1. Benson Henderson (19-2)
After a dominant victory over Nate Diaz in December, “Smooth” returned to his habit of winning closely contested decisions at UFC on Fox 7. Paired with former Strikeforce titlist Gilbert Melendez, Henderson outstruck his foe just enough to earn a razor-thin split verdict. There will be no immediate rematch for “El Nino,” however, as Henderson will next defend his crown against Anthony Pettis at UFC 164.
2. Gilbert Melendez (21-3)
At UFC on Fox 7, Melendez proved he belonged among the division’s elite by giving reigning UFC 155-pound champion Benson Henderson all he could handle before losing a split decision in the five-round headliner. A bout between Melendez and former 155-pound title challenger Diego Sanchez has been targeted for UFC 166 in Houston.
3. Anthony Pettis (16-2)
When a torn meniscus forced “Showtime” out of a featherweight superfight with reigning 145-pound titlist Jose Aldo at UFC 163, it seemed as though Pettis championship dreams would be placed on hold yet again. However, T.J. Grant’s misfortune -- a concussion suffered while training jiu-jitsu -- proved to be Pettis’ gain. The ex-WEC ruler will rematch Benson Henderson, whom he defeated at the now-defunct promotion’s swan song in December 2010, at UFC 164 in Milwaukee.
4. T.J. Grant (21-5)
Grant staked his claim as the No. 1 contender to Benson Henderson’s UFC lightweight throne by pummeling Gray Maynard in a first-round blowout at UFC 160. The 29-year-old Canadian has been unstoppable in the Octagon since dropping to 155 pounds in 2011, notching five straight wins, three of them finishes. Unfortunately, a concussion will keep Grant from challenging Henderson at UFC 164. He has not been guaranteed a title shot upon his return.
5. Michael Chandler (12-0)
Chandler made his second Bellator title defense look easy, dispatching the usually resilient David Rickels in just 44 seconds at Bellator 97. The Alliance MMA representative continues to make a strong case for his name to be included in any discussion of the world’s top lightweights. Chandler will continue to showcase his skills under the Bellator banner for the foreseeable future, as he recently inked an eight-fight extension with the promotion.
6. Gray Maynard (11-2-1, 1 NC)
After missing a bout with Joe Lauzon at UFC 155 due to a knee injury, Maynard happened into a No. 1 contender bout with T.J. Grant at UFC 160. Grant came out with guns blazing and became only the second man to defeat Maynard, sending “The Bully” down the lightweight ladder for the time being.
7. Josh Thomson (20-5, 1 NC)
When fully healthy, “The Punk” remains a formidable opponent for anyone in the lightweight division, as he proved by becoming the first person to stop the durable Nate Diaz with strikes at UFC on Fox 7. With one resounding victory under his belt, the former Strikeforce titlist figures to receive another contender for his next Octagon appearance.
8. Nate Diaz (16-9)
Diaz’s second consecutive defeat at lightweight came in devastating fashion. The Stockton, Calif., native fell victim to a vicious head kick and follow-up punches from Strikeforce veteran Josh Thomson at UFC on Fox 7. In May, Diaz was suspended 90 days and fined $20,000 for violating the UFC’s fighter code of conduct in a tweet.
9. Pat Healy (29-16, 1 NC)
Healy made his long-awaited return to the Octagon count, putting divisional stalwart Jim Miller to sleep with a third-round rear-naked choke in UFC 159’s “Fight of the Night.” The Strikeforce import did not get to enjoy his victory for long, however, as the bout was changed to a no-contest after Healy tested positive for marijuana, costing him $130,000 in bonus money. Healy gets a chance for redemption at UFC 165, when he squares off with the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov in Toronto.
10. Donald Cerrone (20-5, 1 NC)
Cerrone used effective takedowns and brutal ground-and-pound to outpoint former EliteXC champ K.J. Noons at UFC 160. The win saw “Cowboy” rebound from a nasty knockout loss to Anthony Pettis in January and moved the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative to 7-2 in the Octagon. Cerrone will get surging Brazilian Rafael dos Anjos in his next outing at UFC on Fox Sports 1 in Indianapolis.
Other contenders:Eddie Alvarez, Shinya Aoki, Rick Hawn, Jim Miller, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
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