UFC Lightweights: Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Top Fighter

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistAugust 10, 2012

UFC Lightweights: Breaking Down the Strengths and Weaknesses of Each Top Fighter

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    The lightweight division is one of the most torrid-paced, hard-nosed weight classes in the UFC.

    With superb kickboxers, excellent wrestlers and gritty boxers, the division's top contenders offer various Octagon strengths.

    However, as good as these athletes are, there are various holes in their games.

    Here's the breakdown of each top lightweight's main strength and distinct weakness.

13. Edson Barboza

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    Strength: Kickboxing

    Edson Barboza has become one of the most well-rounded athletes in the lightweight division.  He has often utilized his range and speed to catch opponents off guard and finish them, evident by his legendary wheel-kick knockout of Terry Etim at UFC 142.

    For Barboza, this sort of success can only be attributed to his kickboxing.  With long legs, crisp kicks and outstanding flexibility, the Brazilian has become one of the most unpredictable aggressors in the division's striking department.

    Weakness: Experience

    As impressive as Barboza has been through his first five UFC fights, he just hasn't fought the best of the best. 

    At 26 years of age, there's certainly time to fix that.  But after getting overwhelmed by a veteran like Jamie Varner in his last fight, losing by TKO in the first round, it may take Barboza more time to mature than initially expected.

12. Melvin Guillard

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    Strength: KO Power

    Melvin "The Young Assassin" Guillard is undoubtedly the most powerful lightweight in the UFC.  His devastating KO power has led to seven victories by KO or TKO and is responsible for two KO of the Night awards.

    Balancing that power on top his boxing background has manifested his career nicely.  Guillard is one of the most respected standup specialists in the division today and has utilized raw size and the instinct to finish to become a true KO practitioner.

    Weakness: Submission Defense

    As good as Guillard is on his feet, his ground game is anything but special.  He's often so powerful and precise standing up, that his opponents opt to take him down and submit him.

    Unfortunately for Guillard, more importantly his title hopes, getting submitted is often the case as he's lost every one of his UFC fights via submission.

    You'd think his jiu-jitsu game would have evolved by now, but with such success on his feet, Guillard seems content to test the waters in any environment.

11. Jamie Varner

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    Strength: Versatility

    Out of nearly every lightweight fighter on this list, Jamie Varner is one of the most well-rounded.  He has one-punch KO power, solid wrestling, capable submissions and a very good chin. 

    He may have been recently submitted by Joe Lauzon at UFC 149, but that was more or less a product of Lauzon's world-class submission game.

    Weakness: Cardio

    As of now, maybe not so much in the past, Varner's cardio is becoming suspect.  One of the biggest reasons why he lost his bout with Lauzon is because he gassed after just one round. 

    Varner's pace in the first was very eccentric and allowed him to catch "J-Lau" frequently, but it left him unable to throw power strikes in the second and third.

    Going forward, it's going to be interesting to see how Varner handles some of the best athletes in the division.  If he happens to ascend the lightweight ladder, he'll probably have issues against pace-pushers like Clay Guida, Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz and Diego Sanchez.

10. Donald Cerrone

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    Strength: Kickboxing

    Donald "Cowboy" Cerrone is one of the most successful kickboxers in the UFC today.  His professional kickboxing record currently stands at 28-0-1, and he has carried over that dominance to the UFC.

    Cerrone has used not only speed in his kicks, but power, to dismantle respectable strikers such as Jeremy Stephens. 

    He may have looked suspect against Nate Diaz at UFC 141, but who hasn't struggled against Diaz?

    Weakness: Lack of Championship Mentality

    Considering Cerrone has lost only four times in his career to top-level contenders like Diaz, Benson Henderson and Jamie Varner, it's difficult to point out one clear weakness in his game.

    For the most part, Cerrone is very well-rounded.  He has a great chin, good boxing, useful submissions and sharp knees.

    But if there has to be one weakness in his game, it's the fact that Cerrone has never been able to win a title.  He seems to choke whenever the pressure is truly on.

9. Jim Miller

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    Strength: Ground Game

    Jim Miller possesses one of the most prolific ground games in the division.  Not only is he an elite wrestler, but he often uses that skill to gain access to submission attempts.

