Take a look at the top twenty UFC lightweights going into the new year.
At the start of 2010, the lightweight division was nothing more than a playground of destruction ruled by B.J Penn.
Penn had defended his title like a ruthless tyrant in the previous year, which led pundits to assume that he would accomplish much of the same heading into the new decade. But, as we found out, that wasn't the case.
We also saw a rapid influx of lightweight contenders rise through the ranks this year. And with the recent influx of WEC lightweights heading into the company, we've seen a lot of new potential contenders added to the ranks.
Let’s take a look at the top 20 contenders in the UFC’s lightweight division as we approach the year 2011. While the official Heavy MMA rankings are based on the talent of each particular fighter, this list is themed more on how close a fighter is to title contention.
Kicking off the New Year, Edgar will defend his title against Gray Maynard at UFC 125 in what should be the first of many compelling lightweight title bouts in 2011. Despite owning back to back wins over Penn, many still question if Edgar has what it takes to be a dominant champion. A win over Maynard would silence those critics.
#2 Gray Maynard (MMA record: 10-0- 1 NC, UFC record: 8-0-1 NC)
Living up to his nickname, Maynard has bullied and dominated all of his opponents in the UFC thus far. He is the only man to earn a victory over the current champion Edgar and also the only lightweight to win eight consecutive fights in the Octagon. Maynard defeated Nate Diaz and Kenny Florian in 2010 to earn the title shot and many pundits predict yet another victory for Maynard come January 1st.
#3 Anthony Pettis (MMA record: 13-1, WEC record: 5-1, UFC record: 0-0)
Few fighters had a better year in 2010 than Pettis. The Milwaukee native started the year as a relative unknown coming off of a loss. He starred in an episode of “MTV’s World of Jenks” and eventually became a champion and a YouTube sensation due to the “Showtime” kick he landed at WEC 53. Pettis’ first fight in 2011 will be a unification bout against either Edgar or Maynard for the UFC lightweight title.
#4 George Sotiropoulos (MMA record: 14-2, UFC record: 7-0)
Sotiropoulos was one of those aforementioned contenders that rose to the occasion in 2010. After four consecutive finishes over lower tier lightweights, Sotiropoulos opened the year with a big win over former title contender Joe Stevenson. The Australian native continued that momentum with two more impressive wins over Kurt Pellegrino and Joe Lauzon. Sotiropoulos will next meet Dennis Siver at UFC 127 in Australia in what many are calling a complete mismatch.
#5 Jim Miller (MMA record: 19-2, UFC record: 8-1)
Miller is the Jon Fitch of the lightweight division. He’s an incredibly tough competitor riding a six fight win streak but doesn’t get much love in the title picture for some reason. His only losses are to the two best fighters in the division (Edgar and Maynard) and he’s never been finished in his career. If he keeps winning, expect the New Jersey native to compete for the title towards the end of 2011.
0-2 in UFC title fights and recently defeated in a number one contender’s bout with Maynard, it’s tough to imagine Florian earning another shot in the coming year. However, Florian is an incredibly talented and intelligent fighter. He’s also a devastating finisher so if he can score a few TKO or submission victories in a row it won’t be long before he’s back in the mix for a title shot.
#7 Evan Dunham (MMA record: 11-1, UFC record: 4-1)
Technically Dunham is coming off of a loss but anyone who watched that fight against Sean Sherk at UFC 119 believes that the Oregon native should still be undefeated. Dunham will look to avenge the “loss” against Melvin Guillard at UFC Fight Night 23.
#8 Sean Sherk (MMA record: 36-4-1, UFC record: 8-4)
The former lightweight champion sat on the sidelines for most of 2010 before returning to the Octagon at UFC 119 in September. He was awarded a controversial split decision victory over Dunham that, while many don’t agree with, still puts him back in the win column. To be fair, Sherk’s only lost to the best in the world and when he actually uses his wrestling base he is a force to be reckoned with.
#9 Ben Henderson (MMA record: 12-2, WEC record: 5-1, UFC record: 0-0)
Some may disagree with placing the former WEC champ in the top 10 so early, but it would be asinine to ignore his impressive run with the WEC title earlier this year. It’s going to be interesting to see how Henderson handles the step up in competition now that he is in the UFC. One thing is for sure – coming off of a loss, you can expect to see a much improved version of “Smooth” when that time comes.
# 10 Takanori Gomi (MMA record: 32-6, UFC record: 1-1)
Once considered the number one ranked lightweight in the world, former PRIDE lightweight champion Gomi made his anticipated UFC debut in 2010 with mixed results. He was submitted by Florian at UFC Fight Night 21 but bounced back with a vicious first round knockout over Tyson Griffin at UFC on Versus 2. Due to his marketability and popularity amongst nostalgic PRIDE fans, Gomi will always be a win or two away from a title shot.