MMA: Eddie Alvarez and the Top 10 Lightweights
Before Eddie Alvarez (22-2) defended his title Saturday night against Pat Curran (13-4), he was ranked by most as a top five lightweight fighter in the world.
The 27-year-old and Bellator lightweight champion won a unanimous decision over five rounds of out-boxing and out-working the TapouT reality TV star, but the fight missed the finish that Alvarez had done 19 times before.
With a dominant but hard-fought victory over a non-top 10 lightweight, Alvarez' status loses a little luster, but he still remains a top 10 lightweight.
No. 10 Anthony Pettis
Anthony Pettis (13-1) made his mark in MMA with his victory over WEC lightweight champion Ben Henderson in December. With that distinction, it's hard to leave him outside the top 10 lightweights despite not having a win over any top lightweights outside the WEC.
His UFC debut will be against Clay Guida (28-11) on June 4 at the Ultimate Fighter Finale. It will not only be a fight for a future UFC lightweight title shot, but it will also be both fighters' chance to establish their place in the top of the division.
No. 9 Sean Sherk
Sean Sherk (36-4-1) hasn't fought since winning a razor-close decision versus Evan Dunham at UFC 119. It was his only fight of the year, which has become a pattern for the former UFC lightweight champion since 2009. He has only fought five times since 2007 and has gone 3-2 in the process.
What keeps Sherk in the top 10 is the fact that his only defeats have come against current and former UFC champions.
The 37-year-old plans to return in the summer.
No. 8 Tatsuya Kawajiri
Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2) will make his Strikeforce and U.S. debut this Saturday in the co-main event. His opponent will be the Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez (18-2). It will be a rematch of their 2006 bout, which Melendez won by unanimous decision.
Since 2006, Kawajiri has gone 12-3 with his only defeats coming to current top 10 lightweights. His most recent victory came against Josh Thompson at Dynamite 2010.
No. 7 Kenny Florian
Former UFC lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian (14-5) will make a drop to the featherweight division to take on Diego Nunes at UFC 131.
Whether or not he remains in the 145 lb. division will be answered in July, but his position as a top lightweight is hard to argue because of the success he has had over the years in the most stacked and competitive division.
No. 6 Jim Miller
Jim Miller (20-2) will be waiting for a phone call on whether or not he gets the next title shot, but there's no doubt he deserves it.
The 27-year-old is on a seven-fight win streak including impressive victories over Kamal Shalorus, Charles Oliveira and Gleison Tibau.
His only two losses as a professional have been to current UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar and lightweight title challenger Gray Maynard.
No. 5 Eddie Alvarez
Eddie Alvarez (22-2), the Bellator lightweight champion, defeated Pat Curran this past weekend. Most fans thought the 27-year-old would overwhelm Curran and be able to finish him, but the fight went the distance.
Alvarez was dominant in victory but left fans wanting more of what they saw in 2010 when he finished UFC veterans Roger Huerta and Josh Neer. It will be tough to find potential challengers outside the UFC that can test Alvarez, who is on a seven-fight win streak, but his solid victories will keep him among the best.
No. 4 Shinya Aoki
Former Dream lightweight champion Shinya Aoki (26-5) is the last fighter to defeat Bellator lightweight champion Eddie Alvarez and is currently on a three-fight win streak. His last defeat came at the hands of Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez in 2010 when he lost a five-round unanimous decision.
The standout submission grappler, who has submitted 16 of his 31 opponents, will be fighting Lyle Beerbohm (16-1) this weekend on Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley. He must win to keep his status in the top five lightweights in the world. A loss would be an exit outside the top 10.
No. 3 Gilbert Melendez
Gilbert Melendez (18-2) is the current Strikeforce lightweight champion and will be defending his title against Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2) this weekend in the co-main event of Strikeforce: Diaz vs. Daley.
Melendez is 4-0 since 2010 and has had impressive victories over Josh Thompson, Shinya Aoki and Mitsuhiro Ishida. The Thompson and Ishida bouts were redemption fights for the only two losses of the Cesar Gracie jiu-jitsu student's career.
No. 2 Gray Maynard
The undefeated and determined Gray Maynard (10-0-1) will be fighting for the UFC lightweight championship in a third bout with Frankie Edgar (13-1) at UFC 130 on May 28.
The Xtreme Couture wrestler is the only man to hold a victory over Edgar, which came in their first bout, in a non-title fight. In the rematch, he showcased his power and dropped Edgar three times in the first round.
After a dominant first round, Edgar rebounded in the following rounds and the fight was ruled a split draw after five rounds of back-and-forth action in one of 2010's best fights.
No. 1 Frankie Edgar
Frankie Edgar (13-1-1) doesn't really get the respect he deserves for being a UFC champion who holds two victories over BJ Penn and is at a distinctive size disadvantage in almost all of his fights.
He showed his heart in the rematch with Gray Maynard. After being dropped three times in the first round, Edgar rebounded to secure a split draw and kept his title after five rounds. The third match with Maynard is scheduled for UFC 130 on May 28.