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By Rich Hansen, MMA Torch Columnist
It was hard coming up with 25 heavyweights last week. Really hard. Maybe not as hard as coming up with 25 light heavyweights (dirty little secret, 205 is the thinnest division in MMA), but pretty damn hard.
So, since I don't want to struggle to come up with 25 fighters once again, it's time to talk about the lightweights. And of course, I struggled once again, for entirely different reasons. 155 is so deep that some legitimate talents whom I really like are being left off this list.
What's really amazing is that when I did 155 in June 2011, Michael Chandler, Evan Dunham, and Nate Diaz weren't ranked at all, and now all three are top 12 guys in the division. Add to that the fact that Benson Henderson, the new #1, was only #15 nine months ago, and it really puts into perspective how fast things can change.
Enough prologue. Time for some ever so meaningful mythical rankings. Yeah boy!
Lightweight Rankings as of March 26, 2012
1.) Benson Henderson - Since I had him at #15 in June 2011, all Henderson did was defeat Jim Miller, Clay Guida, and Frankie Edgar. And with the Edgar victory, he won the UFC Lightweight Championship. Yeah, that's a good run. If you want to be nitpicky, you could point out the fact that he hasn't finished a fight since April 2010. You can go there all you want, but I won't. Next fight: Frankie Edgar, TBA
2.) Frankie Edgar - Edgar, Maynard, and Melendez are interchangeable in any order that has Edgar > Maynard. Ask me tomorrow, I might move them around. As for now, Edgar defeated B.J. Penn twice at 155, he became the only person to beat Gray Maynard, and lost a razor thin decision to Benson Henderson. He's the most qualified fighter for the next title shot, and Dana White ultimately agreed. Next fight: Benson Henderson, TBA
3.) Gray Maynard - Tomorrow, Melendez might be ahead of Maynard. But for today, Maynard's wins over Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, Dennis Siver (I bet you forgot about that one), Frankie Edgar, and Kenny Florian stand well above Gilbert Melendez's five best wins. Next fight: Clay Guida, June 22
4.) Gilbert Melendez - Melendez finds himself in the unenviable position of having to defend a ranking without being able to fight anyone near his own caliber. Lest you feel bad for Melendez, he was a free agent a little more than a year ago and was able to choose between the promotion with the deepest 155 lb. roster in the sport (UFC), or the small pond where he was the big fish (Strikeforce). Like the Grail Knight said to Walter Donovan at the end of the third Indiana Jones movie, after drinking from the wrong grail, "You have chosen... poorly." Next fight: TBA (likely Josh Thomson, May 19)
5.) Jim Miller - He had a seven fight win streak going until August 2011. Instead of a title shot, he was given Benson Henderson, who ultimately defeated him soundly. Miller has rebounded with a victory over Melvin Guillard. A win in his next fight will get him a two fight win streak and... a title shot? Against Either Henderson or Edgar? Both of whom hold wins over Miller already? Miller's very good, but does anyone need to see him fight Henderson again so soon? UFC nightmare scenario #42 would be to see Miller challenge Henderson for the title. Next fight: Nate Diaz, May 5
6.) Shinya Aoki - He keeps winning, and he keeps falling in the rankings because of the level of opposition. That's the same thing Gilbert Melendez is starting to experience now. It's the same phenomenon that Eddie Alvarez suffered through until Michael Chandler sent him plummeting. However, a win next month over the aforementioned Alvarez will guarantee Aoki falls no longer for quite a while. Next fight: Eddie Alvarez, April 20
7.) Clay Guida - Can't argue with the results. As far as being a high level gatekeeper, he's the new Kenny Florian. Losses to Henderson, Florian, and Sanchez show clearly where his ceiling lies, and wins over Pettis, dos Anjos, and Diaz indicate his floor. His fights are exciting, and he has a cult following. Next fight: Gray Maynard, June 22
8.) Anthony Pettis - Campaigned hard for a title shot after Henderson beat Edgar, but didn't get it. He probably didn't deserve it, to be honest. But he's got two things going for him: The kick, and the win over over the current UFC Lightweight Champion. Pettis has a bright future, and I have zero doubt he will hold the belt someday. Next fight: TBA