    Miller has secured 20 takedowns since his debut back in 2008 and has won four times in the UFC via submission.

    With power and strength on his side, Miller's success in all ground facets should continue to thrive.

    Weakness: Striking Speed

    Miller isn't the worst striker in the division, but he's no way near the fastest.

    As a wrestler first, puncher second, it serves him better to be somewhat bulky and stationary.  However, it has hurt him in the past against some of the division's better in-and-out strikers.

    If Miller can work on his boxing and manifest his punches and kicks into crisp offensive attacks, his title hopes could flourish.

8. Diego Sanchez

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    Strength: Pushing the Pace

    As of earlier this month, Diego Sanchez is coming back to the lightweight division.  That automatically makes him a top contender and an immediate bet for a future title shot.

    What makes Sanchez such a special talent is his unmatched ability to get in your face and win a fight strictly by pushing the pace.  As a former welterweight, Sanchez has the ability to suffocate smaller lightweights and implement his world-class ground and pound.

    His past battles with Clay Guida and Joe Stevenson are evident to that and are proof that Sanchez is one of the most unpredictable fighters in the division.

    Weakness: Divisional Experience

    Sanchez is a very experienced UFC fighter, but his first stint in the lightweight division only lasted three fights.

    Two of them were against guys who are no longer part of the division (Joe Stevenson and BJ Penn).  The fact of the matter is that Sanchez hasn't really seen a Jim Miller, Donald Cerrone or Gray Maynard before.

    It will be interesting to see what kind of splash Sanchez makes the second time around.

7. Clay Guida

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    Strength: Chin

    Maybe the hardest chin the division has ever seen, Clay Guida's iron face never seems to fail him.  In fact, the 30-year-old has never been knocked out in his career or finished by punches.

    Unlike many top contenders on this list, Guida's chin is a bona fide offensive attack.  He can take punches, exhaust his opponent, leave them open and implement a formidable ground game.

    We've seen in the past that Guida often has to bleed in order to wake up in a fight, but his chin stays active from bell to bell.

    Weakness: Unorthodox Striking

    Even though Guida's chin has never been beaten, his standup has.

    Often looking like an uneducated boxer trying to find his range, Guida sometimes seems to struggle on his feet due in part to throwing unorthodox strikes.

    These strikes have left him looking like a dancing maniac without a head.  It has worked in the past, but it's also failed him miserably.

6. Joe Lauzon

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    Strength: Finishing Ability

    After submitting Jamie Varner earlier this month and earning Submission of the Night and Fight of the Night honors, Joe Lauzon can officially be considered the most successful finisher in the division.

    Throughout his five-year UFC career, "J-Lau" has finished every one of his nine wins by either KO, TKO or submission.  He has captured honors for Submission of the Night six times, Fight of the Night four times and KO of the Night once.

    Lauzon has become the epitome of a finisher.  He's one of the best gamers at 155 lbs. and never seems to give up on a fight.  He has average power in his hands, but possesses solid boxing and elite submissions.

    He should have no problem continuing his torrid pace en route to a future title shot.

    Weakness: Punching Power

    As previously mentioned, Lauzon doesn't possess serious power.

    He often has to throw punches in bunches to inflict significant damage on his opponents.  Lauzon did KO Jens Pulver in his UFC debut with one punch, but he has only finished Kyle Bradley with strikes since then.

    With that said, striking seems to be the only department in which Lauzon is missing strength in.  He can pretty much sweep and secure transitions over any lightweight in the division.

5. Anthony Pettis

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    Strength:  Excellent Striking

    Evident by his wall kick to Benson Henderson's head at WEC 53, Anthony Pettis is one special striker.  So much so that he has never been knocked out, and Clay Guida is the only fighter to out-strike Pettis after three rounds (mostly a product of Guida's takedowns).

    The fact of the matter is that "Showtime" is as dangerous on his feet as any lightweight has ever been.  He has outstanding head kicks, heavy hands, great quickness and an understanding for what to throw and when.

    If he can secure yet another KO finish over a divisional contender, Pettis should find himself competing for a title by the end of 2013.

