The Lightweight division has never looked as strong as it does these days. The fans have been asking for a UFC LW tournament for quite sometime but Dana boy doesn’t seem to share the same passion. Fortunately for us, there’s a new player in town that still honours the old ways. Obviously i am talking about RIZIN ! So today, let’s take a look at the top Lightweight talent, not just in Japan, but in the international MMA scene.
1) Takanori Gomi (35-15)
It wouldn’t be a JMMA Lightweight GP without this man. Undoubtedly one of the best fighters to come out of Japan. Before going into MMA, Gomi regularly competed in freestyle and catch wrestling and even won 4 All Japan Combat Wrestling championships. He joined Shooto in 1997 and 4 years later he was their lightweight champion. The young man quickly gained a huge following as he never failed to amaze the fans with his performance. It was only logical that when PRIDE decided to bring in the lighter divisions into the spotlight, Gomi was amongst the first to get the call. His grappling proficiency and boxing skills helped him gain 9 consecutive wins, even a KO victory over UFC lightweight champion Jens Pulver, before facing Hayato “Mach” Sakurai in the finals of the PRIDE Lightweight GP of 2005. The Fireball Kid made short work of the former Shooto welterweight champion, thus becoming the inaugural PRIDE lightweight world champion and the first ever Japanese PRIDE champion. Gomi defined a generation and opened doors for many fighters that didn’t fit the mold of the 6 ft, 200 pound monsters that ruled the game back then. Despite going through a losing streak, Gomi still remains an icon and a beloved hero to the Japanese fans.
Notable wins: Hayato Sakurai, Jens Pulver, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Rumina Sato, Marcus Aurelio, Mitsuhiro Ishida.
Gomi with a huge KO over Mach to become the 1st ever Japanese to win a PRIDE world title pic.twitter.com/jc2wE4yLu8
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) October 26, 2017
2) Tatsuya Kawajiri (36-12)
Much like most lightweight fighers of the old days, Kawajiri started his career in Shooto. Suffering a loss in his debut match, the Crusher came back a year later, amassing 7 wins, proving his fighting spirit. His biggest challenge came in 2004 when he fought 4-time jiu jitsu world champion, Vitor Riberio, for the Shooto lightweight belt. Kawajiri knocked out the champ in the second round, ending Shaolin’s undefeated streak and winning the title in the process. Not long after that, Kawajiri joined PRIDE and it was only a matter of time before he clashed heads with Gomi. Those 2 had an epic battle in the opening round of the PRIDE Lightweight GP that fans still talk about. Even in defeat, he showcased that he can hang with the best of them. Over the years, Kawajiri continued to have wars with the likes of Eddie Alvarez, Gilbert Melendez, Diego Sanchez and more. Win or lose, the Crusher is always a treat to watch.
Notable wins: Vitor Ribeiro, Yves Edwarts, Joachim Hansen, Chris Brennan, Josh Thomson.
Kawajiri is a violent man pic.twitter.com/wOYB0LZhzt
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 15, 2018
3) Shinya Aoki (39-8)
Tobikan Judan, aka the master of flying submissions, Aoki belongs amongst MMA’s elite grapplers. A judo and jiu jitsu expert who has conquered the mats, winning numerous prestigious tournaments, including ADCC Japan and Rickson Gracie’s Budo Challenge. The former Shooto welterweight champion, entered the PRIDE ring in 2006, a year before the promotion’s demise. In the short period he was there, he got the attention of the MMA community with his flashy submission moves. In 2008 Aoki signed with DSE’s new group, called DREAM. During his time there, he assumed the role of the promotion’s ace by tapping people out left and right. Eddie Alvarez, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Joachim Hansen are just a few of his victims. Of course, who can forget that vicious hammerlock finish over Mizuno Hirota. Aoki won the WAMMA & DREAM lightweight titles before jumping to ONE FC, where he won the gold in just his second fight. Whether you like his attitude or not, you can’t deny that he is a force to be reckoned with.
