You asked for them, now here they are… After watching tons of tape and analzying every fighter’s skill level, this is what I’ve come up with. Brace yourself for the inaugural SportsNickel.com Top Ten MMA Lightweights. Would a top five have made more sense because of the nickel? Absolutely. But now we can say we’re giving you 100% more content for free! Damn, we’re nice.
1. B.J. Penn (15-6-1)
- L – Frankie Edgar [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Diego Sanchez [TKO, Doctor Stoppage]
- W – Kenny Florian [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
**Next Fight – Frankie Edgar
Yes, B.J. is still number one. Let me hear it haters. He was beaten, technically, by Frankie Edgar, but many people, if not most, had him actually winning the fight. The decision was so close in everyone’s eyes that they are having an immediate rematch this August. I’m sure Penn will show everyone why he’s still the number one lightweight in the world when he stops Frankie Edgar in the rematch. Penn just needs motivation to fight, and now he has it. No way it goes to a decision next time around. (Disclaimer: By no means am I a B.J. Penn fan. Just keeping it real.)
2. Frankie Edgar (12-1)
- W – B.J. Penn [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Matt Veach [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
- W – Sean Sherk [Decision, Unanimous]
**Next Fight – B.J. Penn
What an upset. He had a great gameplan and he executed it in the eyes of the judges. Not in my eyes, as I thought he lost. But whatever. What’s done is done and he’s on top of the world. Congrats. He’ll have to train harder than ever before if he wants to keep that belt from B.J. Penn’s grasp. I would advise him to use the same gameplan, but I don’t think that’s going to help. I guess we’ll see this summer.
3. Eddie Alvarez (19-2)
- W – Katsunori Kikuno [Submission, Arm Triangle Choke]
- W – Toby Imada [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
- W – Eric Reynolds [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
**Next Fight – Josh Neer
Eddie Alvarez is that one fighter you look at and wonder why he’s not in the UFC. I’m sure it’ll happen soon enough, but I think he likes fighting as much as possible and probably doesn’t want to rush anything. I think he’s ready, but what do I know? Everything, that’s what. Eddie’s boxing is pretty good and his wrestling/submission game is one of the top in the division. Those skills coupled with a good chin and his “Mexican heart” will get him far in MMA. Hopefully he’ll make it to the UFC soon as everyone should be watching this guy perform.
4. Kenny Florian (14-4)
- W – Takanori Gomi [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
- W – Clay Guida [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
- L – B.J. Penn [Submission, Rear Naked Choke]
**Next Fight – Gray Maynard
Kenny has looked like a new man since losing to B.J. Penn. His striking has improved and his focus seems to be unflappable. I thought he would have some trouble with Clay Guida’s wrestling and hyper motor, but he walked through that fight. Then Gomi was brought in and destroyed by Florian. His stick-and-move is impressive and he transfers from his Muay Thai to his boxing seamlessly. I can see another title shot in his future.
5. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)
- W – Shinya Aoki [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Josh Thomson [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Mitsuhiro Ishida [TKO, Punches]
**Next Fight – Unknown
Melendez walked all over the one-time #2 lightweight in the world, Shinya Aoki. It really wasn’t a fight to the casual spectator, but make no mistake about it, Aoki was one Melendez mistake away from winning. But Gilbert had a great gameplan and he dominted Aoki. His wrestling is great and his striking is ever improving. He wanted some love and now he has it. Number five Gilbert.
6. Ben Henderson (12-1-0)
- W – Donald Cerrone [Submission, Guillotine Choke]
- W – Jamie Varner [Submission, Guillotine Choke]
- W – Donald Cerrone [Decision, Unanimous]
**Next Fight – Unknown
Ben’s quick win over Donald Cerrone vaulted him all the way to number six. I wanted to place him above Melendez but couldn’t. Melendez just beat arguably the number two guy in the world (even if I didn’t think he was that good) so I have to give the edge to Gilbert. I would love for them to fight though. Would be quite interesting.
7. Shinya Aoki (23-5, 1 NC)
- L – Gilbert Melendez [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Mizuto Hirota [Technical Submission, Hammerlock]
- W – Joachim Hansen [Submission, Armbar]
**Next Fight – Unknown
Considered one of the top two lighweights in the world going into the fight with Gilbert Melendez, he came out in the bottom Top-10 in my eyes. Aoki is a grappler, plain and simple. Possibly the best in the division, but still. He has serviceable striking, but that’s about it. I’m always skeptical about putting purely overseas fighters amongst the top in any division and Aoki just proved my point. He came over here and got crushed. Hopefully he rebounds as he is pure class and gracious in defeat. The sport needs more people like him.
8. Tatsuya Kawajiri (26-5-2)
- W – Kazunori Yokota [Decision, Unanimous]
- W – Melchor Manibusan [TKO, Punches]
- W – Gesias Calvancante [Decision, Unanimous]
**Next Fight – Unknown
Kawajiri is another overseas fighter I had reservations about putting on this list. He is a really good fighter, no doubt, and that win over Calvancante is impressive. But he has struggled with size and strength. He lost to both Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez. Still, Kawajiri has won 7 or his last 8 and deserves to be on the list. He’s finished 18 of his 26 fights and 12 of those by knockout, so he’s still a very dangerous opponent at this weight.
9. Gray Maynard (9-0, 1 NC)
- W – Nate Diaz [Decision, Split]
- W – Roger Huerta [Decision, Split]
- W – Jim Miller [Decision, Unanimous]
**Next Fight – Kenny Florian
Gray is boring. There I said it. He’s a great wrestler. Probably the best in the division. But he lacks the ability to finish. Six straight decision victories. I guess a win is a win, but he really needs to learn to put guys away. I know, he beat up Jim Miller with his stand up and he almost had Huerta with that kimura. Close but no cigar. And I really don’t know if he really won that Huerta fight. I had it 29-28 Roger, but whatever. He does press, so that’s good, and his striking is improving. Maybe he’ll get a finish soon. Maybe.
10. Roger Huerta (21-3-1, 1 NC)
- W – Chad Hinton [Submission, Kneebar]
- L – Gray Maynard [Decision, Split]
- L – Kenny Florian [Decision, Unanimous]
**Next Fight – Pat Curran
Nice win in the first round of the Bellator lightweight tournament against Chad Hinton. Hinton’s strength seemed to surprise Roger at first and he got in some bad postitions early. But after he figured it out, he used his stand up to completely take Hinton out of his gameplan. I always thought Roger would’ve been the one to dethrone B.J. Penn if he would’ve had the chance. Believe it or not, Roger is a great wrestler. He choses to stand and trade, something I respect, but he can take it to the ground and win there. I fully expect him to win the tournament and get a shot at Eddie Alvarez’s title. Now that fight is going to be awesome.