1. Anthony Pettis (17-2)Pettis needed five rounds and the remarkable “Showtime” kick to take the World Extreme Cagefighting belt from Benson Henderson in 2010, but he required far less time to earn his second victory over “Smooth” and become the lightweight king at UFC 164. The only thing that went wrong for Pettis, who submitted Henderson with a first-round armbar, was a knee injury he suffered while checking a kick. While the ailment was only diagnosed as a sprain, the Roufusport standout was forced to withdraw from a title defense against Josh Thomson when the knee did not heal as quickly as anticipated. Pettis will coach opposite Gilbert Melendez on Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” before defending his title against “El Nino,” likely in December.
2. Benson Henderson (21-3)Henderson looked as sharp as ever in his June 7 encounter with Rustam Khabilov, and this time, there were no scorecards for anyone to dissect. “Smooth” took out Khabilov with a fourth-round rear-naked choke -- it was Henderson’s first finish in 10 UFC bouts -- and kept his name at the top of the list for title contention. Henderson will likely need one more win to secure another shot at gold; his next obstacle is Rafael dos Anjos at UFC Fight Night in Tulsa, Okla., on Aug. 23.
3. Gilbert Melendez (21-3)One bout removed from a narrow and controversial loss to then-lightweight champion Benson Henderson, “El Nino” teamed with Diego Sanchez to produce one of 2013’s most memorable fights at UFC 166. Melendez recently flirted with a move to Bellator MMA before re-signing with the UFC. He will coach opposite lightweight champion Anthony Pettis on Season 20 of “The Ultimate Fighter” before challenging “Showtime” for his title.
4. Eddie Alvarez (25-3)At Bellator 106, Alvarez showed the world why the promotion fought so hard to retain his services by regaining the lightweight title he lost in November 2011 with a hard-fought split decision over Michael Chandler. The rubber match between the two lightweights was expected to take place at Bellator’s May 17 pay-per-view card, but Alvarez withdrew from the bout after suffering a concussion in training. With the recent regime change at Bellator, Alvarez is reportedly in talks with the UFC once again, though a rumored fight with Donald Cerrone at UFC 178 did not come to fruition.
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov (22-0)Nurmagomedov continues to look like the next big thing in the UFC’s lightweight division. “The Eagle” dismantled fellow contender Rafael dos Anjos at UFC on Fox 11, grinding down his adversary through takedowns, clinches and ground-and-pound. The surging Dagestani has won six straight bouts inside the Octagon. However, a knee injury forced the 25-year-old to withdraw from a match with Donald Cerrone the same day bout agreements were signed.
6. Rafael dos Anjos (21-7)After having a five-fight winning streak snapped by Khabib Nurmagomedov, dos Anjos got back on track with a strong win over former welterweight Jason High on June 7. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu stylist once again showcased his improved striking skills, rudely welcoming High to the 155-pound ranks with a second-round stoppage. Dos Anjos will next square off with former lightweight king Benson Henderson at UFC Fight Night in Tulsa, Okla.
7. Nate Diaz (17-9)Diaz once again demonstrated his ability to entertain by avenging a 2010 loss to Gray Maynard at “The Ultimate Fighter 18” Finale. The Cesar Gracie disciple rocked Maynard with a left and kept “The Bully” on his heels with a flurry of accurate punches to earn a stoppage 2:38 into round one. Diaz recently made headlines for a rant regarding his current contract with the UFC, asking for more money or to be released.
8. Bobby Green (23-5)Fighting on only two weeks’ notice, Green parlayed a last-minute assignment into a spot in the lightweight top 10 with a split-decision victory over former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson. The “King” remains unbeaten at 4-0 in his UFC run with wins against Thomson, Pat Healy, James Krause and Jacob Volkmann. He will look for a ninth consecutive win when he meets Donald Cerrone on Sept. 27 at UFC 178.
9. Josh Thomson (20-7, 1 NC)American Kickboxing Academy’s “Punk” briefly considered retirement after a controversial loss to Benson Henderson, only to return to the Octagon a few months later. Thomson fought hard against late replacement Bobby Green on July 26 but could not overcome the former King of the Cage champion’s diverse striking attack, falling via split decision after three rounds.
10. Donald Cerrone (24-6, 1 NC)In the 11 months since his decision defeat to Rafael dos Anjos, the “Cowboy” has ridden roughshod over all those in his path. Cerrone has notched four consecutive finishes inside the Octagon, most recently blasting through Jim Miller with a head-kick knockout on July 16 in Atlantic City, N.J. Cerrone’s fourth fight of the year will come against Bobby Green at UFC 178.
Other Contenders: Will Brooks, Michael Chandler, Myles Jury, Rustam Khabilov, Jim Miller.
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