MMA Elite Status: 10 Lightweights Who Have Built Legacies

Joe Rogan B.J. Penn
Image Credit: Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

The lightweight division in MMA has probably featured more back-and-forth wars in the sport than any other division. While the UFC always seems to set the bar, there are fighters in other promotions that have put in the work and won titles all over the landscape of the sport. Some still fight, even when they have already established a legacy.

Recently, B.J. Penn, who came back from retirement in 2017 seems to be realizing there is nothing left to prove in the sport he already established himself in. He is recognized as one of the best lightweights ever, but here are a few that have claimed or will soon make a claim for such recognition. Here are ten fighters that have already made a strong argument in their careers as some of the best to ever do it.

1Khabib Nurmagomedov

Currently UFC lightweight champion and undefeated with a record of 28-0, he is to the 155-pound division who Fedor Emelianenko was in the heavyweight division during his prime in the Pride Fighting Championship era. Retiring undefeated in MMA might be difficult, but that winning streak will be hard to beat.

2Tony Ferguson

If anyone needed to see an innovative and motivated contender, Ferguson fits the bill. While people like to poke fun at his training methods, the man has not lost since 2012. Whatever he is doing seems to be working and that interim title he held, was taken from him for being hurt. Nobody beat him for it.

3Justin Gaethje

Gaethje is scheduled to face Ferguson and what makes Gaethje great is his never say “die” attitude when it comes to fighting. Having left the WSOF (now the PFL) as their undefeated lightweight champion he has already proven himself to be world championship material and a problem for any top lightweight.

4Frankie Edgar

New Jersey produces a lot of great talent in MMA and Edgar is certainly one of Garden State’s best to compete in the 155-pound division. At the height of his career, his relentless wrestling could fatigue his opponents to defeat. While he left the weight class, Edgar’s already proved to be one of the best.

5B.J. Penn

It deserves repeating that Penn has proven all he needs to prove in MMA. Having held lightweight and welterweight titles in the UFC should be reason enough to know that. It’s hard to tell a fighter when to quit, especially when they train their whole lives not to.

6Eddie Alvarez

“The Underground King” held titles in Bellator and the UFC. His style has always been all offense and his matches against Gaethje, Chandler, and dos Anjos is proof enough that he’s earned the nod as one of the best lightweights in the sport.

7Michael Chandler

Of course, Chandler makes this list. The three-time Bellator lightweight champion and Bellator Season 4 lightweight tournament winner is another example of a lightweight fighter whose output is unmatched. 

8Benson Henderson

There’s a reason he’s called “Smooth”, as Henderson never gets credit for fighting smarter than a lot of other lightweights. He has held both the WEC and UFC lightweight titles with most of his wins coming by way of submission or decision. He and Chandler were due to face one another in Bellator for a second time so that’s one to look forward to.

9Gilbert Melendez

Two-time Strikeforce lightweight champion and one-time WEC champ, Melendez picked up a lot of knockout victories in his career. Oddly enough the Cesar Gracie blackbelt has no submission victories to his record, but if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right?

10Shinya Aoki

Speaking of submissions. Of Aoki’s 44 wins, 29 come by way of submission and some are very brutal to watch. At lightweight, he has won the DREAM lightweight title and is a two-time ONE lightweight champion. Chances are this grappler will pick up a title again soon.

Those are just ten lightweights that have been around and are still around now. While fans wait for sports to resume, maybe this time off is helping these lightweights rest up or heal up for what could be a strong return to sports. Or, maybe they can reflect on knowing they have already cemented their legacy.

Was anyone left out?