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Who is the top Lightweight fighter in the world today? Not an easy answer. For over a year nearly everyone agreed it was B.J. Penn. But following his decision loss to Frankie Edgar at UFC 112, it opens the door up for discussion. Penn didn’t just get caught with a lucky shot, he lost a 5 round unanimous decision, and according to one judge he was out pointed in all 5 rounds.
The best Welterweight in the world? Simple, Georges St. Pierre. Middleweight? Anderson Silva, no question. It’s widely believed Lyoto Machida owns the Light Heavyweight division, with Shogun Rua as another possibility, and of course in the Heavyweight division you’re either a Fedor or Brock fan.
The Lightweight division is unique. Not only are there a handful of fighters who can make an argument for why they are the best in the world, but they are all divided up amongst different organizations. Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney thinks its Eddie Alvarez, he said he bets if you ask Scott Coker he will say Gilbert Melendez, and if you ask Dana White he’d say B.J. Penn or maybe even Edgar.
In determining the best Lightweight in the world, let’s look at the suspects, starting with those holding the belts.
Eddie Alvarez (Bellator)
Shinya Aoki (DREAM, WAMMA)
Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce)
Frankie Edgar (UFC)
Benson Henderson (WEC)
B.J. Penn (UFC, former Champ)
Kenny Florian (UFC, 8-1 last 9 fights)
Gray Maynard (UFC, undefeated)
Tatsuya Kawajiri (DREAM, 7-1 last 8 fights)
Joachim Hansen (DREAM, Grand Prix Champ)
There are your candidates for the best 155 pound fighter on the planet. Who do you pick?
I start by eliminating Henderson and Maynard, because they just haven’t faced the best competition yet. Yes Maynard beat Frankie Edgar, but that was over 2 years ago, and Edgar has improved significantly. Give these young guys a few more fights.
Despite winning the DREAM Grand Prix, Hansen then lost the belt to Aoki, and more recently fought for the Featherweight title and lost. I am a huge Hansen fan, but you can cross him off the list. Same goes for Kawajiri. He’s had some epic fights (i.e. vs. Alvarez at the often referred to DREAM Grand Prix), but he hasn’t beaten a top guy in some time.
Kenny Florian is a great fighter. He’s a great guy as well; he joined us on our inaugural podcast here on BostonThrowdown.com. But look at his resume. Who is the best guy he’s beaten? A washed up Gomi? Clay Guida? Roger Huerta? Don’t tell me Joe Stevenson. He can’t be considered the best until he beats someone from the list above.
Ok, down to 5: Aoki, Alvarez, Melendez, Edgar, and Penn.
Aoki’s U.S. debut was… underwhelming. Fine, it was awful. He utilized the “butt-scoot” more than a dog with worms. I voted this guy #2 in our last MMA Rankings, and still think he’s tough, but can’t be the best in the world.
Edgar took down the King of the Lightweight division. But if/when he faces Penn in the rematch at UFC 118 in Boston will he be the favorite? Of course not. It’s not his fault; he did exactly what he needed to do. I honestly think he caught Penn on a bad night, and B.J. is still better.
These are the 3 guys I think you can make the strongest argument for: Alvarez, Melendez, and Penn. (2/3 could very likely compete in the city of Boston in May & August.)
Melendez has only 2 career losses (Ishida and Thomson) and he avenged them both. He also has wins over Kawajiri and Aoki. Very impressive.
Penn has only 2 career Lightweight losses (Pulver and Edgar) and he avenged the only one he had the opportunity to do so. His other career losses are outside the division, including Matt Hughes, GSP (2), and Lyoto Machida. Holds wins over Hughes, Matt Serra, Sean Sherk, Florian, and Diego Sanchez.
Alvarez has only 1 career Lightweight loss (Aoki). He has beaten Kawajiri and Hansen. His next fight is against Josh Neer on May 6th at the Wang Theatre in Boston.
You could pick any of these three guys and you could feel confident. My final pick? Still B.J. But man, did I have to think about it.