1. Takanori Gomi
The Pride Fighting Championships lightweight champion, when there was a Pride FC, Gomi has had an amazing run over the past three-and-a-half years. He has fought 15 times in that span with wins over fighters like Hayato Sakurai, Marcus Aurelio, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Luiz Azeredo (twice) and Jens Pulver. He has lost only once… well, twice… sort of, during that time. He lost by submission both to Aurelio (which he later avenged) and Nick Diaz. Diaz, however, subsequently tested positive for marijuana and the fight was officially ruled a “no contest” by the Nevada State Athletic Commission and thus not eligible for consideration. Like many former Pride fighters, he has been in limbo for some time and needs to fight soon to remain available for consideration.
2. Hayato Sakurai
Amassing a 7-1 record over the past couple of years, Sakurai’s only defeat during that time was to the No. 1 lightweight, Gomi. One of the larger fighters in the division, he has racked up wins over Joachim Hansen, Jens Pulver, Shinya Aoki, and current “Ultimate Fighter” season six star Mac Danzig. Like Gomi, Sakurai is a former Pride star that has been on ice for the better part of 2007.
3. Gilbert Melendez
There are not many undefeated fighters in mixed martial arts, but Melendez is one of them with a professional record of 13-0. He started getting noticed with a win over a declining Rumina Sato in late 2005, but really emerged in the world spotlight when he dominated Tatsuya Kawajiri en route to a unanimous decision on Pride’s big year-end event on New Year’s Eve 2006.
4. Tatsuya Kawajiri
More impressive than his 12-2-1 record in his last 15 bouts is the list of fighters that Kawajiri has defeated in that string of fights. Although he lost to Gomi and Melendez, he defeated fighters like Hansen, Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro, Yves Edwards, Chris Brennan, and several other tough veterans, most by TKO due to his devastating punching power. Kawajiri is also in the same boat as Gomi and Sakurai however, looking for a fight to remain eligible for the top ten.
5. Shinya Aoki
Known for his amazing flexibility and stunning submissions, Aoki has been on an amazing run since losing to Sakurai in late 2005. He has since gone 8-0 with stunning finishes of Hansen, Jason Black, and Clay French, along with two decisions over Akira Kikuchi.
6. Gesias “JZ” Calvancante
A huge, powerful lightweight, Calvancante has really established himself over the past year-and-a-half winning back-to-back K-1 154-Pound Grand Prix tournaments. In the 2006 tournament, he won a decision over veteran Caol Uno in the final, but really made his mark by finishing both Ribeiro and Chute Boxe fighter Andre “Dida” Amade to win the 2007 tournament.
7. Vitor “Shaolin” Ribeiro
The loss to Calvancante this year was only the second – the first was to Kawajiri – of Ribeiro’s 21-fight career. He began fighting in 2001 and has established himself as one of the top submission experts in the sport with 12 of his 19 wins coming via submission.
8. Joachim Hansen
Hansen has been on a rollercoaster ride over the past two years. He started his career strong, racking up the wins over fighters like Gomi and Calvancante, but in his more recent outings, amid some average wins, has dropped fights to Sakurai, Kawajiri, Ayoki, and his most recent fight to Eiji Mitsuoka.
9. Joe Stevenson
At just 25-years-old, Stevenson is one of the most experienced fighters in the sport with over 30 bouts to his credit. A strong grappler that finishes the majority of his fights, he has been a wrecking machine since moving down to the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s lightweight division defeating Edwards, Dokonjonosuke Mishima, Melvin Guillard and Kurt Pellegrino.
10. Mitsuhiro Ishida
At 8-1 in his past nine bouts, Ishida has been a strong lightweight contender. He has wins over Aurelio and Chute Boxe jiu-jitsu coach Cristiano Marcello to his credit. His last fight was a loss to Gomi. Like so many other former Pride fighters, Ishida needs to find somewhere to fight.
NOTE: Although he is going through the appeals process, UFC lightweight champion Sean Sherk is currently under suspension by the California State Athletic Commission and thus ineligible for consideration in the rankings.