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Brady: Aoki and the lightweight rankings — stop the madness!

I have a serious beef with a lot of the lightweight rankings I see currently. I don’t normally follow different rankings but recently I ran into one that had Japanese submission phenom, Shinya Aoki, as the the number rated lightweight in the world. I laughed out loud. Now don’t get me wrong, Aoki is an extremely gifted athlete, but I just couldn’t believe that the particular website I was visiting really believed that he was the best fighter in the division. As I started looking through some of the other names in the top ten list I was dumbfounded as to how many names that shouldn’t have been on there, IMHO, were on there.

I thought ‘Stop the press!’, these people have lost their minds. Surely there must be other ranking polls out there that made some kind of sense. The more I looked around, the more it seemed to me that a lot of people may be copy and pasting the top ten lists of others and then just mixing the names up. It was a lot of the same, everywhere I went. I’ll get into some of the other names that made my jaw drop but I wanted to clear up a few things first.

I feel, and have always felt that rankings are extremely different depending on who you ask. One persons opinion on the matter is no better than the next, just as my opinion on these rankings are just that, an opinion like any other. Now that that’s out of the way I feel like I will definitely need to put a disclaimer before I start into this article to let everyone know that I am absolutely not a “UFC fanboy”. I love mixed martial arts. I am a huge fan everything that the sport is. The UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction, Shooto, Dream, Cage Rage, Rage in the Cage, I don’t care. I am as unbiased a fan of the sport as they come. I even used to watch BET’s Iron Ring regularly, it’s sad but true. The reason I have to say all of that because this little write up is sure going to look like I have a huge crush on the UFC.

The bottom line is this. On most of the rankings from extremely credible sources that I came across had maybe two or three guys on the list from the UFC. The usual suspects, and deservedly so, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk and Kenny Florian. You mean to tell me that there are generally only three guys fighting out of the UFC that belong in the top ten. There are between 5 – 8 fighters not in the UFC on most top ten lists. Stop the madness!

First off, Shinya Aoki is NOT the best lightweight fighter in the world, and he’s not the second, or the third for that matter. I will admit, straight off, I am a huge Aoki fan. Since this piece is going to hopelessly riddled with personal opinion, I may as well say that I feel like Aoki is the most dangerous submission artist (pound for pound) in the business today. Maybe flashy mounted gogoplatas over guys like Katsuhiko Nagata have some people catching the vapors, but anyone that feels like Aoki would somehow defeat B.J. Penn is sadly mistaken.

Aoki’s biggest wins that could be used as weight in an argument for him being the best lightweight in the world came over Eddie Alvarez and Joachim Hansen, two other men that are mysteriously in just about everyone’s lightweight top ten rankings. Alvarez’ biggest win recently came over Hansen, who’s biggest win was over Aoki, who recently defeated Alvarez. It’s like this great big triangle of lightweight ranking insanity. I guess you could throw Gesias Calvancante into Aoki’s recent list of relevant wins, but that wouldn’t make for a really good triangle now would it. Calvancante is another one that causes me to scratch my head as far as the top ten status goes, but I’ll get to that. I’ve got a lot on my chest.

I can’t discuss every single guy in all of the top ten lists that I don’t feel belong there, but I can speak on the the few names that consistently popped up that left me extremely perplexed.

Eddie Alvarez, another guy I’m personally a big fan of, but another guy I don’t feel belongs near the top of many lightweight lists at this point in time. He had a couple big wins in fights that ended up being back and forth brawls against two other highly over rated fighters, Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri, but outside of that, there’s nothing that stands out on his resume. He beat Andre “Dida” Amade, one of my favorite fighters in the world to watch, but hardly a top lightweight. Most places I went, Alvarez was in the top five, I’m calling shenanigans.

I’ve already brought him up so let me just go ahead and touch up on Joachim Hansen. I’ve seen him ranked from #1 to #5, but he’s another guy that’s in the top of most lists. This one just has me pulling the hair out of my head. Hansen, a top five fighter? He’s an extremely dangerous, well rounded fighter, but this is just ridiculous. I’ll come out and say that the only reason he is among the cream of the crop on a lot of these lists is because of one victory. Hansen knocked out Aoki, but seriously folks, he just got through losing to Eddie Alvarez and before that, I distinctly remember Aoki choking the life out of him with his foot. Are these three guys seriously that much better than all of the guys in the UFC to where their wins over each other in Japan really carry that much weight? I beg to differ.

