Frank Edgar goes for his fourth title defense on Feb. 26 against Ben Henderson. | Photo: Sherdog.com
1. Frankie Edgar (14-1-1)
After surviving another brutal first round against Gray Maynard on Oct. 8, Edgar closed out the pair’s trilogy with another spectacular comeback, knocking out his “Bully” in the fourth round. Next up for the New Jerseyan is a Feb. 26 UFC title defense in Japan against former World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder Ben Henderson.
2. Gilbert Melendez (20-2)
Strikeforce’s lightweight ace turned in another strong performance on Dec. 17, out-punching American Top Team slugger Jorge Masvidal across five rounds to retain his 155-pound strap. While all signs pointed to Melendez’s imminent UFC signing, it was recently announced that “El Nino” will remain in the hexagon for the time being.
3. Gray Maynard (10-1-1, 1 NC)
Since suffering his first career defeat at the hands of Frankie Edgar in October, there have been no new fight developments for Maynard. The former Michigan State wrestler recently spent time in Rio de Janeiro at the renowned Nova Uniao camp, helping UFC featherweight ace Jose Aldo prepare for a successful January title defense.
4. Ben Henderson (15-2)
Henderson has looked nothing short of exceptional since transferring to the UFC, earning dominant unanimous decisions over Clay Guida, Jim Miller and Mark Bocek. The 27-year-old has expressed disappointment with his inability to finish in recent outings, something he’ll have the chance to rectify when he faces divisional ace Frankie Edgar for the UFC title in Japan on Feb. 26.
5. Shinya Aoki (30-5, 1 NC)
It was a gruesome sight on New Year’s Eve as Shinya Aoki defended his Dream lightweight title against former training partner Satoru Kitaoka. Aoki dominated proceedings both standing and on the feet, but it was his rear-naked choke attempts as Kitaoka choked on the blood from his own busted nose that put it over the top. Now, Aoki will await whatever name opponents he can find in 2012, possibly a rematch with former Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez.
6. Jim Miller (21-3)
Miller’s first starring role in the Octagon went so well, he’s headed straight for another. The tenacious New Jerseyan took out Melvin Guillard with a first-round rear-naked choke Jan. 20 in the main event of UFC on FX 1. Now, Miller moves up to headlining duty for the UFC’s May 5 Fox show, where he’ll collide with Nate Diaz in a likely title eliminator.
7. Clay Guida (29-12)
Once more on the cusp of contention, Guida had his title dreams busted -- along with his four-fight winning streak -- by Ben Henderson in a thrilling Nov. 12 three-rounder. The lightweight stalwart finishes 2011 with a 2-1 mark, having topped Anthony Pettis and Takanori Gomi.
8. Anthony Pettis (14-2)
The final lightweight champion of World Extreme Cagefighting lost out on a UFC title shot when he faltered against Clay Guida in his Octagon debut, but Pettis surged back in his sophomore outing to take a split decision against tough vet Jeremy Stephens. Next up for the Roufusport product: a trip to Japan in February, where he’ll face submission wiz Joe Lauzon at UFC 144.
9. Michael Chandler (9-0)
Previously unranked Chandler used heavy hands, a granite chin and his powerful collegiate wrestling base to topple Eddie Alvarez on Nov. 19, outlasting Bellator’s longtime lightweight ace to score a shocking fourth-round submission. With six impressive Bellator victories and a shiny new gold belt, Chandler awaits the winner of the promotion’s next lightweight tournament in 2012.
10. Nate Diaz (15-7)
In a critical beatdown, Nate Diaz announced his entry into UFC lightweight contendership on Dec. 30 with his thrashing of Donald Cerrone. The Cesar Gracie pupil could become the company’s next 155-pound challenger, but he’ll first have to get through Jim Miller in the May 5 main event of UFC on Fox 3.
Other contenders: Eddie Alvarez, Donald Cerrone, Melvin Guillard, Joe Lauzon, Gleison Tibau.
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