9.) Michael Chandler - The first non-Zuffa, non-Japan fighter on the list, Chandler didn't sniff the top 25 a mere nine months ago. He won the season four Bellator lightweight tournament in May 2011, defeating Lloyd Woodard and Patricky Friere along the way. But in that controlled environment, if you want to make a name at 155, you had to be able to beat Eddie Alvarez, who was the one known commodity. And what can you say; damned if he didn't make Alvarez submit to him. His current problem? Same as Melendez and Aoki. Next fight: Akihiro Gono (see what I mean? Ick), May 4
10.) Eddie Alvarez - Alvarez might be a top five lightweight, but since defeating Tatsuya Kawajiri in July 2008, he has exactly one win over a guy in the top 50 of any division: Pat Curran in April 2011. And since that fight, Curran dropped to featherweight. This Aoki fight is the most important fight of his life. Next fight: Shinya Aoki, April 20
11.) Evan Dunham - Dunham was supposed to be the next big thing, until two blind mice gave Sean Sherk a victory over him in September 2010, and until Melvin Guillard knocked him silly in January 2011. An eight month layoff really put Dunham out of sight, and out of my last list as well. Oops. Since returning, he has dominant victories over Shamar Bailey (one guess why THAT fight was booked, ick) and Nik Lentz. I understand that Bailey stinks, and Lentz is a blown up featherweight, but he was impressive enough to remind me why he was considered a borderline top 10 fighter going into that ill-fated Sherk fight. A win over Edson Barboza, no small feat, will be huge for his future. Next fight: Edsojn Barboza, May 26
12.) Nate Diaz: Yes, Diaz utterly dominated Donald Cerrone, and yes he slaughtered the fighter formerly known as Takanori Gomi as well. But let's take a step back here. Even discounting his 2-2 record at 170, where Rory MacDonald and Kim Dong-Hyun showed him exactly which weight class he's built for, Diaz's last four fights at 155 besides the Gomi and Cerrone fights include losses to Maynard, Stevenson, and Guida. His only win was over Melvin Guillard. And if you know anything about Guillard, it's that he is the most maddeningly inconsistent fighter in the division. His ranking is more of an acknowledgement that maybe his pummeling of Cerrone was against an overhyped opponent, and his destruction of Gomi holds no weight because Gomi is shot. Now, if he beats Jim Miller (which, come on son) in May, he'll skyrocket up this list. Next fight: Jim Miller, May 5
13.) Donald Cerrone - Considering how badly he was thrashed by Diaz, clearly there's a changing of tiers between numbers 12 and 13. Three months ago, the entire world had visions of Donald Cerrone getting ready to fight for the UFC title, which would have been an asinine thought a short six months before that. And then Diaz gave us all a reality check of utmost proportions. Maybe Cerrone is who we thought he was; a really good and completely not elite fighter who would rather fight dumb and entertain than fight smart and win. Or maybe he had a bad day against a matchup nightmare, and he'll hold the title a year or two from now. It's not like I write fortune cookies, what do you want from me? Next fight: Jeremy Stephens, May 15
14.) Edson Barboza - Of course, he's this high on the list based on potential, the flashy KO of Terry Etim, and the hope that someone as fun to watch as he is can skyrocket. His resume (10-0, best wins being Etim, Pearson, and Njokuani) is that of a top 25ish guy, but the talent that we all see and the potential that we all want to see, moves him up. Next fight: Evan Dunham (hell yes), May 26
15.) Gleison Tibau - Tibau's the most underrated guy in the company. Now, don't get me wrong; 15 is about his ceiling, but he's more likely to stay relevant for an extended amount of time than almost anybody. That said, Tibau is on his first UFC three fight win streak, so it's eminently possible that he and his team figured something out. Next fight: TBA
