We complete our July MMA top ten rankings with the lightweights, which is always the toughest class to rank, since the best competitors are truly spread out around the world. There’s nothing wrong with a little controversy though, so let’s get right into the lightweight rankings.
Before we get started, some info on the rankings themselves. They are all decided solely by yours truly, so direct any and all hate mail in my direction, please. Also, I will be using North American weight classes, and any fighters from around the world that do not fit into them will be put in the weight classes that they are closest to. The rankings will reflect not only the results of a fighter’s bouts, but also the quality of competition faced, the way in which they won/lost their fights, and my own assessment of their abilities. Recent fights will be heavily favored, so please don’t bother to argue that a big win seven years ago means that a fighter should be ranked higher than I have them.
1. B.J. Penn (13-5-1)
Penn’s stock has undoubtedly dropped some from the decisive loss to UFC Welterweight Champion Georges St. Pierre (and the fiasco that followed), but should it have? Probably not, since Penn is a very small welterweight, while GSP is a pretty good-sized one who just happens to be possibly the best pound-for-pound fighter in the world, to boot. Still, seeing Penn get dominated inevitably changes one’s feelings about the lightweight champ. Luckily for Penn, he is back in the division where he belongs, with a tough contender in Kenny Florian who he can use to remind us of his elite skills.
2. Shinya Aoki (20-4, 1 NC)
You would expect Aoki to have more momentum after a win over former top ten lightweight Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro. Unfortunately, Aoki used an admittedly smart game plan that nonetheless only proved that Aoki has better standup than Shaolin, which surprised us all. Still, it was a big win, and Aoki will look to keep the momentum up while putting the violent loss to “Mach” Sakurai farther in the rear view.
3. Kenny Florian (11-3)
It seems crazy to put Florian this high, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t earn it. He hasn’t lost in nearly three years and has had quality wins against Din Thomas, Roger Huerta, and Joe Stevenson, among others. What’s more, he has looked very impressive in each fight, and has improved as much as anyone in the sport in the last few years. Florian is going to get the opportunity to put his ever-improving Muay Thai and ground game to the test against the division’s best talent in one week. We’ll see if he makes the best of it.
4. Eddie Alvarez (18-2)
Alvarez has been quite dominant in the Bellator Fighting Championships, winning all three of his fights by submission to reel off a nice win streak dating back to his submission loss to Shinya Aoki last New Year’s Eve. With other wins in the division against Tatsuya Kawajiri and Joachim Hansen, Alvarez is a very good talent who will only continue to improve. It will be interesting to see who he faces next.
5. Joachim Hansen
Hansen hasn’t been able to fight since his excellent win last year over Shinya Aoki in Dream, with his fight against Gesias Cavalcante being called off at the last minute due to medical concerns with Hansen himself. Still, Hansen has proven himself to be an elite lightweight over the last few years, and the win over the second best lightweight in the world is enough to keep him fairly high in the rankings for now.
6. Satoru Kitaoka (25-8-9)
Kitaoka is not only noteworthy for the fact that he has 9 draws, but also that he has submitted five out of his last six opponents in the first round. The longest one of those took one minute and forty-one seconds, against former top lightweight in the world, Takanori Gomi. That’s a pretty impressive run, and Kitaoka will look to keep it going against the underrated Mizuto Hirota.
7. Tatsuya Kawajiri (24-5-2)
With only a loss against one of the world’s top middleweights to blemish his UFC record, Mike Swick is just now finally being taken seriously as a title contender. He is 4-0 in the welterweight division, and even though he looks damn near unhealthy at 170 pounds, he will be facing Martin Kampmann (also a reformed middleweight) for a title shot soon. Swick has always been a dynamic athlete, and he will have to be to go far in this division.
8. Frankie Edgar (10-1)
Edgar was largely underrated before his dominating performance against Sean Sherk, where he frequently beat Sherk to the punch and made his opponent look a step slow the entire fight. “The Answer” has beaten such opponents as Tyson Griffin, Spencer Fisher, Hermes Franca and Sherk in his UFC tenure, and probably is only a fight or two away from a title shot because of his propensity towards decision victories.
9. Diego Sanchez (21-2)
Sanchez was at one point a top five welterweight, and has brought the same intensity, conditioning and stifling ground attack with him down to the lightweight ranks. He has had only two fights in the division, but they were a win over Joe Stevenson and a win in a Fight of the Year candidate against Clay Guida. He has said more than once that he thinks he is ready for a title shot, citing his win over Kenny Florian years ago on “The Ultimate Fighter” finale. Of course, a lot has changed since then, but if Florian is able to upset Penn, it would be an interesting matchup.
10. Sean Sherk (33-4-1)
It’s easy to get down on a guy who has had two of his four career losses in his last three fights, but with wins over Florian, Franca and Griffin in the lightweight division, Sherk should be able to bounce back. The most disappointing element of his loss to Frankie Edgar is that Sherk resigned himself to standing up with the quicker puncher and chasing him throughout the fight. It would have been better to see Sherk commit himself a little more to shooting for takedown attempts, just as he should have against Penn.
Also in Consideration: Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Gesias Cavalcante, Mizuto Hirota, Gray Maynard, Jamie Varner, Mach Sakurai, Josh Thomson, Gil Melendez
by Jon Hartley for Fightmania.com
Tags: B.J. Penn, Clay Guida, Diego Sanchez, DREAM, Eddie Alvarez, Frankie Edgar, Georges St. Pierre, Gray Maynard, Joachim Hansen, Joe Stevenson, Kenny Florian, Martin Kampmann, Mike Swick, Sean Sherk, Shinya Aoki, Tatsuya Kawajiri, UFC