Notable wins: Eddie Alvarez, Joachim Hansen, Satoru Kitaoka, Caol Uno, Vitor Ribeiro, Mizuto Hirota, Kotetsu Boku.
Aoki breaks Hirota's arm. Grappling can be brutal too folks. pic.twitter.com/vV4MDdMswg
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 15, 2018
4) Satoru Kitaoka (40-16)
The Catch Koala is one of JMMA’s hidden gems. Kitaoka became a pro fighter at the age of 20. After competing for 7 years and with over 30 fights under his belt, he got the opportunity to enter PRIDE’s Lightweight GP back in 2007. A victory over Fabricio Monteiro, qualified him for the tournament. His big moment had at last arrived but it wasn’t meant to be. Just a few months later, the legendary promotion closed its doors for good, depriving Satoru from his destiny. However, that wasn’t the last we saw of Crazy Face. A year later, a spiritual successor of PRIDE, named Sengoku Raiden Championship, held their own Lightweight GP with the winner getting a shot at the former PRIDE world champion, Takanori Gomi. Kitaoka run through his opposition and was finally ready to claim his place as Japan’s #1 fighter. After almost a decade, his hard work paid off as he made the Fireball Kid give up under 2 minutes, to become SRC’s lightweight champion ! At 38 years of age, Kitaoka has competed in Pancrase, DEEP, SRC, DREAM, RIZIN and it doesn’t seem that he will slow down anytime soon.
Notable wins: Takanori Gomi, Carlos Condit, Paul Daley, Kazunori Yokota, Daisuke Nakamura, Yoshiyuki Yoshida, Daron Cruickshank.
Crazy Face doing what he does best: ripping people's legs off pic.twitter.com/4BYkyeern3
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 15, 2018
5) Kazuki Tokudome (18-8)
This judo expert, unlike most japanese fighters, didn’t stay at one place for long. Having fought for Pancrase, ZST, DEEP, Cage Force, SRC and KSW, Tokudome gained valuable experience through his journeys in various leagues and a record of 11-3 before joining the UFC. In 2015 he returned to Japan a much better fighter that he previously was, as well as more popular. On November of the same year, he KOed JMMA superstar Satoru Kitaoka, to win the vacant King of Pancrase lightweight crown. A heavy striker and a skilled grappler, Tokudome has a lot left to prove in the MMA world.
Notable wins: Satoru Kitaoka, J. J. Ambrose, Cristiano Marcello.
There are so many great japanese fighters as of now that i would love to see in RIZIN. Tokudome is very high on that list. pic.twitter.com/GyhwjGZTtw
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 16, 2018
6) Takasuke Kume (21-4)
Trained under Shooto & SRC veteran Hatsu Hioki, Da Jaguar may very well be the next breakout star in JMMA. Originally a Shooto fighter, Kume went 6-1-4 in the promotion and even came close to winning the Pacific Rim belt. Spent 3 years going back and forth between South Korea’s ROAD FC and Pancrase, developing into a well-rounded fighter. In a battle between 2 of Japan’s best prospects, he defeated the champion Kazuki Tokudome via ground and pound at Pancrase 280, earning him his first major championship in MMA. With 3 KOs, 12 submission victories and all of his losses coming via decision, Kume is seemingly unstoppable.
Notable wins: Kazuki Tokudome, Shane Nelson, Taisuke Okuno.
Kume is another JMMA prospect that people need to keep their eyes on. His punching power is off the charts ! pic.twitter.com/WjpunydZiy
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 16, 2018
7) Goiti Yamauchi (22-4)
Half Japanese, half Brazilian, Yamaguchi is pound for pound one of the top lightweight fighters in the world. His pre-MMA credentials include a state amateur boxing championship after defeating future UFC star John Lineker, a black belt in jiu jitsu and a short career in kickboxing, where he ended up with a record of 7-0, all KO wins. From 2008 to 2010, Yamaguchi fought and won 7 amateur MMA fights, proving early on his grappling skills as he finished 6 of them via submission. He then spent his first 3 years as a pro in Brazil, amassing an incredible record of 14-1 and 2 regional titles, before signing with Bellator. Standing now with 22 victories and only 4 decision losses, Yamaguchi maybe counting days before he wears some gold around his waist.