16.) Joe Lauzon - Yeah, he was never going to have a chance against Anthony Pettis, but it's like a trillion and a half times easier to say that in retrospect, right? There are fewer fighters who are more fun to watch win a squash match against an overrated opponent (he's like DDP in WCW before Page became a star), but I don't think he's physically strong enough to be elite. Next fight: TBA
17.) Melvin Guillard - I have no new light to shed. You already know the story, and the story is a cliche. He's got all the talent, but his head gets him in trouble. If Greg Jackson can't harness it, who can? Next fight: TBA
18.) Jeremy Stephens - Dude. How in the hell did Dan Downes not tap to that kimura? Next fight: Donald Cerrone, May 15
19.) Jacob Volkmann - It's not always flash and charisma that gets you noticed. Volkmann wins fights; and while being anonymous and winning might play better in Bellator, he's eventually going to get bigger fights if he continues to win. He's one of the best wrestlers at 155. Next fight: Paul Sass, May 26
20.) Matt Wiman - It's hard to believe that Wiman's been in the UFC since 2006, a year before appearing on season five of TUF (the best season ever). He's easily overlooked, and considered not much more than a warm body by most, but that's totally unfair. Not too many guys have eight UFC wins (should be nine, but he got hosed against Dennis Siver). It wouldn't surprise me in the least if he had a run to the top 10 in him soon. Next fight: Mark Bocek, April 21
21.) Jorge Masvidal - Unfortunately for Masvidal, the Strikeforce roster is not as deep as the Mariana Trench. As a result, instead of being able to progress naturally after wins over nice top 50 fighters like Billy Evangelista and K.J. Noons, he was thrown into a title shot against Gilbert Melendez. Masvidal was able to hang until the final horn sounded, but unfortunately he now has less buzz about him than 90210. Next fight: TBA
22.) Josh Thomson - It's pretty obvious that he knows how to fight Melendez. And while it would be overstating the situation to say that he has Melendez' number, Thomson will be a tougher out for Melendez than most fighters at Thomson's level. He's a smart fighter, tough as hell, and, um, yeah. Next fight: TBA (likely Gilbert Melendez, May 19)
23.) Tony Ferguson - Thus endeth the Strikeforce portion of the conversation. I didn't watch one second of his season of TUF (thank Kyle Kingsbury for that), so I'm behind the curve on Ferguson. So judging solely on his three UFC fights outside of the show itself, Ferguson's got a spark. He's got massive power, and I like the dude. Yves Edwards was a great test for him, and he passed it with flying colors. He was supposed to face Dennis Hallman in May, but Hallman pulled out. Might be the best thing that ever happened to Ferguson in the UFC, because Hallman is a really tough out. Next fight: Thiago Tavares, May 5
24.) Rafael dos Anjos - Don't forget about dos Anjos just because Clay Guida broke his jaw, and Gleison Tibau decisioned him in one of my least favorite fights of 2011. Dos Anjos has great power (ask George Sotiropoulos), and wicked submissions (ask Terry Etim's arm). That a talent like dos Anjos is down in the mid-20's illustrates perfectly how deep 155 really is. Of course, if he loses to Shalorus in May, I will forget I ever wrote this. Next fight: Kamal Shalorus, May 15
25.) Dennis Hallman - When I first got into the sport, I remember looking at the record of Matt Hughes. The guy was 41-4, and had just beaten Royce Gracie and B.J. Penn in consecutive fights. 41-4, Jesus Christ Monkey Balls! So, I looked at Hughes' losses, and saw that he lost twice to some guy named Dennis Hallman. Not only that, but the losses were both by submission in 20 seconds or less. Crikey! Hallman's been around forever, and there's nothing you can do to him that he doesn't know how to counter. And he's eminently watchable, now that we know we won't have to worry about a stray testicle making it on camera. Next fight: TBA
Fighters who weren't ranked on June 7: Chandler, Dunham, Diaz, Volkmann, Thomson, Ferguson, dos Anjos, Hallman
Fighters who dropped out since June 7: Dennis Siver (dropping to featherweight), Sean Sherk (inactive), George Sotiropoulos (1 loss), Tatsuya Kawajiri (dropped to featherweight), Nik Lentz (2 losses), K.J. Noons (1 win, 1 loss), Cole Miller (1 win, 1 loss), Ross Pearson (1 loss, then dropped to featherweight)
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