    Weakness: Maturity

    This may sound like a stretch, but a fighter's maturity is very important in prolonging Octagon success.

    Now Pettis is by no means a loose cannon or an unfocused young gun, but at 25 years old, he may not possess the mental magnitude that other elite contenders do.

    Over the next year, as he fights another top guy in the division, he should gain a little more experience in the UFC and use that to win fights by game planning, training and making smart decisions.

4. Gray Maynard

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    Strength: Size

    Gray Maynard is one of the biggest fighters the lightweight division has ever seen.  He's bulky, powerful and full of rage, which makes his wrestling skills that more potent.

    In the past, Maynard has utilized his size and power to overwhelm smaller fighters like Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz and Frankie Edgar on multiple occasions.

    Not for nothing, but "The Bully" hasn't compiled a professional record of 11-1-1 on good looks and elite striking.

    Weakness: Finishing Ability

    Frankie Edgar is the only man to ever beat Maynard inside the cage.  That's saying a lot.

    The fact of the matter is that Maynard is one of the most successful UFC fighters today.  He never seems to be overwhelmed, never seems to be out-matched and never seems to fail.

    However, that doesn't necessarily mean he finishes fights.

    Maynard has definitely struggled in the past to put guys away.  We saw it against Edgar,  Guida and in every close decision he captured.

3. Nate Diaz

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    Strength: Overall Demeanor

    Like his brother Nick, Nate Diaz is one of the best trash talkers in the UFC today.  The problem for other elite lightweights is that the Californian backs it up at every moment in a fight.

    His overall demeanor is sometimes exhausting for his opponents.  Diaz's style often leads to fighters throwing caution to the wind and forgetting their own game plans that they had hashed out months before.

    He's a street brawler with excellent jiu-jitsu and a guy that will impose his will even when he's losing.

    It's a rare combination but one that has led to Diaz being the consensus No. 1 title contender.

    Weakness: Wrestling

    Diaz is very well-rounded on the ground.  His submissions are world-class, and his transitions are often pulled off with ease.

    But considering his size and relatively light base, he's always suspect for a takedown.

    Throughout his five-year UFC career, Josh Neer and Alvin Robinson are the only opponents Diaz has secured more takedowns than.

    Now while takedowns aren't a big part of his offensive game, it's the fact that other wrestlers have had much success against Diaz in that department, which makes it a distinct weakness.

2. Frankie Edgar

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    Strength: Footwork

    As Joe Rogan likes to say, "Frankie never stops giving angles". [19 min]

    It's true.  Frankie Edgar is literally always moving.  He's always switching up attacks and angles to complement his crisp boxing and elite speed.

    And even though he lacks the raw power to knock guys out, despite finishing Gray Maynard, Edgar is still a dangerous striker.

    There's a reason why he's become a perennial champion and title contender.  It's his footwork.  It's rarely matched.

    Weakness: Size

    Edgar's size has been called into question before, and it seems like it's still a relevant weakness.

    The fact is that he's one of the only guys in the sport that doesn't cut weight.  He walks around at 155 and fights at 155. 

    Not only is that truly rare, but it's exceptionally impressive.  However, it does serve as a weakness inside the cage when his opponents are literally 20 lbs. heavier.

    He may have the cardio to last five rounds, but he's going to take a beating.  If he loses to Benson Henderson again this weekend at UFC 150, it may be time for Edgar to drop down to featherweight.

1. Benson Henderson

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    Strength: Athleticism

    Benson Henderson has turned into one of the most athletic fighters on the planet.

    With disciplines in boxing, Muay Thai, Taekwondo and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Henderson is the complete package.

    He never seems out-matched inside the cage and has used kicks, wrestling, power, unorthodox strikes and speed to overwhelm his opponents en route to a UFC championship.

    At this point, taking his size and offensive movement into consideration, Henderson could be considered the Jon Jones of the lightweight division.

    Weakness: Nothing Yet

    When it comes down to it, every fighter has a weakness. 

    But considering what Henderson has done throughout his four fights in the UFC, he may be the exception to the rule.

    Nobody has been able to stop him thus far, but Frankie Edgar will try to prove this weekend that the belt belongs in New Jersey and that "Smooth" isn't so suave.

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