Five Best Lightweights in MMA History

dream lightweight championship belts

The past year or so haven’t been too kind to MMA’s lightweight legends.  B.J. Penn lost his title to Frankie Edgar.  Shinya Aoki got crushed by Gilbert Melendez.  Takanori Gomi lost his long anticipated UFC debut.  After losing five-straight matches, Jens Pulver got released by the WEC.  But there’s no shame in losing in mixed martial arts – everyone loses eventually, even automatons like Fedor.  So how do these recent loses by the lightweights affect their legacies?  The MMA Manifesto decided to find out by polling an illustrious panel as to who they believe are the best lightweight MMA fighters of all-time.  Here are the results:

Voting panel: Jeff Fox from The MMA Manifesto, Sean Malone from North Texas Fisticuffs, speeds from Sports Two’s MMA Forum and a couple of top performers from our MMA Pick ‘Em Contest, Dave H and MMA Chiro.  Special thanks to the infamous Barry Oh for helping break the four-way tie for fifth place on the list.

Honourable Mention: Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian, Caol Uno.

5) Frankie Edgar

frankie edgar lightweight champion

Record: 13-1
Lightweight titles held: UFC (current), Reality Fighting
Notable wins: B.J. Penn, Tyson Griffin, Hermes Franca, Sean Sherk

“Rick Flair is a wise man, this we all know.  So when he says ‘to be The Man you gotta beat The Man’, truer words were never spoken.  So while some may balk at Frankie Edgar making this list, he beat The Man, B.J. Penn, who is practically unbeatable at 155lbs.  He also beat another former champ, Sean Sherk, on his road to the title, so he beat two ‘Men’.” – Jeff Fox

4) Shinya Aoki


Record: 24-5
Lightweight titles held: DREAM (current, one successful title defense), WAMMA (current)
Notable wins: George Sotiropoulos, Joachim Hansen (twice), Gesias Calvancante, Caol Uno, Eddie Alvarez, Mizuto Hirota

“If you don’t have any losses on your record you haven’t fought anybody. Aoki has fought (and beaten) almost everyone of note outside of the UFC. Rolls through title holders like nothing. Fascinating and unique style. Seems to be heading into deep waters taking on wrestling and take-down defence savvy American fighters starting with Gil Melendez. Gets flak for being one-dimensional but is such a superior grappler that it is usually not an issue.” – speeds

“The pants, the pants, it’s gotta be the pants” – Jeff Fox 

3) Takanori Gomi

Record: 31-6
Lightweight titles held: Pride (one successful title defense)
Notable wins: Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Hayato Sakurai, Marcus Aurelio

“The most feared lightweight striker in MMA history. Epic run in Pride interrupted by a shocking upset to Marcus Aurelio–which will probably be the only big win of Aurelio’s career when it is over. Hasn’t fared well in his 30s.” – speeds

“While it is nice to see Gomi finally in the UFC, it would have been nicer to see it happen about five years ago, when he was on the top of his game.” – Jeff Fox

2) Jens Pulver


Record: 22-13
Lightweight titles held: UFC (two successful title defenses)
Notable wins: Joe Stevenson, Caol Uno, B.J. Penn, Dennis Hallman

“A fighter’s fighter. Took on all comers. Doesn’t have a glamorous record but is regarded as a pioneer for the small man in MMA. Probably should’ve retired after losing to Gomi in 2004 as he will now be remembered more for his horrendous second stint in the UFC and WEC rather than the successful career that preceded it.” – speeds

“As the Godfather of the lightweight division, Pulver paved the way for many lightweight fighters we cheer on today.  As the first UFC Lightweight Champion Pulver had three hard fought decisions over UFC vets Caol Uno, Dennis Hallman, and most notably B.J. Penn.  Although Pulver has only won one of his last eight fights, he remains dedicated to the fight game and is willing to put a show on for the fans if they ask for it.” – Dave H

“If standing across the cage from a dude with two different coloured eyes who answers to the name Lil’ Evil isn’t enough to make you reconsider your choice of careers, I don’t know what is” – Jeff Fox

1) B.J. Penn


Record: 15-6
Lightweight titles held: UFC (three successful title defenses)
Notable wins: Caol Uno, Takanori Gomi, Jens Pulver, Joe Stevenson, Sean Sherk, Kenny Florian

“A one of a kind talent that we won’t see the likes of anytime soon.  Despite getting bored at the 155lb weight class and dabbling in heavier weights, Penn still has to be considered the best lightweight fighter of all-time and one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in MMA history.” – Jeff Fox

“Arguably the most talented fighter in MMA but his appetite has gotten the better of him in more ways than one over the years. Less fights than most others but almost exclusively against very high quality competition.  Every bit as enigmatic, vain, and difficult as most great athletes.” – speeds

“It’s hard not to rank B.J. in the numero uno spot given the way he embodies the modern day warrior.  Penn is a mixed martial artist in the truest since of the word, being a proficient boxer along with a skilled jiu-jitsu practitioner.  Penn has battled, and beaten, nearly every lightweight of note and his contributions to the sport cannot be understated.” – Sean Malone

“From catchweight bouts with Lyoto Machida, middleweight bouts with Renzo and Rodrigo Gracie, to welterweight bouts with the likes of Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, the lightweight division is where B.J. Penn shines, and how can you deny that with only two losses coming to Jens Pulver in 2002 and most recently Frankie Edgar in 2010…8 years going undefeated as a lightweight.” – Dave H

About Jeff Fox

Jeff Fox is Mr. Manifesto - the Supreme Leader and evil mind behind The Hoops Manifesto, The MMA Manifesto, & A Dry Heat.