(George Sotiropoulos is the biggest mover at 155lbs. – photo courtesy Josh Hedges/Zuffa)
In the wake of an explosive night of fights from Australia, several fighters have established themselves as potential threats to their division’s current titleholder.
One fighter in particular, George Sotiropoulos, went from a relative unknown to a top contender with a stunning victory over previously ranked contender Joe Stevenson.
Now that the dust has settled, let’s analyze the top contenders in the UFC’s lightweight division and see where the Aussie ranks among the division’s top ten.
10. Kurt Pellegrino
“Batman” is a much-improved fighter since his losses to Nate Diaz and Stevenson. Working alongside former WEC champion Miguel Torres and Kenny Florian has drastically sharpened Pellegrino’s abilities and he has evolved into a more complete fighter in the process.
The grappling ace is on a three-fight winning streak and will look to keep his momentum flowing as he battles Fabricio Cameos next month at UFC 111 in his home state of New Jersey.
9. Takanori Gomi
“The Fireball Kid” has yet to compete in the UFC but he will enter the Octagon with a ton of hype and fan fair. Once recognized as the world’s top lightweight, Gomi will make his long anticipated UFC debut against Florian on March 31 at UFC Fight Night 21.
A victory over Florian would skyrocket the former PRIDE lightweight champion back into the top of the heap and move him one step closer to a shot at the UFC title. Heading into UFC Fight Night 21, Gomi is 2-2 in his last four bouts, so a loss would remove him from the rankings entirely.
8. Jim Miller
Miller’s lone loss in the Octagon was to top contender Gray Maynard and since then the New Jersey native has been on a tear, winning his last three fights.
He will have the honor of competing in front of his home crowd next month at UFC 111 against Jiu-Jitsu black belt Mark Bocek. A fourth straight win would set Miller up for a bout with a top ranked opponent in his next fight, and assuming Miller continues winning it will not be long before we see him competing for the coveted lightweight title.
7. Sean Sherk
After pulling out of multiple fights in the last few months, another undisclosed injury has forced “The Muscle Shark” out of a potential bout with Clay Guida that was set for “UFC on Versus 1” on March 21. The former champ last fought at UFC 98, losing a surprisingly lopsided unanimous decision to Frankie Edgar.
Prior to that, Sherk barely defeated Tyson Griffin and was brutally finished by B.J Penn, so he is in desperate need of a win to remain relevant in the grand scheme of things.
6. Tyson Griffin
Despite losing a razor-close decision to Sherk, Griffin has done enough recently to warrant a higher ranking than his former adversary. The Xtreme Couture standout went undefeated in 2009 with wins over Rafael dos Anjos and former title challenger Hermes Franca.
Griffin always displayed explosive wrestling in the Octagon but now it seems he has added a sound standup game to go along with his powerful takedowns. Griffin will trade blows with Evan Dunham in his next fight at UFC 115 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
5. George Sotiropoulos
With his dominant upset over Stevenson this past Saturday night, Sotiropoulos emerges as a top five contender among UFC lightweights. The Australian native displayed world class grappling skills mixed with a pinpoint standup arsenal en route to a unanimous decision victory in his homeland of Australia.
Sotiropoulos is now 5-0 in the Octagon and could be only a couple of big wins away from earning a shot at the title.
4. Frankie Edgar
Some may question the UFC’s decision to launch Edgar into a title fight with Penn ahead of Maynard considering Maynard dominated him two years ago, but Edgar finished his last fight against Matt Veach where as Maynard won a lackluster decision over Nate Diaz.
Edgar will fight for the title at UFC 112 in Abu Dhabi and a win could go down as one of the biggest upsets in UFC history.
3. Gray Maynard
He is not the most exciting fighter in the world but “The Bully” gets the job done. Currently Maynard is unbeaten in the Octagon with notable wins over ranked competitors Miller and Edgar.
Maynard has only finished one out of his eight UFC fights and his less than stellar win over Diaz was simply not enough to elevate the All-American wrestler into a title bout with his Penn.
“The Bully” cannot be denied a title shot for much longer if he continues stringing together victories, but he needs to win decisively in his next fight to really make a statement.
2. Kenny Florian
After being utterly outclassed by Penn in their title bout at UFC 101, Florian bounced back with a vicious submission over Clay Guida at UFC 107. If “The Prodigy” moved up to welterweight and left the 155-lbs division behind him, Florian would likely be the one to fight for the vacated title.
He is rapidly evolving under the tutelage of Firas Zahabi and seems to be leagues ahead of every fighter in the division not named Penn. Florian will welcome former PRIDE champion Gomi to the Octagon on March 31 and another imposing finish could quite possibly earn the Bostonian yet another title shot.
1. B.J Penn
“The Prodigy” has turned the lightweight division into a dead-zone.
Penn’s most recent annihilation over Diego Sanchez at UFC 107 just adds more proof to the pudding that he is the absolute best that the lightweight division has to offer.
Edgar will need to make some drastic changes to his training regimen if he plans on walking out of Abu Dhabi with all of his limbs safely attached to his body.