but there is a very valid reason for that.

    He was fighting at middleweight.

    Overcoming a weight differential is tough for any fighter, especially one competing across two weight divisions, not just one. 

    Since winning at middleweight in his first official UFC fight, Trinaldo has shed 30 pounds and moved back to his natural weight. 

    He lost to Gleison Tibau in his return to the division, but has since reeled off a pair of very impressive wins.

    At 34, Trinaldo is hardly a prospect, but he is only now getting the chance to make a splash. He has the talent to follow through with the opportunity, and should be given a tough opponent for his next outing.