I have a serious beef with a lot of the lightweight rankings I see currently. I don’t normally follow different rankings but recently I ran into one that had Japanese submission phenom, Shinya Aoki, as the the number rated lightweight in the world. I laughed out loud. Now don’t get me wrong, Aoki is an extremely gifted athlete, but I just couldn’t believe that the particular website I was visiting really believed that he was the best fighter in the division. As I started looking through some of the other names in the top ten list I was dumbfounded as to how many names that shouldn’t have been on there, IMHO, were on there.
I thought ‘Stop the press!’, these people have lost their minds. Surely there must be other ranking polls out there that made some kind of sense. The more I looked around, the more it seemed to me that a lot of people may be copy and pasting the top ten lists of others and then just mixing the names up. It was a lot of the same, everywhere I went. I’ll get into some of the other names that made my jaw drop but I wanted to clear up a few things first.
I feel, and have always felt that rankings are extremely different depending on who you ask. One persons opinion on the matter is no better than the next, just as my opinion on these rankings are just that, an opinion like any other. Now that that’s out of the way I feel like I will definitely need to put a disclaimer before I start into this article to let everyone know that I am absolutely not a “UFC fanboy”. I love mixed martial arts. I am a huge fan everything that the sport is. The UFC, Strikeforce, Affliction, Shooto, Dream, Cage Rage, Rage in the Cage, I don’t care. I am as unbiased a fan of the sport as they come. I even used to watch BET’s Iron Ring regularly, it’s sad but true. The reason I have to say all of that because this little write up is sure going to look like I have a huge crush on the UFC.
The bottom line is this. On most of the rankings from extremely credible sources that I came across had maybe two or three guys on the list from the UFC. The usual suspects, and deservedly so, B.J. Penn, Sean Sherk and Kenny Florian. You mean to tell me that there are generally only three guys fighting out of the UFC that belong in the top ten. There are between 5 – 8 fighters not in the UFC on most top ten lists. Stop the madness!
First off, Shinya Aoki is NOT the best lightweight fighter in the world, and he’s not the second, or the third for that matter. I will admit, straight off, I am a huge Aoki fan. Since this piece is going to hopelessly riddled with personal opinion, I may as well say that I feel like Aoki is the most dangerous submission artist (pound for pound) in the business today. Maybe flashy mounted gogoplatas over guys like Katsuhiko Nagata have some people catching the vapors, but anyone that feels like Aoki would somehow defeat B.J. Penn is sadly mistaken.
Aoki’s biggest wins that could be used as weight in an argument for him being the best lightweight in the world came over Eddie Alvarez and Joachim Hansen, two other men that are mysteriously in just about everyone’s lightweight top ten rankings. Alvarez’ biggest win recently came over Hansen, who’s biggest win was over Aoki, who recently defeated Alvarez. It’s like this great big triangle of lightweight ranking insanity. I guess you could throw Gesias Calvancante into Aoki’s recent list of relevant wins, but that wouldn’t make for a really good triangle now would it. Calvancante is another one that causes me to scratch my head as far as the top ten status goes, but I’ll get to that. I’ve got a lot on my chest.
I can’t discuss every single guy in all of the top ten lists that I don’t feel belong there, but I can speak on the the few names that consistently popped up that left me extremely perplexed.
Eddie Alvarez, another guy I’m personally a big fan of, but another guy I don’t feel belongs near the top of many lightweight lists at this point in time. He had a couple big wins in fights that ended up being back and forth brawls against two other highly over rated fighters, Joachim Hansen and Tatsuya Kawajiri, but outside of that, there’s nothing that stands out on his resume. He beat Andre “Dida” Amade, one of my favorite fighters in the world to watch, but hardly a top lightweight. Most places I went, Alvarez was in the top five, I’m calling shenanigans.
I’ve already brought him up so let me just go ahead and touch up on Joachim Hansen. I’ve seen him ranked from #1 to #5, but he’s another guy that’s in the top of most lists. This one just has me pulling the hair out of my head. Hansen, a top five fighter? He’s an extremely dangerous, well rounded fighter, but this is just ridiculous. I’ll come out and say that the only reason he is among the cream of the crop on a lot of these lists is because of one victory. Hansen knocked out Aoki, but seriously folks, he just got through losing to Eddie Alvarez and before that, I distinctly remember Aoki choking the life out of him with his foot. Are these three guys seriously that much better than all of the guys in the UFC to where their wins over each other in Japan really carry that much weight? I beg to differ.
I’m going to start digging into the UFC fighters that I was shocked to see absent from most top ten lists but there are a few more bones I have to pick with what seems to be, popular opinion about who is the top of food chain in the lightweight division.
Next up, Gesias “JZ” Calvancante, not a top ten lightweight, but surprisingly present on more than a couple rankings lists. Shouldn’t a fighters activity and recent victories be factored into the equation? I sure hope so. If that was the case, most wouldn’t have to research very hard to realize that Calvancante hasn’t notched a win in the last year. There’s a big shiny loss on his record to Aoki, a no contest to Aoki, and a whole lot of inactivity but that’s about it. Still, he consistently makes just about every important top ten rankings list in the game. Don’t get me wrong, Calvancante’s got some good wins over guys like Rani Yahya, Caol Uno, Nam Phan and Vitor Ribeiro, but that was in the past. Either way, I don’t think those wins justify top five or ten status by any stretch of the imagination.
