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MMA Top 10 Lightweights: 2011 Starts With a Bang

The UFC might not have a better main event all year than it had in its first main event of the year, as Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard fought for 25 furious minutes and showed why they're the two best lightweights in the world.

Is it disappointing that Edgar-Maynard ended up a draw? In a sense, it's always disappointing, in any competition, not to see a definitive winner. But this time the draw was the right decision (I scored it 47-47) Fortunately, the UFC made the right decision and said after the fight that Edgar and Maynard will get it on one more time to determine who's No. 1.

At the moment, Edgar and Maynard are 1-2 on my list and just about everyone else's. Take a look at how the rest of the lightweight rankings stack up below.

(Editor's Note: The fighter's rankings the last time we did lightweights are in parentheses.)

1. Frankie Edgar (1): Few fighters have ever shown as much heart in a fight as Edgar did at UFC 125, out-pointing Gray Maynard for the final 20 minutes of the fight after Maynard brutalized him for the first five. That same active stand-up style that gave B.J. Penn fits really frustrated Maynard, once Edgar recovered from the shock of that first round.

2. Gray Maynard (2): No one should ever dismiss Maynard as a boring wrestler again. He showed better punching power and better defensive movement against Edgar than people give him credit for. I do think, however, that I'll probably pick Edgar to win the third fight between the two on the belief that Edgar uses his quickness to stay out of trouble standing up and wins a decision. If Maynard gets Edgar in trouble when they fight again, he has to finish.

3. Kenny Florian (4): Florian is the classic lightweight gatekeeper: He's already lost to Maynard and lost lightweight title fights to Sean Sherk and B.J. Penn, so he's not really in title contention anymore. But he's still among the best in the world at 155 pounds, and he's the type of fighter that a prospect can make a name for himself by beating. That's exactly what the thinking was when the UFC matched Florian with the young up-and-comer Evan Dunham, and now that Florian has had to pull out of that fight, I'd like to see him matched up with Anthony Pettis next. If Pettis can beat Florian, he'll prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that he's worthy of fighting for the UFC belt. If he can't beat Florian, there are other UFC fighters who deserve a lightweight title shot before Pettis.

4. Gilbert Melendez (5): One of the big questions of 2011 is whether Strikeforce has any good fights for Melendez. He fought just once in 2010, and when he asked for a fight against Bellator champ Eddie Alvarez, Strikeforce said no. Melendez is a champion in his prime, and Strikeforce needs to get him off the sideline and in the cage.

5. Shinya Aoki (6): I'm not sure what to make of Aoki's performance in his bizarre mixed-rules match against Yuichiro Nagashima at Dynamite 2010. It wasn't really an MMA fight, although when Aoki got knocked out they were fighting under MMA rules. What really made me lose respect for Aoki was the way he fought in the first round, which was contested under kickboxing rules: He turned that part of the match into a farce. I still think Aoki is the best grappler in the lightweight division, and I still think his victories over George Sotiropoulos, Eddie Alvarez and Tatsuya Kawajiri have to count for something, but I find a lot of his antics tiresome.

6. George Sotiropoulos (9): Only Anderson Silva and Georges St. Pierre have longer active winning streaks in the UFC than Sotiropoulos, who will try to make it eight in a row against Dennis Siver at UFC 127. If he keeps winning, a lightweight title fight shouldn't be far off -- but based on timing, he's probably going to have to win nine or 10 in a row before he gets a chance to win the belt.

7. Eddie Alvarez (7): The Melendez fight fizzled, so now Alvarez will wait to fight Pat Curran during Bellator's fourth season, which begins in March.

8. Jim Miller (NR): With a 19-2 record, and with his only two losses coming by decision to Edgar and Maynard, Miller ought to be fighting Top 10 competition. Instead he'll open 2011 by taking on Kamal Shalorus, who's really not in Miller's league.

9. Tatsuya Kawajiri (8): After his New Year's Eve domination of Josh Thomson, Kawajiri would make a lot of sense for Melendez in 2011, if Strikeforce can pull it off.

10. Anthony Pettis (NR): The real loser at UFC 125 was Pettis, who lost his shot at the UFC lightweight title. There's talk that he might wait around and not fight until the Maynard-Edgar 3 winner is ready to defend his title, but I'd like to see Pettis stay active. If he doesn't fight Florian, Clay Guida would be a good opponent for Pettis.

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