MMA: Top 10 Lightweights (Part 1 of 5) - 2nd Quarter 2008

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MMA: Top 10 Lightweights (Part 1 of 5) - 2nd Quarter 2008

This is part one of a five part series examining the best fighters in the world at each weight class.  This part covers the lightweight class that has a limit of 155 pounds. 

 

I will update the rankings on a quarterly basis.  See where your favorite fighters rank and offer your own opinions.  Let the debate begin.

 

 

 

1)     BJ Penn (UFC), (13 – 4 – 1 MMA Record), Current UFC Lightweight Champion, Former UFC Welterweight Champion, Previous Ranking = #1.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Sean Sherk, UFC 84: Ill Will, May 24, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown

 

 

One could argue that Penn is the most talented MMA fighter of all time.  He is currently in his prime and has rattled off consecutive victories over former UFC Lightweight Champion Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, and former UFC Lightweight Champion Sean Sherk in his past three fights.  Penn has also beaten former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes, former UFC Welterweight Champion Matt Serra, and former PRIDE Lightweight Champion Takanori Gomi in his storied career as well.

 

Penn’s strengths include his knockout power in his hands, incredible flexibility and body control, and his incredible Brazilian jiu-jitsu skill on the ground.  He’s fought at 155, 170, 185, and 205 in his MMA career.  He has only lost one time at 155 pounds which was to Jens Pulver in 2003.  His other losses came at 170 (Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre) and at 205 (Lyoto Machida). 

 

A motivated Penn will likely rule the UFC lightweight division for a long time unless he decides to jump up to 170 pounds once again for a potential super match up with Georges St. Pierre.

 

 

 

 

2)     Takanori Gomi (World Victory Road), (28 – 3, 1 no contest), Former PRIDE Lightweight Champion, Previous Ranking = #2.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Duane Ludwig, Sengoku, March 5, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown

 

 

Gomi is arguably the best non-UFC fighter in the world not named Fedor Emelianenko.  “The Fireball Kid” is well-rounded for a lightweight.  He has unusual knockout power in his hands for a lightweight and he has it in both hands.  His knockout victories include Mitsuhiro Ishida, Hayato Sakurai, and Jens Pulver. 

 

Gomi is also an accomplished international wrestler having captured two All Japan Combat Wrestling Championships. 

 

Many MMA publications still have Gomi ranked #1 in the world even after Penn’s victory over Sherk.  However, I am placing him at #2 due to his head-to-head loss to Penn in 2003. 

  

 

 

3)     Shinya Aoki (DREAM), (13 – 2), Previous Ranking = #5.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via unanimous decision, Gesias Calvancante, DREAM 2, April 29, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Versus Katsuhiko Nagata, DREAM 4, June 15, 2008.

 

 

Aoki is now the poster boy for the DREAM lightweights.  He jumps to #3 in the rankings after an impressive victory over former #3 ranked Gesias Calvancante.

 

Aoki is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu wizard and one of the best submission artists in the world.  He has never been submitted by an opponent and six of his thirteen victories have come via submission.  He is a black belt in Brazilian jiu-jitsu under Yuki Nakai, who is the president of the Japanese Confederation of Jiu-Jitsu and former Shooto Welterweight Champion. 

 

Aoki is also known for his incredible defense on the ground and having one of the most active guards in all of MMA.

 

 

 

 

4)     Gesias Calvancante (DREAM), (14 – 2 – 1, 1 no contest), Previous Ranking = #3.

 

 

Last Fight: Loss via unanimous decision, Shinya Aoki, DREAM 2, April 29, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown

 

 

“JZ” slides down to #4 after a disappointing loss to Aoki.  He still has never been knocked out or submitted in his career.  Both of his losses have come via decision.

 

The good news is that he can only go up from here.  He is only 24 years of age and he trains with one of the best teams in the world in Coconut Creek, FL with American Top Team. 

 

JZ, like Penn, is incredibly well-rounded for a lightweight.  He has seven wins via submission and five via knockout.  His notable wins include victories over Vitor Ribeiro and Caol Uno.   

 

 

 

 

5)     Vitor Ribeiro (DREAM), (19 – 2), Previous Ranking = #7.

 

 

Last Fight: Loss via TKO, Gesias Calvancante, K-1 HERO’s Tournament Final, September 17, 2007.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown

 

 

“Shaolin” has shot up to #5 largely based on his fighting inactivity due to injury.  When healthy he is one of the best Brazilian jiu-jitsu fighters in MMA.  Twelve of his nineteen wins have come via submission including victories over Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen, and Mitsuhiro Ishida. 

