1. Anthony Pettis (17-2)
Pettis needed five rounds and the remarkable “Showtime” kick to take the WEC 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. Fortunately, the ailment was diagnosed as a sprain, and the Roufusport standout will meet T.J. Grant upon his return.
2. Benson Henderson (19-2)
After seven consecutive triumphs to begin his UFC career, “Smooth” relinquished his lightweight crown to the same man who also snatched WEC gold from his clutches in December 2010: Anthony Pettis. The MMA Lab product had no answer for Pettis’ dynamic attack at UFC 164, as “Showtime” had Henderson reeling with a series of hard body kicks before finishing the fight with an armbar from guard in the opening frame.
3. Gilbert Melendez (21-3)
At UFC on Fox 7, Melendez proved he belonged among the division’s elite by giving then-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.
4. T.J. Grant (21-5)
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 -- including a first-round blowout of Gray Maynard at UFC 160. While a concussion knocked Grant out of a proposed meeting with then-champion Benson Henderson at UFC 164, he will get his opportunity to challenge for UFC gold against Anthony Pettis when “Showtime” recovers from a sprained knee suffered in his triumph over Henderson.
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. Recently signed to an eight-fight deal with Bellator, Chandler will rematch Eddie Alvarez in the promotion’s first pay-per-view venture on Nov. 2; their explosive first meeting was arguably the best fight of 2011.
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 showdown 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, where he squares off with the unbeaten Khabib Nurmagomedov in Toronto.
10. Rafael dos Anjos (20-6)
Dos Anjos notched his fifth straight win inside the Octagon at UFC Fight Night 27, as he raced out to an early lead and held on for a unanimous verdict over Donald Cerrone. The Brazilian lightweight set the tone early by flooring “Cowboy” with an overhand right in the opening frame and never looked back, as he earned the most significant triumph of his pro career.
Other contenders:Eddie Alvarez, Donald Cerrone, Rick Hawn, Jim Miller, Khabib Nurmagomedov.
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