(Damn you, Tom Petty. The waiting *is* the hardest part. Pic: Rotoexperts.com)
Crazy times at lightweight right now, no? With Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard drawing even at UFC 125, top contenders Evan Dunham and George Sotiropoulos soiling their drawers in recent intended tune-up fights and the UFC playing a carnival shell game with Anthony Pettis’ future, the whole division looks like the end of a bad episode of Monday Night Raw – 20 guys brawling senselessly in the ring while the announcers yell unintelligible shit into their microphones and the screen fades to black. Not to mention, as soon as Zuffa, LLC realizes that Strikeforce has become nothing more than a vestigial organ and folds it into the UFC, Gilbert Melendez will likely show up claiming instant No. 1 contender status. Probably just a day or two after Dana White promises a title shot to somebody else.
God willing and the creek don’t rise, we’ll get some answers over the next couple of months. Edgar and Maynard will (fingers crossed) settle their differences for good at UFC 130, the Pettis Hypothesis will be proved or disproved against Clay Guida in June and either Dunham or Sotiropoulos will get back on track after their newly-announced bout at UFC 132. Until then though, it’s just a goddamn schmazz. When you read our latest rankings after the jump, you’ll see that the top three spots in the lightweight division are pretty self-explanatory. After that, we’re really just picking names out of a hat.
1. [tie] Frankie Edgar: You know what? I’m not going to call Edgar the undisputed No. 1 just because he still has the UFC belt. Don’t get me wrong, a pair of unlikely victories over BJ Penn (not to mention his previous upset of Sean Sherk) makes for a killer resume — but don’t forget that in the last three years, Maynard has outpointed the likes of Kenny Florian, Nate Diaz, Jim Miller, and oh yeah, Frankie Edgar himself. The result of their UFC 125 title fight proved that Edgar and Maynard are identically matched, and should be considered equals at the top of the division.
1. [tie] Gray Maynard: I’m sure it torments Maynard that he didn’t put Edgar away when he had the chance during the opening round of their last fight. As long as Gray can avoid the Curse of the CagePotato Top Ten List, he might get his revenge in May.
3. Gilbert Melendez: The game-bred Skrap Pack member has dominated the best lightweight talent that Japan has to offer, and has redeemed himself against the only two fighters who ever beat him (Mitsuhiro Ishida and Josh Thomson). His upcoming rematch with Tatsuya Kawajiri shouldn’t play out much differently than their first fight back in 2006. After that, it would be great to see the Strikeforce champ fuck shit up in the UFC 155-pound mix.
4. Eddie Alvarez: In a way, he’s the Alistair Overeem of the lightweight division — there might be a bunch of low-to-mid-level names on his record, but the Bellator champ wins with such authority that it’s hard to deny he’s a world-class talent.
5. Jim Miller: If Kenny Florian hadn’t just dropped to featherweight, I would have probably given this spot to him instead. But considering how difficult it is to run up a six-fight win streak in the Octagon against *anybody*, I think Jersey Jim deserves a lot of respect. The way he put an abrupt end to Charles Oliveira’s hype at UFC 124 made a lot of people take notice. Still, the fact that he’s fighting Kamal Shalorus this weekend means he’s not exactly being fast-tracked to the top. Even if he’s victorious, the winner of the upcoming Guida/Pettis fight at the TUF 13 finale might be more deserving of the five-spot.
1. Frankie Edgar: We all picked against him in the first BJ fight, picked against him in the second BJ fight, picked against him in first Maynard fight and some of y’all will probably do it again at 130. Know what, though? I’m done picking against Frankie Edgar, for real. Some people still hate on his style, but I can’t see why. Dude is a better-than-competent wrestler who’s worked diligently on his striking (I mean, that’s what y’all want anyway, right?) and – maybe most impressively – continues to be among the best in the world while likely fighting a step above his natural weight class. If you ask me, which you did, that’s pretty GD’ed impressive.
2. Gray Maynard: I see what BG is saying calling it even between these two, but here at Team Dundas we don’t do ties. I’m quoting crazy genius and personal Christ figure Ric Flair when I hold that before GrayMay can be the man, he’s got to beat the man. Err, again. He’ll get his chance on May 28, but I won’t be picking him (see above). After watching Edgar widen the gap over Penn between bouts Nos. 1-2, I think he’ll be even better equipped to handle Maynard’s unwavering (read: predictable) style when they meet for a third and mercifully final time. Always the bridesmaid for Gray, huh?
3. Gilbert Melendez: I mean, I guess so. If you didn’t think Strikeforce champs were lame duck before, what can be said now that the promotion has taken up a position between Kirk Douglas and Kim Jong-Il in the CagePotato “Mostly Likely to Die in 2011” office pool? Still, I guess he gets the nod by virtue of holding the gold. Recent wins over Shinya Aoki, Josh Thomson and Mitsuhiro Ishida are nothing to sneeze at but like Ben said, it’s kind of hard to put it all in context until the UFC does the inevitable and gobbles up Strikeforce like Scott Ferrozzo at the Golden Coral buffet line.
4. Jim Miller: Miller’s only career losses are to the dudes currently holding down the tops spots on this list and all he does is continue to efficiently dispatch every 155-pounder the UFC throws in his path. Does he have the “it” factor? Well, no, Miller has the “kind-of-looks-like-an-extra-from -‘Gangs-of-New-York’” factor, which admittedly isn’t quite as marketable. He’ll likely never grace the cover of Men’s Health or be shot for a commercial lounging disaffectedly on a hotel bed while Natasha Wicks helps him put his T-shirt on, but in my book Miller is an undeniable badass.
5. Anthony Pettis: Screw it, with recent losses by Dunham and G-Sot – and Alvarez fighting just twice last year against somewhat meh opponents – Showtizzle Televizzle gets this spot by default. Does he deserve it? I have no idea, but with BJ Penn fleeing for 170 and guys like Melvin Guillard (beating Dunham gets him Shane Roller, people? Really?) and Dennis Siver not quite ready for primetime, where else can I go? Aoki? Sherk? Kawajiri? I’m not prepared to say they deserve it more than Pettis, who remains just one stiff test against Clay Guida away from a shot at UFC gold … oh, snap … just realized that all five of my top lightweights are effectively under contract to Zuffa. Guys, do NOT tell Pat Miletich about this.
1. Frankie Edgar: Edgar hasn’t lost since 2008 and has beaten BJ Penn twice since then. He survived perhaps the worst one-sided beating in UFC title-fight history to squeak out a draw with Gray Maynard. If he wins the rematch with Gray, I think he’ll be champ for awhile.
2. Gray Maynard: Gray could be at the top of the heap right now had he not gotten overzealous and punched himself out in his fight with Frankie. He’s the only guy on this list who’s undefeated. Regardless if you like his style, he wins fights and a win over Edgar will cement his spot as No. 1.
3. BJ Penn: Forget the fact that BJ’s back at welterweight. He’s a lightweight and everyone knows it. He has the ability to beat anyone ranked above or below him, but age and the demands of training like a champion have been his undoing as of late. Hopefully he can get back on the horse and get motivated for another run at the 155-pound strap.
4. Gilbert Melendez: Had he lost to Aoki, Melendez would have been at number five. He’s one of those fighters who can always win in clutch situations, but hasn’t faced the best the division has to offer. Hopefully the UFC’s purchase of Strikeforce changes that and we can finally see him challenged by the three men above him.
5. Shinya Aoki: As much as I’m not an Aoki fan, I can’t deny that he’s got game. If he can put his cockiness aside inside the ring and cage then he has the potential to surpass Melendez and Penn. Is it likely he will? Not really.
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