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The Fab Fifteen – Lightweights

Lightweight is one of MMA’s most-interesting groupings to rank based on how the top 155-pound talent is spread out over multiple promotions as opposed to the lot, or even bulk, calling the UFC home as is the case outside of the division. With DREAM, Strikeforce, and Bellator all having a stake in the “Top 5” it’s difficult to compare common opponents or know how each man would fare if paired against one of his elite peers calling a rival organization home. It’s also the closest race where the top slots are concerned with every fighter having a case for #1.

As always, don’t consider the following gospel. The fact is, when two finely-tuned individuals step into a cage and let loose the difference between consciousness and looking up at the ceiling is a matter of milliseconds no matter who is ranked where. The individuality inherently involved in a subjective endeavor like ranking fighters, many of whom could easily be argued as deserving different spots based on personal criteria, is not only recognized on Five Ounces’ end but also encouraged in the form of offering your own lists in the “Comments” section below.

1. Frank Edgar (13-1-1)

Edgar’s mixture of boxing, wrestling, and conditioning make him extremely difficult to defeat as evident in two consecutive wins over a man who was believed to be unbeatable at 155-pounds, B.J. Penn, as well as a gutsy showing against Maynard this past weekend. The UFC lightweight champ’s speed and movement is also among the best in the division. While I’m far from confident he’d handle any of the three men below him, I’ll never doubt Edgar’s ability to emerge victorious in the face of adversity. He may have fallen victim to Maynard’s ground-control and size/strength advantage when they originally faced off, but with his dubyas over Penn, plus Sean Sherk, Tyson Griffin, and Jim Miller, I think he’s definitely deserving of the division’s top spot, especially after weathering the storm at UFC 125 and clinging on to his belt with a draw.

2. Gilbert Melendez (18-2)

“El Nino” reminds me a bit of Edgar in terms of technical prowess with power in place of the New Jersey fighter’s quickness. He’s rarely outwrestled and can stand with the best if a fight’s pacing dicates the necessity to do so (or he simply feels like proving a point). I personally thought he deserved the decision over Mitsuhiro Ishida at “Yarennoka 2007”, and would have likely received it had the bout been somewhere other than Japan, but a loss is a loss and there is no arguing his underwhelming performance against Josh Thomson in June 2008. However, I believe he grew from each experience and is even better today. For evidence of his evolution, look at the fact he knocked Ishida out in their rematch and thoroughly dominated Thomson when they faced off again, not to mention his dismantling of Shinya Aoki earlier this year.

3. Eddie Alvarez (21-2)

For those that might question Alvarez’s ranking, especially when you consider neither of his career losses have involved the judges’ scorecards, I think the proof is in the poundings. Alvarez has only won by decision twice in his twenty-one total victories and is currently riding a streak of seven straight finishes. Maynard has half his wins and a tenth of his TKOs/submissions, while Penn is coming off back-to-back losses and won’t be returning to 155-pounds until mid-2011 (if ever). Alvarez has power, multi-tiered striking, athleticism, and high-level grappling. In baseball terms, Alvarez is a “five-tool” player, and from a rounded-skills standpoint might be the best overall in this total bunch.

4. Gray Maynard (10-0-1)

I have Maynard slightly above Penn based on his boxing and wrestling, as well as dedication to 155-pounds rather than making a run at welterweight. The XTreme Couture original has never cleanly fallen, only earning a “No Contest” after knocking himself and his opponent out with a slam and a draw against Edgar, while racking up wins over multiple names on this list. He also, of course, beat Edgar in their original bout, as well as the always-tough Nate Diaz and Roger Huerta in other respective match-ups. He may not always come away victorious in the most pleasing of fashions but he’s effective at what he does in the ring and will remain an extremely tough draw for any adversary until proven otherwise.

5. B.J. Penn (16-7-1)

Penn is as unique as they come in MMA and defines what it means to be a genuine “fighter” better than most in the sport. His knockout of Hughes at UFC 123 was amazing, as have been so many of his victories, and I truly believe a motivated Baby Jay is likely to mop the floor with anyone who doesn’t have phenomenal wrestling/top-control. He took former UFC 205-pound champ Lyoto Machida to decision in 2005. Need I say more?

