UFC Lightweight Fighters
The lightweight division is one of the most exciting in mixed martial arts. As is the case in boxing, the smaller fighters bring an energy and intensity unmatched by their bigger counterparts. In the early days of the sport in the United States the UFC had a lackluster commitment to the lightweight division and the title was put 'on hiatus' a couple of times. In the past few years, however, the promotion has renewed their commitment to featuring the lighter weight classes which is to the benefit not only of fighters but fans as well.
The current UFC lightweight champion is Frankie Edgar, who upset B.J. Penn in April 2010. Edgar has defended the title twice, beating Penn in a rematch and fighting to a draw with Gray Maynard. The two men were scheduled to fight a rematch earlier this year but the fight had to be postponed due to injuries to both. Maynard/Edgar III is tentatively scheduled for UFC 136 in early October.
While Edgar has proven himself to be a worthy champion the man he beat for the title—B.J. Penn—will forever be synonymous with the weight class. Penn was considered by many to the best 'pound for pound' fighter in the world before his loss to Edgar. While he's fought at several different weight classes he established himself as a dominant force at light heavyweight. He's the current record holder for most successful lightweight title defenses in the UFC and is the only man to win 10 fights at lightweight in the promotion. He's also fought in a number of other promotions including K-1 Hero's in Japan.
The UFC's stranglehold on the MMA media has resulted in Edgar being listed as the #1 lightweight in most rankings, but a good case can be made that Gilbert Melendez is in actuality the best in the world at the weight. Melendez is the current Strikeforce lightweight champion and in the past few years has beaten a 'who's who' of competitors at the weight including the previous #1 lightweight in the world, Japanese submission machine Shinya Aoki and Tatsuya 'Crusher' Kawajiri. Melendez currently doesn't have a fight scheduled in the aftermath of Strikeforce's acquisition by UFC parent Zuffa, LLC. There's a good case to be made that the UFC wants to protect their lightweights from a dominant competitor like Melendez.
Jens Pulver was the UFC's first lightweight champion by virtue of a victory over Caol Uno at UFC 30. Pulver reigned for just over a year until his departure from the promotion due to a contract dispute. BJ Penn and Uno fought to a draw in a February 2003 fight to fill the title vacancy. After that, the title remained vacant until Sean Sherk defeated Kenny Florian in a 2006 fight. Sherk would be stripped of the title due to a failed drug test, which gave Penn the opportunity to begin his championship reign.