 

On the other hand, both of Shaolin’s losses have come via knockout.  He is still raw and needs more improvement on his feet with his head movement and avoidance.  He is one of the best in the world on the ground, but at this point in his young career, he needs to dictate fights on the ground to be successful.

 

 

 

 

6)     Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce), (14 – 1), Current Strikeforce Lightweight Champion, Previous Ranking = #9.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Gabe Lemley, Strikeforce: Shamrock vs. Le, March 29, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Versus Josh Thomson, Strikeforce: Melendez vs. Thomson, June 27, 2008.

 

 

Melendez is an up-and-coming lightweight force and the golden boy of Strikeforce.  He’s only 26 years old and he already has wins over Tatsuya Kawajiri and Clay Guida on his resume. 

 

He is already an incredibly well-rounded fighter who loves to ground and pound, but he has no problem striking on his feet.  Seven of his fourteen wins have come via knockout.  He has also never been knocked out or submitted in a professional MMA bout.

 

Melendez is currently training hard at Fairtex in San Francisco, CA in order to ensure he retains his belt going forward.  He is scheduled to put the belt on the line against Josh Thomson at the end of June 

 

 

 

 

7)     Sean Sherk (UFC), (32 – 3 – 1), Former UFC Lightweight Champion, Previous Ranking = #6.

 

 

Last Fight: Loss via TKO, BJ Penn, UFC 84: Ill Will, May 24, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

 

 

“The Muscle Shark” is coming off a disappointing loss to BJ Penn.  Sherk stubbornly stood toe-to-toe with Penn the entire fight and it proved to be costly.  The loss is the first at 155 pounds for Sherk in his career.  His only other losses were to Georges St. Pierre and Matt Hughes at 170 pounds. 

 

It has been well documented that he takes the term “gym rat” to an entirely new level.  He out works his opponents in training, at the Minnesota Mixed Martial Arts Academy in Brooklyn Center, MN, so he can out work them in the octagon. 

 

The bottom line is that Sherk needs his fights to go to the ground to be successful.  His takedowns are some of the best in the business and his overall wrestling strength is what separates him from the average fighter.

 

Look for Sherk to get back to his strengths when he steps into the octagon for his next fight.  It has been rumored he will fight again at UFC 87 in front of his loyal Minnesota fans in Minneapolis, MN although nothing has been confirmed.

 

 

 

8)     Tatsuya Kawajiri (DREAM), (22 – 4 – 2), Previous Ranking = #10.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via unanimous decision, Luiz Firmino, DREAM 3, May 11, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, DREAM 5, July 21, 2008.

 

 

“Crusher” moves up to #8 after an impressive victory over Luiz Firmino.  A lightweight known for his strength in the clinch and his ground and pound?  That is correct.  That is how the nickname “crusher” came to be. 

 

His overall strength and explosiveness may be second only to Sean Sherk at 155 pounds in the world, at this weight class.  He holds notable wins over Vitor Ribeiro and Joachim Hansen.  His notable losses have been to Takanori Gomi and Gilbert Melendez, which are both more than respectable.

 

 

 

 

9)     Mitsuhiro Ishida (DREAM), (16 – 4 – 1), Previous Ranking = #8.

 

 

Last Fight: Loss via submission, Caol Uno, DREAM 3, May 11, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Opponent unknown, Event unknown, Date unknown.

 

 

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.  He is well-known for his wrestling and his incredible conditioning that gives him the 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 has won ten of his last twelve fights, including a victory over Gilbert Melendez at Yarennoka New Year’s Eve 2007.  He is coming off a loss to Caol Uno and that is why he fell to #9 overall.  Look for him to bounce back going forward.

 

 

 

10) Kenny Florian (UFC), (10 – 3), Previous Ranking = unranked.

 

 

Last Fight: Win via TKO, Joe Lauzon, UFC Fight Night 13, April 2, 2008.

 

Next Fight: Versus Roger Huerta, UFC 87: Seek and Destroy, August 9, 2008.

 

 

Florian enters the countdown after coming off an impressive victory over upcoming UFC lightweight Joe Lauzon.  He now finds himself locked into an upcoming #1 contender match against Roger Huerta. 

 

He has won four straight fights after losing his first and only attempt at the UFC lightweight belt at UFC 64 against Sean Sherk.  If Florian is able to defeat Huerta it will cap off a long two year journey back to the lightweight title match. 

 

Against Huerta he will be looking to take the fight to the ground where he is a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt and experienced veteran.  Florian’s standup against Lauzon looked much improved under the tutelage of Mark DellaGrotte at Sityodtong USA, however, his best chance to end a fight is on the ground.

 

 

 

Dropped Out: #4 Hayato Sakurai (now fighting consistently at 170 pounds)

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