Strikeforce lightweight champion Gilbert Melendez has been telling folks that he is one of the best lightweight fighters, if not the best lightweight fighter, in the sport for a while now. Not that Melendez’s claim came off as self-delusional of egotistical, no; his claim came from an unwavering belief in his skill as a professional prizefighter. As the public watched Melendez go all “beast-mode” all over Tatsuya Kawajiri this past Saturday night, “El Nino” put his stamp on the national landscape. It was as dominate a performance as one could even hope for and Melendez’s evisceration of Kawajiri comes the inevitable debate on where Melendez ranks among the sport’s top 155ers.
So, based on this debate I thought it fun to rank the top-five lightweights in the game right now.
1. Frankie Edgar (UFC Champion) – Initially, I was unsure of where to place Edgar on my list. Count me as one of the non-believers in Edgar’s skill sets, initially. However, it’s hard to discredit the tough, young champion based on his domination of future Hall of Famer BJ Penn on two separate occasions. Then, when you look back at his inspiring effort in fighting to a draw with Gray Maynard a few months back it’s hard to not give Edgar his just due.
2. Gilbert Melendez (Strikeforce Champion) – I already touched on Melendez’s breakout performance from this past Saturday night, so I will save you a rehash. However, I have to put him in the number two spot based on the fact that Edgar has fought the stiffer competition to date. But, with that being said, Melendez’s star is on the upward trend and should his desire to meet the UFC champion in “unification” match comes to fruition, then it would be hard to deny him top billing.
3. Gray Maynard (UFC) - Maynard’s stock has grown considerably in the last couple of years. He dominated Kenny Florian, and then took Edgar to deep water in securing a draw with the UFC champion. A tenacious wrestler who grinds out wins and breaks his opponent’s will, expect Maynard to be in the top-five for a while.
4. Eddie Alvarez (Bellator Champion) – Alvarez is a tough SOB with a desire to bludgeon his opponent into submission. However, he fails to get the recognition he deserves based on the lack of stars in the Bellator lightweight division. While many would scoff at Alvarez being placed so high, the fact remains I would not count him out against any fighter.
5. Shinya Aoki (Dream Champions/Strikeforce) – I know my partner in crime Raul Rangel will disagree with my placement of Aoki this high on the list but I can’t sleep on his sick submission skills. Like a venomous snake, Aoki will make you pay dearly if you don’t treat him with the respect a fighter should. Melendez bullied him in their match, but you see what happened when Lyle Beerbohm thought it ok to get Aoki in the clinch. Yeah, his stand up game is laughable, but Aoki finds ways to win by snapping limbs and I can’t overlook that.
Photo: Esther Lin/STRIKEFORCE