1. Rafael dos Anjos (24-7)Dos Anjos put on the performance of his career at UFC 185, dominating Anthony Pettis for five rounds to sweep the judges’ scorecards and claim the UFC lightweight title. The 30-year-old Brazilian took a longer path to gold than any other fighter in UFC history, earning the belt in his 18th Octagon appearance. Dos Anjos’ only defeat in his last 10 outings came against Khabib Nurmagomedov, and a rematch could be on the cards if Nurmagomedov can defeat Donald Cerrone in May.
2. Anthony Pettis (18-3)The main event of UFC 185 saw Pettis dominated like never before. The former UFC and World Extreme Cagefighting titleholder lost his belt to Rafael dos Anjos after 25 lopsided minutes in which “Showtime” was forced to fight off his back and never truly looked competitive. The defeat was Pettis’ first since his 2011 Octagon debut, where he was similarly ground out by Clay Guida. The Roufusport fighter will attempt to rebound on July 25, when he goes up against the once-beaten Myles Jury in Chicago.
3. 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 out his adversary through takedowns, clinches and ground-and-pound. The surging Dagestani has won six straight bouts inside the Octagon and, after a 13-month layoff due to knee surgery, will attempt to cement his place as the No. 1 contender when he faces Donald Cerrone at UFC 187.
4. Donald Cerrone (27-6, 1 NC)Making a ridiculously short turnaround even by his active standards, Cerrone filled in for Eddie Alvarez and took on former WEC rival Benson Henderson on Jan. 18 in Boston. Unlike his bout with Myles Jury two weeks prior, “Cowboy” was unable to establish any consistent offense across three tentative and often frustrating rounds with Henderson. Nonetheless, Cerrone captured a controversial decision, pushing his winning streak to seven and keeping his title hopes alive. The busiest man in the lightweight division will return on May 23, when he faces Khabib Nurmagomedov at UFC 187 in what could be a title eliminator.
5. Gilbert Melendez (22-4)The former Strikeforce lightweight ace started strong at UFC 181, but “El Nino” quickly found out what many have before him: Anthony Pettis is a hard man to beat. Melendez dropped to 1-2 in the Octagon and failed in his bid for UFC gold, as he tapped out to a second-round guillotine choke. The Skrap Pack leader will take part in the co-main event of UFC 188 in Mexico City, where he will tangle with ex-Bellator MMA champ Eddie Alvarez.
6. Benson Henderson (22-5)Less than one month removed from his controversial decision loss to Donald Cerrone, the former UFC and WEC lightweight champion made a short-notice move up to 170 pounds to take on Brandon Thatch. “Smooth” overcame a five-inch height disparity and utilized his speed advantage on the feet before taking Thatch to the ground and securing a fourth-round rear-naked choke. Henderson will reportedly head back to 155 pounds for his next turn, as a date with Michael Johnson at “The Ultimate Fighter 21” Finale on July 12 has been targeted.
7. Will Brooks (16-1)Just two years after joining Bellator MMA as a relative unknown, “Ill Will” has ascended to the throne of the promotion’s lightweight division, compiling an 8-1 record inside the circular cage along the way. Brooks’ latest triumph came in his April 10 title defense against Dave Jansen, who managed to steal round one from the champ but was outworked in all four frames thereafter. The 28-year-old American Top Team fighter’s record includes wins over veteran names like John Alessio and Satoru Kitaoka, as well as a pair of victories against ex-titlist Michael Chandler.
8. Eddie Alvarez (25-4)The grit and technical capabilities that made Alvarez a hot commodity during his Bellator run were on full display at UFC 178. Unfortunately for the Philadelphian, he was up against one of the lightweight division’s toughest outs in Donald Cerrone, who spoiled Alvarez’s long-awaited Octagon debut and earned a unanimous decision by way of punishing leg kicks and body work. At UFC 188, Alvarez will take on Gilbert Melendez in a long-discussed showdown of former champions.
9. Michael Johnson (16-8)Toiling in the UFC’s most competitive division since 2010, Johnson has finally broken away from the pack with a four-fight winning streak against quality opposition. The onetime “Ultimate Fighter” finalist put together his most impressive showing to date in a Feb. 22 unanimous decision over Edson Barboza, adding the dangerous Brazilian’s name to a record which includes wins over Tony Ferguson, Gleison Tibau and Joe Lauzon. Johnson is expected to face former lightweight champion Benson Henderson at “The Ultimate Fighter 21” Finale on July 12.
10. Tony Ferguson (18-3)Ferguson put on an impressive showing at UFC 184, roughing up Gleison Tibau on the feet before becoming the first man since 2008 to submit the durable veteran. “El Cucuy” has emerged victorious from eight of his nine Octagon appearances, with his only setback coming against the man ranked directly above him, Michael Johnson. Ferguson will take on former Strikeforce champion Josh Thomson at a UFC Fight Night event on July 15.
Other Contenders: Beneil Dariush, Bobby Green, Al Iaquinta, Myles Jury, Jorge Masvidal.
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