6. Sean Sherk (36-4-1)

“The Muscle Shark” is an interesting case, as all four of his career losses have come to former/current UFC champions (Penn, Edgar, Matt Hughes, and Georges St. Pierre). Considering that fact, in addition to the notion he’s fought 41 times and beaten people like Ken Florian, Evan Dunham, and Nick Diaz, it almost seems as though he deserves to be higher on most lists, including this one. However, his victory over Dunham was razor-thin and saved him from consecutive defeats and he hasn’t been particularly active over the last few years. With five fights since 2007, two of which involved defeat, it’s difficult to know exactly how he stacks up in the mix. Though the 37-year old’s wrestling and top-control are top notch, they’re also his only real weapons in the cage and aren’t always enough to carry him to victory.

7. Ken Florian (13-5)

Florian is constantly on the cusp of lightweight greatness but hasn’t been able to get over the hump for some reason. He’s an underrated striker with solid wrestling and the ability to attack from any position on the ground. “KenFlo” has only been finished once at 155-pounds, to Penn, while submitting the likes of Clay Guida, Takanori Gomi, and Joe Stevenson, but also struggled in some of his biggest fights including both of his past title-shots (and most recently a bout against Maynard set to establish a top divisional contender).

8. George Sotiropoulos (14-2)

The Aussie is one of the hottest 155-pounders out there at the moment. He’s riding an eight-fight win streak, including convincing performances against Stevenson, Joe Lauzon, and Kurt Pellegrino. He’s also yet to be finished in sixteen bouts. His stand-up is crisp and diverse, while his BJJ is other-worldly at times and always a major threat to ending an opponent’s evening.

9. Shinya Aoki (26-5)

Aoki is a victim of not having consistently faced ranked lightweight competitors and often stumbling against foes viewed as inferior competition. While his affiliation with DREAM has allowed him to occasionally take on some of the division’s best, he also gets drawn into bouts built for padding his stats rather than furthering his career. He’s good enough to beat Alvarez, J.Z. Cavalcante, and Tatsuya Kawajiri, yet was completely out-classed by Melendez and has had his knees-knocked on more than one occasion in the past (including a knockout loss during the MMA portion of a ‘special rules’ fight on New Year’s Eve). There’s no question he’s a submission savant but until he improves his takedown defense and stand-up I see his future involving a number of ups and downs, and he can’t get better taking on people like Marcus Aurelio and Yokthai Sithoar in back-to-back bouts.

10. Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-6-2)

Kawajiri has faced a number of talented lightweights over his years in Japan and, though he hasn’t always come out ahead in terms of result, he’s been a consistent competitor whose wrestling and power have been good enough to earn victory more often than not. His four losses over the past six years came to Melendez, Alvarez, Aoki, and a prime Takanori Gomi. Other than that, “Crusher” emerged victorious in all sixteen other bouts during that period minus a draw with Caol Uno in early 2004, and he looked as good as he ever has against a very game Thomson on NYE at “Dynamite!! Power of Courage”.

11. Evan Dunham (11-1)

Dunham is a rising star to be sure with a single loss thus far in his career (and a split-decision to Sherk at that). His performances haven’t been mind-blowing in nature but it’s hard to fault him too much when considering who he’s faced since joining the UFC. However, with each in-ring appearance, the diamond that Dunham is becomes more and more apparent. He’s growing from simply being good at everything to great.

12. Jim Miller (19-2)

If Miller had more high-profile fights under his belt in the UFC I honestly believe he’d be a consensus “Top 10” guy, maybe even higher depending on result. Miller has quietly racked up seven wins in the UFC with single loss to Maynard at UFC 96. He’s won his last six bouts while beating respectable adversaries like Mac Danzig, Charles Oliveira, Duane Ludwig, and Mark Bocek during the streak. On top of that, the 27-year old New Jersey native has never been finished in his career and his only other loss besides Maynard came to Edgar four years ago.

14. Clay Guida (28-11)

Guida’s performance against Takanori Gomi, coupled with his other showings both in success and failure against a number of his top peers, are enough to bounce him into the “Fine Fifteen”. The man who makes the Energizer Bunny look like a slacker by comparison has looked sharp in his last three outings – all wins – and beaten a number of tough draws in his 39-fight career including Nate Diaz, Josh Thomson, and Mac Danzig.

