3 of the best lightweight title fights, 1 of the worst

UFC lightweight title fights have been some of the most exciting fights in MMA history.
Feb 12, 2023; Perth, WA, AUSTRALIA; Islam Makhachev (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Alexander Volkanovski (blue gloves) for the lightweight championship during UFC 284 at RAC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports
Feb 12, 2023; Perth, WA, AUSTRALIA; Islam Makhachev (red gloves) celebrates after defeating Alexander Volkanovski (blue gloves) for the lightweight championship during UFC 284 at RAC Arena. Mandatory Credit: Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports / Jasmin Frank-USA TODAY Sports

Lightweight is the UFC’s glamorous division. Even though the bantamweight division is stacked, they do not have the star power that lightweight has. Over the years, several big names have become champions in the division. However, none have been able to defend the title more than three times. The lightweight division in other promotions like Bellator, Strikeforce, WEC, and One Championship also had some of the best champions.

Khabib Nurmagomedov, BJ Penn, Frankie Edgar, Conor McGregor, Michael Chandler, Eddie Alvarez, and others have become a lightweight MMA champion. Now, the top lightweight champions in the world are Islam Makhachev in the UFC, Usman Nurmagomedov at Bellator, and Christian Lee at One Championship. Makhachev is the pound-for-pound king in the UFC and is looking to defend his title for a record-tying third time at UFC 302, against Dustin Poirier.

Makhchev is a huge betting favorite for the fight and is expected to walk through Poirier with his superior grappling. Nonetheless, there have been several high-level lightweight title fights in MMA. There have also been snoozefests as well. Let’s look at the top three lightweight title fights in MMA.

BEST: Islam Makhachev vs. Alexander Volkanovski (UFC 284)

The UFC 284 main event was the first instance of the top two pound-for-pound fighters locking horns inside the Octagon. Makhachev, the No. 2 pound-for-pound fighter, made his first title defense, against the featherweight champion and No. 1 pound-for-pound fighter Alexander Volkanovski. Even though the scorecards read 49-46 and two 48-47s, the fight was closer than the scorecards showed.

Makhachev had looked unbeatable but Volkanovski showed otherwise. The Australian on his home turf even dropped Makhachev in the final round of the fight. Even though Makhachev had more control time, Volkanovski out-struck his opponent in total and significant strikes. What made the fight impressive was that the fourth and fifth round was the only round where one could pick a decisive winner.

Makhachev won round four in all three scorecards while Volkanovski won round five. The first three rounds of the fight were ultra close. Volkanovski would lose to Makhachev via knockout in the short-notice rematch at UFC 294 but UFC 284 remains a gold standard lightweight title fight.

BEST: Michael Chandler vs. Eddie Alvarez 2

Michael Chandler has only been in exciting fights in the UFC. Almost all of his fights in the UFC have resulted in him getting a post-fight bonus. When he signed with the UFC, Chandler offered a great time for the fans and he has so far done it despite the losses. In the UFC, Chandler has fought recklessly but that was not the case when he was with Bellator. He was a three-time Bellator champion and his fight against Eddie Alvarez at Bellator 106 remains a classic.

Chandler had already defeated Alvarez at Bellator 58, via fourth-round submission, to win the title. The fight had already earned several Fight of the Year accolades in 2011. At Bellator 106, Chandler and Alvarez battled it out with full vigor. In the end, Alvarez was declared the winner by a split decision, giving Chandler his first defeat in professional MMA. All the judges had a 48-47 scorecard.

Unlike the judge's scorecards, the media scorecards were in favor of Chandler. Alvarez finished the fight strong but many felt Chandler had done enough to win three of the first four rounds. Nevertheless, both fighters showed the heart of champions in the fight.

BEST: Gray Maynard vs. Frankie Edgar 2

Frankie Edgar is never in a bad fight! Was this Gray Maynard rematch his best ever?!

Posted by UFC on Friday, November 11, 2022

During his prime, Gray Maynard embodied his nickname, “Bully”, inside the Octagon. Franke Edgar became the UFC champion with an upset victory over BJ Penn. As the only fighter to defeat Edgar, then-undefeated Maynard was the betting favorite against Edgar at UFC 125. Maynard was the underdog the first time they fought.

At UFC 125, Maynard hurt Edgar severely in the first round, dropping him multiple times. However, Edgar came back strong in the subsequent rounds before Maynard finished the fight strong in round five. Edgar retired from the UFC recently, competing at bantamweight. He was severely undersized at lightweight and his performance against Maynard shows the character of the man.

The fight ended in a split draw with scorecards of 47-47, 48-46, and 46-48. Edgar vs. Maynard II remains the gold standard upon which all lightweight championship bouts will be judged. They fought six months later, with Maynard hurting Edgar badly in round one. However, as the rounds went on, Edgar became more comfortable and scored a fourth-round finish.

We now go to the best three lightweight title fights. Let’s look into the worst lightweight title fight in a major MMA promotion.

WORST: Anthony Pettis vs. Rafael dos Anjos

Anthony Pettis was the first UFC boxer to appear on the cover of the Wheaties box. Moreover, he had also signed a deal with Reebok. Pettis was one of the most exciting and popular fighters in the UFC. His ‘Showtime kick’ against Benson Henderson at WEC is still remembered by fight fans. After Pettis won the lightweight title from Henderson, big things were expected of him.

Pettis made his first title defense in style at UFC 181, against Gilbert Melendez. For his second title defense against Rafael dos Anjos, Pettis was a big betting favorite. However, the fight showed otherwise. Pettis was not able to get going due to the grappling and wrestling-heavy style dos Anjos employed in the fight. Pettis did find a target for his strikes but was easily takedown and kept there by the Brazilian challenger.

All three judges scored the fight 50-45 for dos Anjos. Not even the popular media scorecards gave a single round for Pettis. Victory for dos Anjos was an upset. Normally, betting upsets are interesting fights. However, Pettis vs. dos Anjos was a snoozefest and such a lightweight title fight has never happened in the UFC before or after it.


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