1. Frankie Edgar (13-1-1)
In round one of his lightweight title defense against Gray Maynard at UFC 125, Edgar looked dead to rights after taking an epic pummeling from “The Bully.” Somehow, the New Jersey native fought back over the last 20 minutes, shutting down Maynard’s wrestling and becoming the more effective boxer to force a split draw on the judges’ cards. A third meeting between Edgar and Maynard was slated for May, but both men were injured just weeks out and the UFC 130 main event was scrapped.
2. Gilbert Melendez (19-2)
Few predicted a finish from Melendez in his April 9 rematch with Tatsuya Kawajiri. Not only had “El Nino” gone the full five rounds in each of his previous two title defenses, but the pair’s initial meeting in 2006 also went the distance. Melendez topped the “Crusher” once again, this time in vastly more impressive fashion, elbowing the tough Dream standout into oblivion at 3:14 of the first period. While a date for his return has yet to be set, Melendez will likely make his next defense against American Top Team’s Jorge Masvidal.
3. Gray Maynard (10-0-1, 1 NC)
Through five minutes at UFC 125, it seemed a lock that Maynard would leave Las Vegas with the UFC lightweight crown. The “Bully” crushed Frankie Edgar in the first round, but the champion battled back over the next four to force a draw and retain his title in an early “Fight of the Year” contender. The pair was set to square off for the third time in May, but injuries forced both men off the card just weeks before their scheduled third encounter.
4. Shinya Aoki (28-5, 1 NC)
After a veritable merry-go-round of opponents saw Aoki matched with Willamy Freire, Antonio McKee, Jamie Varner and Shane Nelson, the “Tobikan Judan” wound up facing UFC vet Rich Clementi in the Dream ring on May 29. Aoki asserted his dominance on the floor in the non-title bout, eventually forcing the American to submit to a second-round neck crank. Since his lopsided decision loss to Gilbert Melendez in Strikeforce, Aoki has won five straight, submitting three.
5. Eddie Alvarez (22-2)
On April 2, for the first time in seven fights, Alvarez failed to finish his opponent. However, the Philadelphia native looked nothing short of dominant in defending his Bellator lightweight against second-season tournament winner Pat Curran, earning one scorecard of 49-46 and two clean sweeps of 50-45. Fourth-season tourney champ Michael Chandler is waiting in the wings for his shot at Alvarez, though that bout has yet to be scheduled.
6. Jim Miller (20-2)
Before a hometown crowd in Newark, N.J., Miller took another step toward a lightweight title shot by handing Kamal Shalorus his first defeat at UFC 128. With seven consecutive wins in the Octagon, Miller is clearly ready for title contention, but he will have to wait for the result of the pending Frankie Edgar-Gray Maynard bout. In the meantime, the AMA Fight Club product will face former WEC champ Benson Henderon Aug. 14 in his opponent’s home base of Milwaukee.
7. Clay Guida(29-11)
Vintage Guida was on display June 4 at “The Ultimate Fighter 13” Finale, where “The Carpenter” used his frantic pace and suffocating ground game to top former WEC lightweight champ Anthony Pettis. The decision win was the 29-year-old’s fourth straight, having also finished the likes of Takanori Gomi and Rafael dos Anjos during that stretch.
8. Anthony Pettis (13-2)
The final lightweight champ of World Extreme Cagefighting had his June 4 UFC debut spoiled by Clay Guida, who smothered Pettis for the better part of three rounds and avoided all submission attempt from the Roufusport fighter. The decision loss halted Pettis’ breakout, four-fight win streak which culminated in his spectacular win over Benson Henderson last December.
9. Tatsuya Kawajiri (27-7-2)
The “Crusher” became the crushed on April 9, as Kawajiri was smashed by the elbows of defending Strikeforce lightweight champ Gilbert Melendez. It was only the second loss for the Japanese fighter in his last seven bouts, the other coming to Dream champ and fellow world-ranker Shinya Aoki. Up next for Kawajiri: a July 16 duel with former Shooto world 154-pound titleholder Willamy Freire in Dream.
10. Ben Henderson (13-2)
Quelling the notion that WEC lightweights would be unable to hang with their UFC counterparts, former WEC champ Henderson put on an impressive display against Mark Bocek on April 30, outworking the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt in virtually every facet of the fight. Henderson will face a decidedly sterner task on Aug. 14, when he is set to clash with powerful contender Jim Miller in Wisconsin.