I’m going to start digging into the UFC fighters that I was shocked to see absent from most top ten lists but there are a few more bones I have to pick with what seems to be, popular opinion about who is the top of food chain in the lightweight division.

Next up, Gesias “JZ” Calvancante, not a top ten lightweight, but surprisingly present on more than a couple rankings lists. Shouldn’t a fighters activity and recent victories be factored into the equation? I sure hope so. If that was the case, most wouldn’t have to research very hard to realize that Calvancante hasn’t notched a win in the last year. There’s a big shiny loss on his record to Aoki, a no contest to Aoki, and a whole lot of inactivity but that’s about it. Still, he consistently makes just about every important top ten rankings list in the game. Don’t get me wrong, Calvancante’s got some good wins over guys like Rani Yahya, Caol Uno, Nam Phan and Vitor Ribeiro, but that was in the past. Either way, I don’t think those wins justify top five or ten status by any stretch of the imagination.

Moving on, there’s Satoru Kitaoka. Who? Exactly. He’s the guy that a lot of people are ranking really high because of his recent win over Takanori Gomi, who has been an absolute train wreck lately. I’m not going to even touch on Gomi, even though he’s another guy that doesn’t belong anywhere near a top ten ranking, I need to deal with Kitaoka. A guy that seems to be tough as nails and has some very impressive wins in his past, but a guy that many seem to be jumping the gun with as far as how good he really is. I could name a hand full of guys in the UFC that I would bet money on to beat Gomi right now. A top ten ranking for Kitaoka seems a bit sudden for my taste.

Last guy that really demands addressing is going to be Tatsuya Kawajiri. His most recent bout was a knockout loss to the previously mentioned Eddie Alvarez. Before that he racked up wins over names like Luiz Firmino, Kultar Gill, and Luiz Azaredo just after suffering a loss to former Strikeforce champion, Gilbert Melendez. Kawajiri is a veteran and a well equipped fighter but should not be ranked above many of the guys in the UFC that I am about to tear into.

After all the fighters I have just mentioned, now I can dive into some of the guys in the UFC that I am constantly bewildered to see missing from the majority of lightweight top ten lists. For all of those that I have mentioned previously, you can just scratch them off the current top ten rankings until they face meaningful competition and replace them with some of these guys.

Gray Maynard, open up the door and let this guy in. Undefeated in seven bouts, Maynard has racked up wins over Dennis Siver, Rich Clementi and most impressively, Frankie Edgar in the last year. Three wins against some of the best in the business in his last three fights. Personally, I’ll take Maynard’s win against Edgar over Kitaoka’s win over Gomi, any day of the week.

It may be a little early to add Diego Sanchez to this list, as he has only had one fight at lightweight, but with a record of 20-2 against some of the best in the sport, and a recent win over Joe Stevenson, I feel comfortable replacing someone like Calvancante or Kawajiri with Sanchez. In fact Diego’s only two losses have come by decision, and to two of the very best welterweights in mixed martial arts, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck. I’m sure ‘The Nightmare’ will find his way to some of the top rankings lists after his next bout at lightweight but I see no reason for him to not be on that list right now.

How about Frankie Edgar? Here is a guy that I feel should be on top ten lightweight lists across the board. Edgar’s sole defeat in mixed martial arts came against the previously mentioned Gray Maynard and his resume reads like a who’s who list of top lightweights. Edgar’s last five victories have come over Jim Miller, Tyson Griffin, Mark Bocek, Spencer Fisher and Hermes Franca. ‘Nuff said.

Tyson Griffin has definitely proven that he deserves mentioning when talking about the top fighters at 155 pounds. His recent toe to toe war with consensus top five lightweight and former UFC champion, Sean Sherk, showed that Griffin would be no easy fight for anyone in the world at 155 pounds. Wins over guys like Marcus Aurelio, Clay Guida, Duane Ludwig and Urijah Faber while only losing close decisions to two of the best little men in the sport prove that Griffin is among the top of his weight class.

Of course there are definitely some honorable mentions coming out of the UFC that I feel demand consideration. Clay Guida is, in my personal opinion, the most under rated fighter in the business. He showed exactly how good he was in his most recent victorious outing against Nate Diaz. A fight many people believed he would lose. Guida makes a fight out of it no matter who he’s in there with and anyone that shows up against Guida thinking they’re going to have an easy night better think again.

Roger Huerta is a talented fighter that could easily be considered for top ten honors, just based on the fact that I feel his style would be too much for someone like Aoki and poses problems for just about anyone he faces.