15. K.J. Noons (9-2)

Though Noons hasn’t necessarily fought any “Top 10” lightweights, he went five full rounds against Five Ounces’ #4 welterweight (Diaz) last October and put enough pepper on his face in their previous match-up to merit a doctor’s stoppage. He’s perhaps the most powerful, boxing-based fighter in this group and has shown improvement in terms of both his wrestling and submission-defense as of late. He’d won six straight prior to the decision loss to Diaz and was not only the first person to TKO Jorge Gurgel, but the last person to finish Yves Edwards (two years ago).

Honorable Mentions:

Josh Thomson (18-4) – Thomson looked solid in a losing performance to Kawajiri on New Year’s Eve. Though he may have been out-wrestled, he scrambled well and landed some nice strikes when the action took place while standing. The loss was only his second since early 2006 and along the way he’s beaten, among others, Melendez and J.Z. Cavalcante. / Anthony Pettis (13-1) – It’s hard to argue against Pettis being one of the division’s names to watch. The 22-year old’s only loss was a split decision to well-rounded veteran Bart Palaszewski and he’s looked exceptional since. With eleven finishes in thirteen wins, and an work-belt full of tools to use in the cage, Pettis doesn’t seem too far off from a run at the “Top 10” in 2011.

  • Mad_Hatter_XX says:

    I really don’t think Maynard is better than Penn. Only reason Edgar got first shot as Penn was Maynard said he was not ready and thought he needed another couple fights.

    Edgar upsets Penn and all of a sudden Maynard is crowing “what about me?” Not trying to hate but, just making a point.

  • MCM says:

    And here we go……..

    There is absolutely no merit what so ever in including K.J. Noons in anyone’s top 15. Yes he stopped Gurgel, but Gurgel is 1-4 in his last 5 and has never beaten anyone of note in his entire career. And Joe freaking Stevenson TKO’d Yves Edwards, so I wouldn’t count that as an indicator of greatness. The only win K.J. has that people speak of is the Dr. Stoppage of Diaz, outside of that, he’s done very little in the sport of MMA. Either of your “Honorable Mentions” or hell, even Cole Miller or Kurt Pellegrino would have been better choices.

    I’m also a big fan of Sherks, but I think ranking him #6 is a little high. I know who he’s lost to and who he’s beaten, but he’s 2-2 since 2008. Inactivity alone should drop him out of the top 8 and possibly top 10.

    Other than that Mr. Conlan, I really enjoy these lists as they are (for the most part) well thought out and researched.

  • Dufresne says:

    The only other fighter I would like to see get some love on this list is Joe Lauzon.

    I know he’s lost to two of the guys on this list + Sam Stout lately, but he’s still got 19 wins to his name and all of them are by either (T)KO or submission. I can’t think of another fighter that has his record against the level of competition he’s faces with those kinds of stats that’s not already on this list.

    Plus he absolutely clowned the fat kid from TUF season 5. That was probably the worst overall beatdown involving every aspect of MMA since GSP decided to make an example of Trigg at UFC 54.

  • stone says:

    Penn at #5? What a joke! Penn should be #1! I guess he didn’t beat Edgar but, Edgar didn’t beat Penn either! Edgar just simply out-pointed the guy! Penn wasn’t “destroyed” or “beat-down”! He just couldn’t catch the lil fast fucker! I think finished fights should count a whole lot more than “octagon control” wins!… Penn is a real fighter, a finisher! The only time that guy loses is when its a decision to an “octagon controller” How the hell can ya be top 3 when you NEVER finish a fight? Maynard, Edgar & Gilbert should be spotted a lot lower on the list!

  • Rece Rock says:

    I commend Brendhan for even building a LW list ! LW is soo stacked with talent this list could be formulated 10 different ways and still make sense in some way. It’s safe to say as fans we will all agree to disagree when it comes to rankings… it’s always how it’s going to be.

  • MMA-LOGIC says:

    I like the list. Noons is a fair pick with his wins over Diaz, and Yves Edwards. He only has 1 loss at LW and is a quality fighter.I like the list but the order would be different for me and I would probably put Thomson higher than 16. I would have Miller in the top 10 or closer to it. I don’t think Edgar is the best 155er out there but it is hard to argue after he won against BJ twice.
    Looking at this list I have to say that 155 is very close and 1-20 is not that far apart as far as skill goes. If you were to list 1-20 at MW the skill of 1 would be far superior to 20 but like I said, LW is a division full to the brim of talent.. Look at Alvarez by himself at Bellator. no.1 is UFC, no.2 is SF and 3 is Bellator. They will probably never fight. I can’t see how some of you are so thrilled with exclusive con … anyway good list.


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