The Lightweight Division has Become the Most Exciting in the UFC
With the biggest star in the sport and many other entertaining fighters, the UFC’s lightweight division has risen above the rest.
Updated: July 16, 2017 • 12:04 PM ET
Tony Ferguson is one of the top ranked contenders in the lightweight division.
The UFC’s suspenseful lightweight division has taken over as the most exciting in the sport.
The division’s champion, Conor McGregor, hasn’t fought in the UFC since winning the belt at UFC 205 in November. McGregor is set to have a boxing super-fight with arguably the greatest boxer of all time, having never boxed professionally. He has agreed to put his and the UFC’s reputations on the line to cross over and fight Floyd Mayweather. It doesn’t matter how much money they’re both predicted to make, if McGregor gets embarrassed, it could hurt the UFC. No matter who he eventually defends the UFC lightweight title against, McGregor has his hands full with a fully loaded division.
The No. 1 and No. 2 ranked contenders have been scheduled to fight each other on three different occasions, with the last one being at UFC 209. Before that fight, No. 1 ranked lightweight Khabib Nurmagomedov was forced to pull out due to complications making weight.
In 2016, No. 2 lightweight Tony Ferguson was forced to pull out of their second scheduled fight due to injury, and Nurmagomedov pulled out due to injury before their first scheduled fight in 2015. It has been one of the most highly-anticipated matchups in the UFC for years and should it ever happen, the winner will undoubtedly be a tough test for McGregor, who has said he wants to fight in the UFC again before the end of the year.
Ferguson has made it clear that he believes he’s a big money fighter, and there are many questions whether Nurmagomedov can ever fight at 155 pounds again. So, if we’ll ever see this matchup remains to be seen, but both fighters pose a great threat to McGregor to steal the title.
The No. 3 ranked lightweight recently inked a deal to be the next coach on The Ultimate Fighter. Former champion Eddie Alvarez is coming off a no contest decision against Dustin Poirier at UFC 211. Before the fight was called off in the second round because of illegal knee strikes, it had Fight of the Year potential written all over it. Alvarez was open to a rematch after administering the illegal knees, but he’ll now face rival TUF coach and UFC newcomer Justin Gaethje. The two will face off at the TUF finale on a date yet to be announced.
No. 4 ranked lightweight Edson Barboza simply wants to fight just about anyone, due to his belief that the division is being tied up by McGregor. He last fought in March, winning Performance of the Night honors with his flying knee KO of Beneil Dariush. He has always been one of the most exciting fighters not only in the division, but in the UFC. Barboza has even said he would drop to 145 pounds to fight former champion Jose Aldo.
"I don't think that's a crazy idea," Barboza told ESPN about dropping a weight class. "I fought a couple Muay Thai fights at 145 pounds, a long time ago. I can make that weight.
"What about a superfight against Jose Aldo? Imagine that. Two Brazilian strikers. Why not? That's a fight that would get me excited. He's the best 145-pounder ever. If the UFC offered that, I would definitely sit down and think about it."
Barboza is riding a three-fight win streak and has defeated fighters such as Gilbert Melendez and Anthony Pettis.
"Everything is stuck in the lightweight division," Barboza said. "Khabib Nurmagomedov, Tony Ferguson, Conor McGregor -- nobody is fighting. Everybody is out the next couple months. It's all the same as it was."
Meanwhile, Nate Diaz has somehow climbed to No. 5 in the rankings, despite not having fought since his decision loss to McGregor last August. Diaz has become a fan favorite since defeating McGregor in their first match, but he seems reluctant to fight anyone else. He matches up well with everyone else in the top 5, but the longer he holds out, the more likely he is to land that third fight with McGregor, and this time for the title.
Gaethje rocketed to a No. 6 lightweight ranking after his impressive and brutal UFC debut against Michael Johnson on July 7. He has a fighting style that fans love because he’s relentless with his pressure and isn’t afraid to take a shot. A win over Alvarez in the TUF finale could help him leapfrog into the top 3, but he has never fought anyone on Alvarez’s level, so it will be a tough challenge.
Kevin Lee has won five fights in a row and jumped to No. 7 after his controversial yet impressive victory over Michael Chiesa in June. He did everything but call out God after the fight and is poised for his next matchup to likely be against a fighter in the top 5. His trash talking and confident style will win over more fans with each victory he earns in the Octagon.
No. 8 ranked lightweight Poirier now has to wait for his rematch with Alvarez after their no contest at UFC 211, but he has never been known as a fighter that sits around and waits for fights. He’s 5-1 since moving up from featherweight to 155 pounds, and while he waits for Alvarez, he’ll likely fight someone in the top 15.
After his Fight of the Night loss to Gaethje, Johnson has moved down to No. 9. He looked impressive and landed at will in the first round, but couldn’t finish Gaethje. The loss was his second consecutive and one more could result in him dropping out of the top 10. Nevertheless, Johnson remains one of the most dangerous and exciting fighters in the division.
Chiesa, the No. 10 ranked lightweight, showed tremendous promise and created a buzz before his June loss to Lee. He has since appealed the loss, due to the fight being stopped early by referee Mario Yamasaki. Chiesa never tapped or went unconscious from the rear-naked choke executed by Lee, yet Yamasaki still stopped the fight. Three more seconds is all Lee would have needed for the controversy to be erased, but the “what if?” question still remains. Chiesa still believes he was cheated and wants redemption to get back on track in the rankings.
The lightweight rankings round out as so:
No. 11 - Al Iaquinta
No. 12 - Beneil Dariush
No. 13 - Anthony Pettis
No. 14 - Evan Dunham
No. 15 - Gilbert Melendez
The lightweight division is full of potential stars, not to mention its champion is the biggest draw in UFC history. Anyone in the top 10 could face McGregor and the ratings would be great. With the emergence of fighters such as Lee and Gaethje, the division has added more flare, youth and drama. UFC fans are set for an exciting fall and winter this year in the lightweight division.