Rounding out the honorable mentions list we have J-Lau, Joe Lauzon. Another really under estimated, seldom talked about lightweight with a ton of talent.

That just about covers it. That’s my argument or my opinion that most lightweight rankings you will see compiled today are incredibly questionable. It seems like a lot of the foreign fighters, specifically fighters out of organizations like Dream or Sengoku are given way too much credit for the opposition they have faced.

This piece wouldn’t be complete without me adding my own personal top ten lightweight rankings for everyone to pick apart and laugh at, and it’s coming. However, first I would like to include my random UFC fighters that I truly believe would smash Shinya Aoki, the majority top ranked lightweight in the world. Eat your heart out.

B.J. Penn, Gray Maynard, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Roger Huerta, Tyson Griffin, Nate Diaz, I said it, Nate Diaz would knock Aoki out, and last but not least, Clay Guida. Put that in your microwave and press start.

1. B.J. Penn
2. Kenny Florian
3. Sean Sherk
4. Gray Maynard
5. Frankie Edgar
6. Tyson Griffin
7. Josh Thomson
8. Diego Sanchez
9. Shinya Aoki
10.Clay Guida

  • Pulp says:

    I only have one problem with your list at the moment: Diego Sanchez. Simply put, I do not feel he deserves to be number 8 in the top 10 after only one fight. If anything I’d say he’d be 10 simply for the fact that he pushed Joe “Daddy” out entirely. After his fight with Guida he can start moving vertically. Until then I can not concede to him as number 8. Then again, who am I?

  • JeffR says:

    That list is about as close to correct as I could see it being. 1-3 is perfect, w/the remaining sever being pretty much interchangeable. I don’t get the obsession w/Japanese fighters, or the Japanese MMA scene in general. These guys come over and get spanked by the top UFC competition pretty consistently. I think the pundits writing these lists feel more of an obligation to shed light on the Japanese MMA community and spread the word that there is more than just the UFC, than to coming up w/credible top 10 lists.

  • mmaking says:


    1. PENN
    2. FLORIAN
    3. SHERK
    4. TYSON
    5. ALVAREZ
    6. HANSEN
    7. JZ
    8. THOMSON
    9. AOKI
    10. CLAY

  • JJ Docker says:

    Spot on with almost everything you said. But that’s not the point. The article is well written, considered and passionate – regardless of whether people agree with you or not. Top marks, a compelling read. And it just so happens I agree with you about Aoki, Hansen and Alvarez. Fans can delude themselves, and then talk of a ‘Pride curse’ as some sort of justification for fighters that are well hyped in Japan not doing so well in the UFC. But the bottom line is, I think, and one day hope to see, these fighters exposed if they came over to the UFC. They’re not bad fighters, at all, but certainly not as good as the rankings make them out to be.

  • dpk says:

    Thank you for this article, I’ve also felt that the UFC LW division was being underrated by the “experts” for along time

    1. B.J. Penn
    2. Sean Sherk
    3. Kenny Florian
    4. Gray Maynard
    5. Shinya Aoki
    6. Frankie Edgar
    7. Josh Thomson
    8. Diego Sanchez
    9. Tyson Griffin
    10. Eddie Alverez

    Guida and Jim Miller are two knocking on the door. I also think a year from Now Sanchez could be #1 on this list

  • kidneybeans says:

    I certainly won’t argue any of your rankings largely becuase I don’t really care about rankings all that much. But I will suggest that the guys from DREAM and WVR are given so much credit by those that publish rankings because they have been crowned champion, or in some cases eliminated, through a tournament process.

    Many people, myself included, see tournaments as the best way to determine champs or number one contenders. I don’t personally see any problem with your logic on the rankings you came up with but I can also understand giving more weight to fighters who’s opponents are based on progressing through the rounds of a tournament, theorietically making each opponent more difficult than the previous one. In the UFC they fight who they are told to fight, in a tournament they fight who they have to fight.

    Of course the argument that the UFC contains a far greater level of competiton top to bottom is very legitimate. I’m just saying I see why tournament winners would be ranked very highly. And I know Aoki didn’t win his tourney, but that is where your triangle comes into play.

  • kidneybeans says:

    theoretically* looks a little better but probably still wrong

  • cocoonofhorror says:

    great article. the Aoki hype is annoying as hell, and needs to stop. Nate Diaz would masticate on him.