Notable wins: Isao Kobayashi, Adam Piccolotti, Saul Almeida, Martin Stapleton, Ryan Couture.
8) Yusuke Yachi (19-6)
Probably the #1 lightweight japanese fighter today. This Killer Bee trainee, got his first taste of gold in 2012 when he won the Shooto Pacific Rim lightweight championship. In order to achieve international recognition and become a better competitor, he decided to leave the japanese circuit and test his skills in PXC, where many familiar names to the mma fans have come from or passed by. Just 2 years later, he became the featherweight champion. About the same time as he was starting to search for a bigger stage to showcase his talent, a new player came to the JMMA scene, looking to revive it to its former greatness. Long story short, RIZIN signed this hot prospect in the end of 2016. Yachi shocked many mma experts when he knocked out the former UFC fighter Daron Cruickshank and put a beating on Satoru Kitaoka. However, his biggest fight came after that as he was set to face the PRIDE legend Takanori Gomi at the 2017 New Year’s Eve show. It was a wild fight, both warriors gave everything they got and some more. In the end, Yachi locked the triangle choke on Gomi to get the most important W of his young career. It is safe to say that now the fans know who Yusuke Yachi is and, at this point, the sky is the limit for this man.
Notable wins: Takanori Gomi, Daron Cruickshank, Satoru Kitaoka, Takeshi Inoue, Yuji Hoshino.
9) Kron Gracie (4-0)
The youngest son of Rickson Gracie and grandson of Helio Gracie, proved early on his grappling skills as he was placing first in jiu itsu tournaments, in the lower belt divisions, since he was 18 years old. As a black belt, he earned second place in the World Jiu-Jitsu Championships and won the prestigious ADCC Submission Fighting World Championship in 2013. During his time on the mats, he came up against MMA superstar as well as jiu jitsu & judo expert Shinya Aoki, who he tapped out via guillotine choke. A year later he had his first MMA fight, submitting Hyung Soo-Kim. To noone’s surprise, he was signed by RIZIN in 2015 and was set to face Arsen Yamamoto, the nephew of KID Yamamoto. Arsen put a valiant effort but Kron was too much for the youngster. In 2016, Kron turned many heads as he submitted 2 JMMA veterans back to back, Hideo Tokoro and former Shooto champion Tatsuya Kawajiri, showcasing the new age of Gracie Jiu jitsu. Since he hasn’t been seen for the entirety of 2017, he mostly remains a mystery and we can only imagine what he will do next, if he steps foot back in the ring.
Notable wins: Hideo Tokoro, Tatsuya Kawajiri, Shinya Aoki (jiu jitsu rules)
We can only imagine what will happen, if this man decides to return to the ring. pic.twitter.com/NeVckFwDfD
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 20, 2018
10) Michael Chandler (17-4)
Undoubtedly one of the best fighters that haven’t been signed by the UFC today. An accomplished wrestler who became the NCAA Division I All-American in 2009, he turned pro the very same year, going undefeated at 7-0 when he beat Patricky “Pitbull” Freire to win the Bellator Lightweight Tournament. That victory granted him a shot at the Bellator lightweight champion, who was none other than future UFC champion Eddie Alvarez. Eddie at 22-2 had already squared off against top talent all over the world. Chandler, the overwhelming underdog, got the upset win as he rear-naked choked Alvarez in the forth round, to win the belt and establish himself as a top guy in the sport.
