It's 2010. The UFC is coming off of a very profitable and groundbreaking 2009 campaign which saw it outdistance both boxing and the WWE in pay-per-view sales. And it already has one event in the books for 2010.
So while these are a bit late in coming, as the saying goes, better late than never. I will be doing my own version of UFC divisional rankings starting with the Lightweight division and working my way up all the way to the Heavyweight division until lastly, a pound-for-pound ranking.
So without futher ado here are my current rankings for the Lightweight division. You will notice that my rankings are a little different than the traditional method...
Champion: BJ Penn
No. 1 contender level: Gray Maynard, Frank Edgar
At least one win away: Tyson Griffin, Kenny Florian, Diego Sanchez, Takanori Gomi, Hermes Franca (when he comes back)
Two wins away: Joe Stevenson, Sam Stout, Spencer Fisher, Sean Sherk, Nate Diaz
Three wins away: Melvin Guillard, Efrain Escudero, Kurt Pellegrino, Jim Miller, Gleison Tibau, Rafael Dos Anjos, Thiago Tavares, Clay Guida
Bottom tier of division: Joe Lauzon, Terry Etim, Cole Miller, Phillippe Nover, Rob Emerson, Josh Neer, Jeremy Stephens, Duane Ludwig
Analysis: Obviously B.J. Penn is the class of this division. In the prime of his career, Penn has rededicated himself to the sport and shows no signs of letting his focus down anytime in the near future.
After Penn, this is a division about depth moreso than top heavy talent. Not to say that there aren't stars here. Sanchez, Florian and Stevenson are elite level fighters but all have already been dismantled by the champ. Gomi and Franca are guys that could potentially challenge Penn if and when they make their 2010 debuts in the UFC.
In 2010, look for Sam Stout, Nate Diaz and Efrain Escudero to make runs up the ladder of the deepest division in the UFC. Tyson Griffin is another fighter who has seriously upped his game. Don't be surprised if he earns a title shot in the latter half of the year.