1. Rafael dos Anjos (25-7)Dos Anjos’ first UFC title defense could hardly have gone better, as the Brazilian ace tore through Donald Cerrone in 66 seconds to end 2015 with gold around his waist. The Kings MMA product has lost just once in his last 11 outings, an April 2014 decision defeat against Khabib Nurmagomedov. Dos Anjos was slated to defend his belt against featherweight king Conor McGregor at UFC 196, but a broken foot forced the Brazilian to withdraw. He will put his title on the line against Eddie Alvarez at a UFC Fight Night event in July.
2. Donald Cerrone (29-7, 1 NC)There may not be a more unique ranking case in the sport right now than Donald Cerrone. “Cowboy” has one of the most outstanding lightweight ledgers in the sport, in addition to having his last two bouts in the Octagon at welterweight, which is normally grounds for him to be removed from these 155-pound rankings. However, Cerrone's hyper-active fighting mentality and explicit desire to fight in both divisions creates a stickier situation. Ultimately, knowing he is one of the very best lightweights on the planet and may imminently take fights within the division, the question isn't whether or not “Cowboy” should still be ranked at lightweight, but whether or not he'll end up ranked at welterweight in the near future, as well.
3. Eddie Alvarez (27-4)Alvarez utilized a gritty, grapple-heavy game plan to grind out Anthony Pettis during their three-round Jan. 17 bout in Boston, and the result was a much-needed decision win for the former Bellator champion. After stumbling in his UFC debut against Donald Cerrone, Alvarez has won back-to-back nods against Pettis and Gilbert Melendez, albeit by slim margins. The Philadelphia native will challenge Rafael dos Anjos for the lightweight championship at a UFC Fight Night event on July 7.
4. Khabib Nurmagomedov (23-0)Nurmagomedov on April 16 returned from a two-year hiatus and looked as though he had never left, slamming and pummeling late replacement Darrell Horcher for a second-round stoppage in what amounted to a tune-up bout. Now a perfect 7-0 in his UFC campaign, “The Eagle” is seeking a fall date with the last man he beat inside the Octagon before falling injured: reigning lightweight king Rafael dos Anjos.
5. Tony Ferguson (20-3)Over the course of two years and seven straight victories, Ferguson has become one of the hottest commodities in the UFC’s famously deep lightweight division. The former “Ultimate Fighter” winner’s latest conquest came at “The Ultimate Fighter 22” Finale, where he tapped Edson Barboza with a second-round brabo choke in the show’s thrilling “Fight of the Night.” Ferguson was slated to meet Khabib Nurmagomedov on April 16, but an injury took “El Cucuy” out of the much-anticipated matchup. He will return to the cage as a UFC Fight Night headliner in South Dakota, where he will meet the fast-rising Michael Chiesa on July 13.
6. Edson Barboza (17-4)Fighting in his most important bout to date, Barboza executed a near-flawless game plan on April 23 against former UFC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis. “Junior” kept the fight standing and Pettis at arm’s length, using his vicious muay Thai arsenal to chop down the American with leg kicks and sharp punches all the way to a unanimous decision. Barboza will look to continue his climb at 155 pounds on July 23, when he confronts former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez at UFC on Fox 20.
7. Anthony Pettis (18-5)After establishing himself as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world, Anthony Pettis took three straight losses to now-champ Rafael dos Anjos, future title challenger Eddie Alvarez and perennial fringe contender Edson Barboza. Surprisingly, “Showtime” has opted to drop a weight class to get a new lease on life: Pettis will now take on Charlies Oliveira on Aug. 27 a the UFC on Fox 21 in his featherweight debut.
8. Will Brooks (16-1)It wasn't a secret that Brooks, the former Bellator MMA lightweight champion, was going to abandon his promotional title in order to seek a UFC deal. It still came quicker than anyone expected, as within hours of becoming a true free agent, Brooks signed a Zuffa deal and got himself a debut fight: “Ill Will” will step in and replace James Krause on July 8 at “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 23 Finale against veteran Ross Pearson.
9. Michael Chiesa (14-2)Chiesa used scrambles and a nasty rear-naked choke to score a come-from-behind victory in his April 16 meeting with the streaking Beneil Dariush. “Maverick” has often flown under the radar in his UFC career, a quietly dangerous fighter in an ultra-deep division, but his profile figures to increase after picking up his third consecutive win against quality competition. Chiesa will have a chance for an even bigger breakthrough win when he headlines a July 13 UFC Fight Night card opposite Tony Ferguson.
10. Beneil Dariush (13-2)Less than two months after having a five-fight winning streak snapped by Michael Chiesa, Dariush righted his course by blasting through James Vick at UFC 199. The Kings MMA product sustained multiple eye pokes, but the fouls seemed only to antagonize Dariush, who upped his aggression late in the first round and punched Vick out cold.
Other Contenders: Nate Diaz, Evan Dunham, Justin Gaethje, Dustin Poirier, Francisco Trinaldo.
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