Can a Fighter Who Isn't in the UFC Be the World's Best?

via Showtime

When Frankie Edgar upset BJ Penn, not once but twice, it was a real paradigm shift in the way many fans view the sport's lightweight division. We had collectively anointed Penn the best fighter in the world at 155 pounds and assumed he was unbeatable in that division. For whatever reason, despite the two wins, Edgar doesn't command that same level of respect.

The whispers have begun, and many are suggesting that the best fighters in the class don't compete in the UFC Octagon. Bellator President Bjorn Rebney told the MMA Torch he believes the best lightweight on the planet competes on Fox Sports:

RICH HANSEN: There has been a lot of talk about Eddie Alvarez and Gilbert Melendez. Do you have anything you can tell us about this fight, maybe next year sometime?

BJORN REBNEY: You know, I keep calling Scott Coker and pressing the issues like crazy. I never like to assume I can get inside people’s heads. I think Eddie Alvarez is the best 155 pounder in the world. I mean, everybody can debate it, but he’ll never get the chance to fight Frankie [Edgar] or B.J. [Penn] or Kenny [Florian].

RH: But he could fight Gilbert.

BR: Right. So I call on a weekly basis. I’m starting to feel like that guy from Swingers making the returning phone call all night. I think they (Strikeforce) are not as enthusiastic about it as I am. I’ve got a lot of respect for Gilbert. Gilbert started this talk by calling out Eddie. Gilbert wants it, he’s got a huge heart. Eddie wants it. Of course, I want it. And I don’t know if that’s a fight they would take. Gilbert is one of their bigger stars right now, and a loss to Eddie Alvarez wouldn’t be the best thing for him right now.

Right now, looking at the Bloody Elbow/USA Today rankings, four of the top 10 and seven of the top 20 lightweights compete outside of the UFC. Is it fair then, when determining who the top fighters in the division are, to limit our consideration to a select group of UFC stars? Would you favor Edgar, the current UFC champion, over Melendez? Opinions will vary, but it certainly isn't as clear cut as it would be in almost every other weight class.  If Rebney is able to put together this match it could certainly help make a pretty strong case that the winner is the best fighter in the division.

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