Notable wins: Eddie Alvarez, Patricky Freire, Akihiro Gono, Benson Henderson, Goiti Yamauchi.
11) Ben Henderson (24-8)
If you are a long time MMA fan, I believe I don’t have to talk much about this man. A jiu jitsu and wrestling champion, who broke into the game competing for the now defunct WEC, winning and unifying the lightweight championship in just one year with the company. He later joined the UFC and in record time he became champion once more and defended the belt 3 times. Currently signed by Bellator, while also competing in grappling bouts, this veteran is still looking for another belt to wear around his waist.
Notable wins: Donald Cerrone, Frankie Edgar, Nate Diaz, Gilbert Melendez, Jorge Masvidal, Patrício Freire.
12) Mateusz Gamrot (14-0)
Ranked by many sites as the number 1 European fighter in the world today, Gamrot has become one of the most beloved fighters in Poland. A skilled grappler, having won the Polish BJJ championship twice, as well as a European ADCC title, the “Gamer” has used his advanced mat techniques to dominate in MMA, by taking down his opponents and finish them either via ground and pound or submission. After dominating in his first three fights, he was signed by the biggest MMA promotion and one of the major players in the European scene, KSW. Mateusz was no joke as he continuously fought men with much more experience than him and still came out on top. In 2016, at 10-0, he won the vacant KSW lightweight title, making him the first undefeated champion in the promotion’s history. It’s safe to say that he will only get better as time passes and the more challengers he fights.
Notable wins: Norman Parke, Marif Piraev, Andre Winner, Mansour Barnaoui, Rodrigo Cavalheiro.
13) Damir Ismagulov (16-1)
Within just 4 years, Damir has managed to ascend in the upper echelon of Russian MMA, currently ranked amongst the top 5. Trained in hand to hand combat and sambo, he has accumulated 16 victories, 9 of them coming via KO and 1 via submission. Currently running on a 10 fight winning streak, he won the M-1 Global lightweight championship in 2017 and has already successfully defended it twice.
Notable wins: Raul Tutarauli, Rubenilton Pereira, Rogerio Matias.
14) Chris Fishgold (17-1)
A submission specialist, Fishgold has 12 submission victories on his record, 11 of them being choke holds. Chris made his name early on the regional British scene and BAMMA before he got signed by Cage Warriors. In 2016, he won the promotion’s lightweight title, the same championship that has been previously been held by 2 division UFC champion Conor McGregor.
Notable wins: Marcin Wrzosek, Nic Herron-Webb.
15) Akhmet Aliev (17-4)
Ranked as the number 1 lightweight in Russia, Aliev has earned his reputation by defeating way more experienced and well-versed fighters than himself, including WEC veteran Richard Crunkilton and the the Ultimate Fighter Season 8 lightweight winner Efrain Escudero. His biggest win, even though controversial, came in 2017 against the Ultimate Fighter Season 14 featherweight winner and 3-time bonus of the night winner Diego Brandao. Akhmet recently won the Fight Nights Global lightweight title, delivering one of the most spectacular KOs of the year.
Notable wins: Diego Brandao, Efrain Escudero, Richard Crunkilton, David Khachatryan.
16) Diego Nunes (22-7)
Known for his pin-point striking accuracy, Nunes has been active in the MMA scene for over 13 years and has competed in the biggest stages, including the UFC, WEC, Bellator and Fight Nights Global. Despite his losses, he always comes back stronger than before and now looks to revive his career as a member of the RIZIN roster.
Notable wins: Raphael Assuncao, Mike Brown, Manvel Gamburyan, Joachim Hansen.
Diego Nunes knocks out Joachim Hansen, while suffering from a leg injury. Badass !!! 😎 pic.twitter.com/1lf0U0t9O7
— Cerebral Hunter (@Delisketo) March 14, 2018
So who do you think will win ? Join in me on twitter at @Delisketo and take part in the RIZIN polls to determine the Lightweight King !
See ya !