  • Mad Xyientist says:

    Congratulations on finding SpikeTV and your new love of Ultimate Fighting. I’m impressed that you managed to string so many words together and use boldface so well, but as far as MMA analysis, I have a mentally-challenged cocker spaniel (Tootsy) that made a better set of lightweight rankings.

    This was my favorite part:

    “I am absolutely not a “UFC fanboy”…I am as unbiased a fan of the sport as they come.”

    Why would you feel the need to pre-emptively defend yourself of being biased with such a solid piece of journalism as this one?

  • MMASwami says:

    That is easily one of the most ridiculous lists I’ve ever seen. Maybe you should take the time to learn the definition between ranking and opinions.

  • PoD135 says:

    Compare his list to the rest of the “extremely credible sources”.
    Forget taking the consensus or average of the “extremely credible sources” rankings with their differing opinions, analysis, experience, and backgrounds.
    Just ask ONE man Cory “”Stop the Madness” Brady.

  • cocoonofhorror says:

    lol @ the difference between rankings and opinions. enlighten us, please.

  • cocoonofhorror says:

    for the record, the rankings are crap, but rankings are nothing more than one’s opinion, so i wouldnt disagree, so much as i would post my own rankings for you to internally laugh about. [IMO] Maynard aint THAT good. Alvarez NEEDS to be on there somewhere, as does Diaz. Aoki should be higher, like 6. JT will shock people is he gets back to the UFC. [/IMO]

  • madiq says:

    The problem with your analysis is that it’s totally biased in favor of the notion that the “best” lightweight fighters fight in the UFC, when, historically speaking, that hasn’t been the case.

    Rankings aren’t conceived of — with 100% subjectivity — in a vacuum, they are a “snapshot in time” of the evolution of achievement. Thus, you can’t have an ACTUAL top 10 without conceptualizing some proto-Top 10 which the fighters on the list had to beat in order to earn their spots.

    And therein lies the rub. The UFC went around 5 years without a lightweight division…that didn’t mean there wasn’t a Top 10. Indeed, what it meant is that the ENTIRE Top 10 was outside of the UFC, and when the UFC started its division, it needed to either acquire Top 10 fighters, or wait for the existing Top 10 fighters to lose, while its fighters gradually proved their mettle against non-Top 10 competition. That said, fighting non-top 10 guys doesn’t necessarily mean you’re fighting “inferior” competition, merely competition which hasn’t acquired an extensive resume.

    And speaking of resumes, a fighter needs to accumulate quality wins in the division to get ranked; he doesn’t have a Top 10 spot waiting for him in a lower weight class just because he was Top 10 in a higher one.

    So you ask why there are so many guys who fight in Japan in the Lightweight Top 10? Simple — it’s where the Top 10 lightweights WERE, and as those fighters lost, the fighters who won built their resumes off those wins. The UFC used two guys who were dropping down from welterweight to crown its Lightweight Champion, and that guy went a year before defending it, only to test positive for steroids in the win, then returned to get beat by BJ Penn. The circularity of the logic that says that BJ Penn, who beat the aforementioned fighter, as well as Jens Pulver (a fighter who has proven not to be an elite FEATHERWEIGHT) is the division’s #1 guy is just as tenuous as the Aoki-Alvarez-Hansen-JZ musical chair, except, as someone previously mentioned, these guys proved their mettle in tournaments, fighting multiple times a year, without necessarily knowing who their opponents would be. Saying Clay Guida, Tyson Griffin, and Frankie Edgar should be ranked uses the same twisted circularity as the DREAM example, except those guys have been doing it on undercards, while the guys in Japan have been doing it in main events, with belts at stake.

    That’s the essence of Top 10 rankings — over time, the underrated become properly rated, and the overrated are exposed. You want this to happen immediately, and in favor of fighters you THINK are the best, but haven’t proven it by BEATING the best. And that’s just more subjective than rankings need to be. Madness indeed.

  • Amigop says:

    IMO This rankings are a waste of time, we could argue all day if aoki could beat any of the ufc guys, but the truth is its highly unlikey any of them will fight.

    that being said i think aoki subs Gray Maynard, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Roger Huerta, Tyson Griffin, Nate Diaz. the only person i can see giving him problems would be bj because of his boxing, its not good but its better than aokis, and the fact the jiu jitsu cancels out, so then it comes down to wrestling and bj has solid takedown defense and aokis takedowns arent the greatest.

  • Just thought I’d Lazarus this post as Cory was saying A YEAR AGO what everyone else is just getting around to thinking now: Aoki is an overrated, one-trick pony.


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