UFC on Fox 7: Henderson vs Melendez came and went, starting off with Matt Brown using his experience and striking technique to put a real beating on Jordan Mein. I was and still am impressed at Mein’s talent at such a young age but he just wasn’t ready for Matt Brown's versatile hands. We saw Nate Diaz get finished for the first time in his UFC career by Josh Thomson, a lightweight who may very well hold a candle to Benson Henderson's explosive speed. Daniel Cormier aggressively clinched the will out of Frank Mir, and Benson Henderson held onto his title with a controversial, razor-thin split decision 48-47 win over Gilbert Melendez.
So with the main event and Diaz/Thomson out of the way, I now present the updated Lightweight Top Ten Rankings.
This one's a no-brainer. Henderson is now 7-0 in the world’s top promotion and has defended the belt of the UFC's most stacked division three times. Sometimes you gripe about guys who don’t finish, but Henderson does finish…all the way to the last bell.
Yes, the fight could have EASILY gone the other way. But I had it 48-47 Henderson on the basis that I thought Gil won the first two, and the rest went to the champion. Bendo definitely landed the most strikes, which is primarily due to his brutal attack of Gil's legs. An intelligent and strategic champion, Henderson's game plans are tough to rival.
2. Gilbert Melendez
No, seriously, it was a hell of a fight. Melendez held the Strikeforce strap last, and his two wins over Josh Thomson gained a lot of cred after Thomson's dominant victory over the UFC's last No. 1 contender. There's even a slight chance he'll get a rematch with "Smooth" because even though he came up short, that fight was easily one of the closest decisions in recent memory.
I personally had him ranked above Bendo before the fight and with that margin accompanied by his now-21-3 record, Gil only had one possible slot to fall into this time.
3. Gray Maynard
The top Lightweight not named “Gilbert” or “Benson” (or “Gary”, even, stupid dyslexia) is Gray Maynard, who kind of gets lost in the shuffle for failing to finish Frankie Edgar a couple of times. Which seems totally fair.
Maynard was 1-1-1 against Edgar and, excluding a no contest against Rob Emerson, has a perfect record in 10 fights. He also has a slew of big-name victims, big-time hands, big-time strength, and a great big fire under his ass to get back in the game after being away from the cage for way too long. Yeah, Gray ain’t going nowhere.
4. Anthony Pettis
Pettis has burned a trail since losing to Clay Guida in his UFC debut, and is now 16-2 overall. But he's looked absolutely outstanding since the loss, using his devastating kicks to take out top contenders Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone. Much like Maynard, Pettis is a multi-talented fighter who has proven himself against the toughest competition and has quickly made a case for himself to be back in the title picture.
Out of Pettis's last three opponents, only one of them made it out of the first round. I know Pettis is going to down to 145 for a shot at Aldo, but if he comes up short, a Pettis-Maynard title eliminator would be a great way for both competitors to re-instate their prominance in the division.
5. Josh Thomson
I’m not going to hate on Nate, his past shows you what kind of a fighter he is. I thought Nate would eat Josh up on the feet, but The Punk effectively switched stances and caught Nate with a vicious mix of kicks, punches and elbows to the face. Diaz couldn't keep up with Thomson's speedy and unpredictable blows and now, Thomson is probably just one more win away from a title shot. He's got 20 wins now, 5 losses (Melendez twice, Clay Guida, Yves Edwards, Tatsuya Kawajiri) and one draw.
Thomson hasn’t been healthy in a while, but his split decision loss to Melendez and this win over Diaz show what he is capable of when he is. He was once on top of the lightweight world, and if his next fight goes the same way as his last, he'll be back in familiar territory in no time. If Gil doesn’t get the title rematch, I don't see why we couldn't see a four-peat of Thomson vs Melendez.
6. Jim Miller
Jim Miller’s 22-4 record is looking pretty good these days, even with two losses in his last four fights. Then again, his only losses were to Diaz, Ben Henderson, Gray Maynard and Frankie Edgar so you can be sure he's evolved after each clash with a top contender.
The flip side? I’m not even typing out all of his notable wins because this guy has so many of them and out of his 14 UFC fights, only two at most aren’t fairly well known and respected. Decisions, submissions and TKO’s, Jim Miller knows how to win and always fights for the finish.
7. Michael Chandler
The Undisputed King of Bellator, Chandler is a former D-I All-American Wrestler with the ability to finish any opponent, in any position at any time. He has the names on his resume and a perfect record of 11-0.
Chandler can finish a fight from any position and no one has found an answer to his aggressive grappling. The guy just loves beating people up and we're anxiously awaiting to see who he'll overwhelm next.
All things serve the hive, so I’m certain we’ll see Chandler make the leap to the UFC relatively soon where he'll have an impact similar to that of Daniel Cormier at heavyweight.
8. Eddie Alvarez
The former King of Bellator, Alvarez has bounced back from losing that title to Chandler by knocking out Shinya Aoki and Patricky Freire. Alvarez has been around for a while, and is one of the best finishers in the game, pound for pound.
Alvarez is undergoing a lawsuit with Bellator, because he was all “I’m a UFC guy now, let me sign my name over here”, and Bellator was like “no you won’t, because you’re going to have to sign it over here or you can’t sign it at all so you just forget over there and sign over here”, and Tracy said she heard it was pretty serious. The UFC offered up some big bucks for this guy and we'll find out why in his next fight.
9. Donald Ceronne
Ceronne's last fight saw him fall to Anthony Pettis, though he still maintains a more than formidable record of 20-5. We look around at this cannibal division yet again, and realize that his 5 career losses are to Diaz, Henderson twice, Pettis, and Jaime Varner. Therefore, it’s hard to see another division where a guy with his sheet can’t get any top-five love.
Cerrone is of the same mold of a lot of the best lightweights, long and rangy with powerful leg kicks and in-your-face kickboxing, not to mention the ability to make you tap if you're foolish enough to give him your back. He may need to re-tool a few things here and there, but what lightweight doesn’t? Cerrone will look to prove why he was so highly-touted when he made the move to the UFC in his next fight and if he relies on his usual strengths, he will ultimately succeed.
10. Nate Diaz
I don’t care what his last two fights looked like. I also don’t care that before the fight even happened, he said he was leaving the weight class no matter the result. In quite possibly his final moments at 155 lbs, I’m ranking Nate Diaz at lightweight. It just seems silly to count out his boxing and jiu-jitsu as some of the best the division has to offer. If you don't believe me, just ask Jim Miller.
Diaz doesn’t have a gaudy record at 16-9, but he’s fought some very tough guys, and he’s consistently reinvented himself when things have grinded…grounded…slowed down. He’s young enough to try to climb the welterweight ladder, hit a wall, and be back for a second attempt at lightweight. As long as he keeps improving his stand-up game and is willing to actually study his opponents, there’s a hell of a lot of life left in the career of Nate Diaz.