photo by Jed Jacobsohn/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images
In the wake of "UFC 126: Silva vs. Belfort," the UFC featherweight division's title picture looks a little clearer for 2011.
With his dominant win over No. 4-ranked Michihiro Omigawa, No. 11-ranked Chad Mendes is putting himself in prime position for a title opportunity in late 2011 should he win his next fight, which I believe should be against the rising sixth-ranked Diego Nunes.
At UFC 126, Mendes put on a great performance against Omigawa, impressing everyone with the game plan he exhibited during his unanimous decision victory. Most expected Mendes, a former Cal Poly wrestler, to immediately look for the takedown against the dangerous Omigawa. Instead, he kept the fight standing, showing he wasn't afraid to trade with the Sengoku Featherweight Grand Prix finalist. When he got the takedown late in the first round, he successfully defended an Omigawa inverted armbar attempt, the same submission that felled Cole Escovedo in Omigawa's previous fight. In the final two rounds, Mendes battered Omigawa. He rocked him with a punch and sliced him open with an elbow in round two and then was able to defend against an urgent Omigawa in round three while still landing offense of his own.
It was a great effort by the ever-improving Mendes against a fighter who has beaten some of the best the division has to offer in the past.
The win had a big impact on the future of the featherweight division: It moved Mendes to 5-0 between the UFC and WEC and snapped Omigawa's five-fight winning streak in the process. It was by far and away the biggest win of Mendes' career and proves, if you doubted it before, he absolutely is for real. Omigawa shouldn't be counted out, either. He's proven he, too, is for real with the wins he picked up in Japan. He's going to have to prove it in the UFC now, though, but it's not time to give up on him finding success there yet.
With new blood like Mendes, Nunes, 10th-ranked Dustin Poirier and Erik Koch rising through the ranks, 2011 and 2012 have the potential to be very exciting for the burgeoning 145-pound division. Add in solid veterans like Omigawa, Manny Gamburyan, Rani Yahya and Leonard Garcia, plus fighters coming off recent losses like Josh Grispi, "The Korean Zombie" Chan Sung Jung, Nam Phan and former champion Mike Brown and you have the combination for a real exciting and electric mix of fights
UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo is scheduled to defend his title against Mark Hominick at UFC 129 in April in what should be Aldo's toughest test to date. Aldo, of course, has run through every opponent he's faced in the WEC and is the unanimous No. 1 featherweight in the world for a reason. He's pretty good. He's a dominant champion right now, but is going to have a very interesting list of challengers in the future.
The biggest thing to look for in the featherweight division in the future is the influx of talent from the lightweight class and from struggling promotions in Japan. Now that the money is there, UFC lightweights already are declaring their intention to drop to 145 pounds in the near future. Tyson Griffin recently stated he's heading there following knee surgery and Kenny Florian is considering it. If DREAM and/or Sengoku go belly-up, the UFC could potentially have fighters like Hatsu Hioki, Marlon Sandro, Hiroyuki Takaya and Bibiano Fernandes, all four of whom currently are ranked in the top-10 of the USA TODAY/ SB Nation Consensus Rankings, at their disposal, turning a solid division into a great one.
Going forward, it's going to be tough for the UFC to mess up making matches in this division. They have so much talent at their disposal and the division has the chance to blow up into something big when Aldo defends his title in front of what should be the largest crowd in UFC history at Rogers Centre in Toronto.
Now, it's time to sit back and enjoy what should be an extremely successful and exciting 2011 in the featherweight division.