Moving on, there’s Satoru Kitaoka. Who? Exactly. He’s the guy that a lot of people are ranking really high because of his recent win over Takanori Gomi, who has been an absolute train wreck lately. I’m not going to even touch on Gomi, even though he’s another guy that doesn’t belong anywhere near a top ten ranking, I need to deal with Kitaoka. A guy that seems to be tough as nails and has some very impressive wins in his past, but a guy that many seem to be jumping the gun with as far as how good he really is. I could name a hand full of guys in the UFC that I would bet money on to beat Gomi right now. A top ten ranking for Kitaoka seems a bit sudden for my taste.
Last guy that really demands addressing is going to be Tatsuya Kawajiri. His most recent bout was a knockout loss to the previously mentioned Eddie Alvarez. Before that he racked up wins over names like Luiz Firmino, Kultar Gill, and Luiz Azaredo just after suffering a loss to former Strikeforce champion, Gilbert Melendez. Kawajiri is a veteran and a well equipped fighter but should not be ranked above many of the guys in the UFC that I am about to tear into.
After all the fighters I have just mentioned, now I can dive into some of the guys in the UFC that I am constantly bewildered to see missing from the majority of lightweight top ten lists. For all of those that I have mentioned previously, you can just scratch them off the current top ten rankings until they face meaningful competition and replace them with some of these guys.
Gray Maynard, open up the door and let this guy in. Undefeated in seven bouts, Maynard has racked up wins over Dennis Siver, Rich Clementi and most impressively, Frankie Edgar in the last year. Three wins against some of the best in the business in his last three fights. Personally, I’ll take Maynard’s win against Edgar over Kitaoka’s win over Gomi, any day of the week.
It may be a little early to add Diego Sanchez to this list, as he has only had one fight at lightweight, but with a record of 20-2 against some of the best in the sport, and a recent win over Joe Stevenson, I feel comfortable replacing someone like Calvancante or Kawajiri with Sanchez. In fact Diego’s only two losses have come by decision, and to two of the very best welterweights in mixed martial arts, Jon Fitch and Josh Koscheck. I’m sure ‘The Nightmare’ will find his way to some of the top rankings lists after his next bout at lightweight but I see no reason for him to not be on that list right now.
How about Frankie Edgar? Here is a guy that I feel should be on top ten lightweight lists across the board. Edgar’s sole defeat in mixed martial arts came against the previously mentioned Gray Maynard and his resume reads like a who’s who list of top lightweights. Edgar’s last five victories have come over Jim Miller, Tyson Griffin, Mark Bocek, Spencer Fisher and Hermes Franca. ‘Nuff said.
Tyson Griffin has definitely proven that he deserves mentioning when talking about the top fighters at 155 pounds. His recent toe to toe war with consensus top five lightweight and former UFC champion, Sean Sherk, showed that Griffin would be no easy fight for anyone in the world at 155 pounds. Wins over guys like Marcus Aurelio, Clay Guida, Duane Ludwig and Urijah Faber while only losing close decisions to two of the best little men in the sport prove that Griffin is among the top of his weight class.
Of course there are definitely some honorable mentions coming out of the UFC that I feel demand consideration. Clay Guida is, in my personal opinion, the most under rated fighter in the business. He showed exactly how good he was in his most recent victorious outing against Nate Diaz. A fight many people believed he would lose. Guida makes a fight out of it no matter who he’s in there with and anyone that shows up against Guida thinking they’re going to have an easy night better think again.
Roger Huerta is a talented fighter that could easily be considered for top ten honors, just based on the fact that I feel his style would be too much for someone like Aoki and poses problems for just about anyone he faces.
Rounding out the honorable mentions list we have J-Lau, Joe Lauzon. Another really under estimated, seldom talked about lightweight with a ton of talent.
That just about covers it. That’s my argument or my opinion that most lightweight rankings you will see compiled today are incredibly questionable. It seems like a lot of the foreign fighters, specifically fighters out of organizations like Dream or Sengoku are given way too much credit for the opposition they have faced.
This piece wouldn’t be complete without me adding my own personal top ten lightweight rankings for everyone to pick apart and laugh at, and it’s coming. However, first I would like to include my random UFC fighters that I truly believe would smash Shinya Aoki, the majority top ranked lightweight in the world. Eat your heart out.
B.J. Penn, Gray Maynard, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Roger Huerta, Tyson Griffin, Nate Diaz, I said it, Nate Diaz would knock Aoki out, and last but not least, Clay Guida. Put that in your microwave and press start.
1. B.J. Penn
2. Kenny Florian
3. Sean Sherk
4. Gray Maynard
5. Frankie Edgar
6. Tyson Griffin
7. Josh Thomson
8. Diego Sanchez
9. Shinya Aoki