UFC 118: The Top 10 Lightweight Fights in MMA History
You know your division is the best in the sport when it's one of the first things people talk about.
Normally, guys catch a bad rap here and there for not finishing fights, but in the case of some of MMA's lightweights, an exception is made because, well, they're 155-pound guys who can at least kick some serious ass in the cage.
We in the MMA community saw ourselves a controversial yet fun display of what the Lightweight division is all about this past April for UFC 112 when Frankie Edgar ended an eight-year unbeaten streak at lightweight by scoring a unanimous decision win over BJ Penn.
To commemorate the rematch which will commence this Saturday in Boston, I figured I'd show you 10 matches that were some of the best lightweight fights in MMA history, and to prove that this is truly one for the lightweights of the sport, I have decided to not limit this to strictly UFC fights.
Sit back, relax, enjoy the slideshow, but the next time you laugh at these lighter guys for fighting in the cage, remember this:
They can and probably will kick your ass like it's never been kicked before.
Translation: Don't F**K with any one of these UFC Lightweights.
Now that everything is well out of the way, let's kick this thing off, shall we?
10. Melendez-Thomson II at Strikeforce: Evolution
Take the guy who is now Strikeforce's Lightweight Champion and put him in a rematch against the guy who ended his first reign and what do you have?
Besides a few crazy acts of insanity (i.e. things such as exchanges and Thomson nearly losing the fight in Round 2) you have all the makings of an unbelievable lightweight fight to unify the Strkeforce Lightweight Title.
Gilbert Melendez and Josh Thomson never slowed down for one another, and they never quit.
For five rounds it was back and forth with the action, although Melendez seemed to get the better of it.
Either way, Thomson brought it to Melendez and made him work for the win, but in the end, Melendez walked out with the "W" and with the Strikeforce lightweight belt back around his waist.
9. The Prodigy debuts and the UFC Lightweight division is born
UFC 31 was widely regarded as something of a turning point for the UFC, and for good reason: changes were going to be made in an attempt to put MMA where it belonged: at the top of the sports world.
Under the new rules of the UFC at the time, the former Bantamweights at 150 pounds was bumped up to the class we know now to be the 155-pound Lightweight division.
At the time, BJ Penn was kicking off his pro MMA career, but Mike Goldberg famously referred to him as "The Prodigy' and fans of the UFC were beginning to see why.
Not just anyone could pick up the sport as quickly as BJ could, but he did in what was a two-mile-stone:
He beat a young kid named Joey Gilbert in his pro MMA debut, and he helped usher in the era of UFC Lightweights in what was the division's first ever fight.
8. The Fireball Kid vs. Lil' Evil, PRIDE Shockwave 2004
Jens Pulver may not get much love now, but in the early days of the UFC and the days of PRIDE, you couldn't talk about the best Lightweights in the world without bringing up Jens Pulver.
He not only became the first UFC Lightweight Champ, but he also had a short stint in PRIDE in which he fought greats like Hayato Sakurai and Takanori Gomi.
Granted, those two names were not as revered at the time as they are now, but to put any promising lightweight against Pulver at the time was like a dream match waiting to come true.
This didn't end the way some would have guessed, but it nonetheless goes down as one of the sport's most epic clashes between two legendary Lightweight warriors.
7. Penn vs. Serra
The second final of what was to be a tournament to decide a new Lightweight champion after Jens Pulver left the UFC, BJ Penn came in to this fight with one focus, which was to beat Matt Serra and earn himself a spot in the Lightweight final of the tournament opposite Caol Uno.
The bout with Serra was a crazy 15-minute affar that almost saw Serra got knocked out early, and although he would hang on tight, he would be unable to convince the masses that it was he that should have won the fight.
6. Florian's First Shot: KenFlo vs. The Muscle Shark
Sean Sherk vs. Kenny Florian was a brutal five-rounder in itself just by virtue of who was in it.
KenFlo was a much younger version of the calm, martial-arts master that he is now, while Sean Sherk was still the muscle-bound wrestling machine he's been know to be in the cage.
When you mix the two together, you have what went down when these two fought for the belt.
Not even KenFlo prove to be an easy opponent for Sean Sherk.
5. The Prodigy vs. Uno Shoten, Take II.
The first time didn't last long enough for it to qualify as a great fight, although it made for one hell of a knockout.
The second time was just a little bit rougher on the bodies of the two men involved.
BJ Penn and Caol Uno met in a rematch of their first fight when they both qualified for the Lightweight final of the UFC Lightweight Championship tournament at UFC 41.
How insane was the action?
Take a look at the fight and see for yourself how this insane lightweight battle for the belt ended.
And to think, if Jens Pulver was still in the UFC by this time, this fight might be the one that could be happening this Saturday in Boston.
Thank you, Jens!
Honorable Mention: Old School meets New School
Joe Lauzon may not seem like much now, but he is a big deal in the UFC whether you believe it or not.
Most will remember him from TUF 5 as part of Team Penn, so the mere idea of him fighting Pulver in Pulver's welcome-back into the UFC seemed more than plausible.
To fans of the sport who had followed Jens' early career, though, the thought of Pulver losing to a fighter who was a relative unknown was far from conceivable.
Lauzon proved otherwise in 48 seconds.
