Unfortunately, it's not clear that we're actually close to seeing that happen.
In 2010, the only lightweight title fights were Frankie Edgar vs. B.J. Penn, and in 2011, the only lightweight title fights have been Frankie Edgar vs. Gray Maynard. Edgar will definitely fight someone new in 2012, but who? We'll go over some of the options as we run through the list of the Top 10 lightweights in MMA below.
Top 10 Lightweights in MMA
(Editor's Note: The fighter's rankings the last time we ranked the lightweights are in parentheses.)
1. Frankie Edgar (1): UFC President Dana White says Edgar would be even better at featherweight than he is at lightweight, but I disagree. I think part of Edgar's greatness is his speed and stamina, and both of those advantages over his lightweight opponents would be diminished if he were fighting against faster opponents at featherweight, and weakening himself the day before the fight by cutting an additional 10 pounds. I think Edgar is fighting right where he belongs.
2. Gilbert Melendez (3): The Strikeforce lightweight champion would have a good chance of beating Edgar, but he's not going to get that chance just yet. Up next for Melendez is Jorge Masvidal in December.
3. Gray Maynard (2): Maynard will get a long layoff after getting knocked out by Edgar, but when that layoff ends I'd like to see him take on the loser of the upcoming fight between Clay Guida and Ben Henderson, assuming the winner of that fight gets the next crack at Edgar.
4. Clay Guida (4): If he beats Ben Henderson at the upcoming UFC on Fox event, he'd have to be considered the favorite to get the next crack at Edgar. Guida is on a four-fight winning streak and is one of the UFC's most popular lightweights, and it would be hard for the UFC brass to turn down the possibility of a very entertaining Edgar-Guida title fight.
5. Anthony Pettis (5): Pettis is a lot of fun to watch, but I got the sense during his UFC 136 victory over Jeremy Stephens that he had decided to fight with a more cautious, deliberate style, perhaps burned by his last fight, a unanimous decision loss to Guida. What makes Pettis special is his unique, exciting style. I hope he doesn't lose that.
6. Ben Henderson (6): After losing his WEC title to Pettis, Henderson has bounced back in a big way by beating Mark Bocek and Jim Miller in the UFC. If he beats Guida to move to 3-0 in 2011, he'd likely get a title shot in his first fight of 2012.
7. Shinya Aoki (7): Aoki likes to stay active, and he's won six fights since his loss to Melendez a year and a half ago. The problem is that as long as he's fighting in Dream, there aren't many big fights available to him. A Top 10 lightweight should be fighting better opposition than Rob McCullough, whom Aoki beat at Dream.17.
8. Jim Miller (8): Miller had a title shot within his reach before he lost to Henderson. His 20-3 career record is impressive, but the three losses were to Edgar, Maynard and Henderson -- the only three times he's fought truly elite competition.
9. Eddie Alvarez (10): An injury forced Alvarez to delay his Bellator lightweight title fight with Michael Chandler until November 19. Alvarez is Bellator's top fighter and biggest draw, and an inexperienced prospect like Chandler probably won't give him much of a challenge. There's talk of an Alvarez-Aoki rematch in Bellator in 2012, which could be the biggest non-UFC fight of the year.
10. Dennis Siver (NR): With Melvin Guillard dropping out of the Top 10, Siver moves back in. Siver will attempt to run his winning streak to five straight fights when he takes on Donald Cerrone at UFC 137.