HeavyMMA Rankings: The Lightweight Division

Henderson, Edgar scheduled for August rematch in Denver

HeavyMMA’s fighter rankings are back this week with a look at the lightweights, which saw a changing of the guard when former WEC lightweight champ Ben Henderson knocked off Frankie Edgar in February. The two have a rematch planned for this summer. Will we see the top spot change hands again? And don’t forget a huge top 10 matchup this Saturday at UFC on Fox between Nate Diaz and Jim Miller. Get to know Nate Diaz a little better by watching the video above. Now, on to the rankings.

Heavy’s panel consists of HeavyMMA editor Matt Brown, writer Duane Finley and writer/editor Matt Erickson. Each panelist compiles his rankings independently, and the votes are tabulated to reach the results listed below. Coming next week, we’ll take a look at the featherweight division.

1. Ben Henderson
UFC champion (16-2, 4-0 UFC)
Though his wins haven’t been by fan-friendly stoppage the way four of five of them were in his WEC days, “Smooth” has lived up to his nickname in the UFC. He’ll rematch Frankie Edgar in August to defend his title for the first time.

2. Gilbert Melendez
Strikeforce champion (20-2, 10-1 Strikeforce)
Though Melendez keeps asking, practically begging, to be matched up with the UFC’s best 155ers, UFC president Dana White has been pretty clear: “Gilbert Melendez is a Strikeforce fighter.” And that is apparently where he’ll stay. He gets a trilogy fight against Josh Thomson in three weeks to defend his title. He lost to Thomson in June 2008, then won an interim belt, then beat Thomson by unanimous decision in December 2009 to unify the belts. He’s a better than 4-to-1 favorite against “The Punk,” so his request to face stiffer talent than Strikeforce can match him up with might be warranted.

3. Frankie Edgar
Top UFC contender (14-2-1, 9-2-1 UFC)
Edgar was on a glorious run until he ran into a white-hot Ben Henderson in February. “Smooth” took his belt in a close fight – close enough that Edgar rightfully asked for a rematch and was given one. More than a handful of people scored his first fight with Henderson in his favor, but he’ll have to wait till August to prove he’s still the top cat at 155 pounds.

4. Jim Miller
(21-3, 10-2 UFC)
Miller rebounded from his August loss to Ben Henderson in a big way when he submitted Melvin Guillard in January. Now Miller gets what many are saying is a top contenders bout against Nate Diaz at week’s end at UFC on Fox. If he gets it done against Diaz in the main event, he very well be waiting it out for the Henderson-Edgar winner.

5. Gray Maynard
(10-1-1, 8-1-1 UFC)
Maynard may want to just put 2011 in the rearview mirror and drive away. He had two title shots against Frankie Edgar and walked away empty handed. He split from his training camp at Xtreme Couture, as well. But with a new main home at the American Kickboxing Academy, Maynard may be rejuvenated enough to make another run. It’ll have to start against Clay Guida in June, no easy task.

6. Anthony Pettis
(15-2, 2-1 UFC)
“Showtime” put to rest really quickly any talk that he couldn’t hang with the UFC lightweights when he knocked out Joe Lauzon with a head kick in February. That made just about everyone forget about his unanimous decision loss to Clay Guida, in which he showed trouble with Guida’s control on the ground, and a lackluster performance in a split decision win over Jeremy Stephens. He awaits his next test, but just about everyone in the Top 20 is booked up – so he may be waiting for the dust to settle before hearing from Joe Silva.

7. Nate Diaz
(15-7, 10-5 UFC)
The bonus machine will go after another post-fight check against Jim Miller in the headlining bout of UFC on Fox on Saturday in Miller’s native New Jersey. Diaz looked in top form when he submitted Takanori Gomi last year, and looked even better outboxing Donald Cerrone in December. Against Miller, he gets one of the hottest lightweights in the business the last three years – he’ll need to be on his A-game again.

8. Clay Guida
(29-12, 9-6 UFC)
Guida will try to rebound from his tough loss to Ben Henderson last November against Gray Maynard, which is another brutal test for “The Carpenter.” He’ll have fought Anthony Pettis, Henderson and Maynard over the last year – and it doesn’t get much tougher than that.

9. Michael Chandler
Bellator champion (9-0, 6-0 Bellator)
Chandler was somewhat of a surprise winner of Bellator’s Season 4 lightweight tournament, but he proved he belonged when he upset Eddie Alvarez to win Bellator’s 155-pound belt. Chandler is a massive favorite on Friday at Bellator 67 against Akihiro Gono in a non-title fight – about 9-to-1.

10. Eddie Alvarez
(23-3, 7-1 Bellator)
So much for Alvarez being unmotivated and just trying to play out his Bellator contract. He ran through Shinya Aoki with no trouble 10 days ago in Cleveland. It is believed Alvarez has one more fight left on his Bellator deal – and then the chances of him winding up in the UFC are pretty strong.

On the fringe: Melvin Guillard, Edson Barboza, Donald Cerrone, Shinya Aoki, Evan Dunham, Mark Bocek, Jacob Volkmann, Josh Thomson, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joe Lauzon

Make sure to check out who ruled the roost in other divisions:
HeavyMMA’s Pound-for-Pound rankings (March 26)
HeavyMMA’s Heavyweight rankings (April 2)
HeavyMMA’s Light Heavyweight rankings (April 9)
HeavyMMA’s Middleweight rankings (April 16)
HeavyMMA’s Welterweight rankings (April 23)

And stay tuned for our every-Monday rankings in a new weight class!
HeavyMMA’s Featherweight rankings: Coming May 7
HeavyMMA’s Bantamweight rankings: Coming May 14