4. Sherk finally loses the belt he "never lost" against BJ Penn.
When Sean Sherk was found to have illegal substances in his system after fighting Hermes Franca and was stripped of his Lightweight belt, many wondered what the fate of the belt would be.
The UFC's solution? Put BJ Penn in a bloodbath against Joe Stevenson to decide an undisputed champ.
All well and good, except if you're either Joe Stevenson, who showed his true heart after being busted open by BJ Penn despite losing.
Well, then again, you could also be Sean Sherk.
See, when Sherk came back, he made a campaign for a shot at the belt he never lost and he got his shot at UFC 84 against Penn.
He held his own for three rounds, but ate a flying knee in the fourth before swallowing a few of BJ's rights to his face in what was actually an entertaining fight.
The bout may have gone down as a highlight on Penn's reel, but it will also be remembered for being one of he sport's best Lightweight title fights ever.
Not only because of what transpired, but also because on this night, Sherk was finally unable to keep saying that he never lost the Lightweight Belt.
3. The Nightmare vs. The Carpenter
Unquestionably, THE fight of 2009.
Of course, Diego Sanchez's fight with Clay Guida makes the list.
Think about it: no words needed to be exchanged, no cheap shots needed to be thrown at the weigh-ins, and no personal stabs needed to be made by either man to their opponent's lives.
Only two things needed to happen:
1. Diego Sanchez needed to be Diego Sanchez.
2. Clay Guida needed to be Clay Guida.
Sure, they're both not anywhere close to the top of their respective ladders, but you can't deny their intensity and their ability to produce one hell of a fight.
If you still think it's possible to overlook their intensity and their excitement level, check the fight out here.
Yeah, Diego needs a win over Paulo Thiago at UFC 121 and Guida needs to prove that he's not a gatekeeper at Lightweight, but at their respective divisions, there's no denying that these two men can still burn it up in The Octagon.
2. The Prodigy vs. Lil' Evil: The First Throwdown
So by now, you've figured out that some of the best lightweight fights in history have involved Penn and Pulver, right?
We've mentioned that, but we didn't talk about the fight that started it all.
We'll get to that later, but now I bring to you Penn Vs. Pulver I in its entirety.
See, after Jens first won the belt, he needed to face someone who was going to give him five rounds of trouble and then some. and at the time, no one could do that any better than BJ could.
It showed for both men throughout the duration of the fight, but something else showed that made all the difference in the fight:
When Penn first faced Pulver, he'd never gone on for longer than the first round.
Pulver proved himself to be the better conditioned fighter and took BJ to a majority decision, thus retaining the title.
Without question, though, this fight goes down as one of the sport's two best fights at 155, but not by the simple fact that it was the first.
It was the second Lightweight fight in MMA history to showcase two fighters who were hungry and willing to exhaust themselves for 25 minutes if it meant possibly becoming the champ.
1. Lil' Evil vs. Uno Shoten
No question that the fight that started it all makes the top of this list.
After all, someone had to set the standard for lightweight fights everywhere in MMA, and that's exactly what happened when Pulver met Uno at UFC 30 in Atlantic City.
Another tooth and nail fight that never stopped until the judges were left to decide a winner, Pulver and Uno went at it for the full twenty-five minutes, although Pulver to his credit got the better of Uno for the majority of the fight, neutralizing the best offense that Uno could muster as well as defending every shot that Uno tried to capitalize on for a takedown.
Give Uno credit for attempting to pull out a split-decision win, but Pulver got the majority and the belt in a bout that should be remembered as a true classic in MMA.
After all, every division needs a good launching pad, and this was a good way to kick off the Lightweight division which would grow to become one of the deepest and most respected MMA divisions in the sport today.
Modern-Day Classic: Toby Imada vs. Eddie "The Silent Assassin" Alvarez
One's a DREAM sensation, the other became a Lightweight sensation after scoring 2009's Submission Of The Year.
Eddie Alvarez was on a tear on his end of Bellator's first season Lightweight tournament and scored a couple of submission victories in the first round early on in the tournament en route to the finals.
Toby Imada, on the other hand, only nabbed one first-round submission win, while the win he gained over Jorge Masvidal (the famous Inverted Triangle Choke he locked in to meet Alvarez in the finals) came in round three.
Come Bellator 12, the stage would be set for what would be one hell of a Lightweight final...and it's only fitting that a company on the rise such as Bellator would set the stage for a Lightweight final such as this.
From The Land of The Rising Sun: Tobikan Judan vs. Uno Shoten
For those wondering what'd happen if Shinya Aoki ever faced Caol Uno in the ring or in the cage, let me be the first to tell you...
... It already happened.
A Lightweight Grand Prix took place at DREAM 5 and in the Quarter-Finals of the GP, Uno and Aoki were matched up.
What happened next was nothing short of a classic in its own right, though among all the crazy action on the feet and on the ground, Aoki left no doubt that he was the superior fighter.
Did I miss anything?
Man, that's so dumb!!
That is really DUMB, for real!
Seriously though, if I did leave a classic Lightweight fight out of the list, don't hesitate to let me know about it, and I'll add it to the list (more than likely as an Honorable Mention).
Thanks for viewing the slideshow, and don't forget to catch BJ Penn's rematch with Frankie Edgar this Saturday night at UFC 118!