With so many fights coming up spread across eight different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
This weekend, at UFC 142, the 145 pounders take center stage as the UFC Featherweight title will be defended in the main event of a PPV for the first time ever. Champion Jose Aldo has made his claim as the clear top dog at 145, and is in the discussion of top pound for pound fighters in the world, but he faces a tough challenge from undefeated Team Alpha Male wrestler Chad Mendes. It's an intriguing style clash and a classic striker vs. wrestler match-up (plus a showdown between the #1 and #2 ranked Featherweights), although Mendes's low profile may not be ideal for a PPV headlining position.
With this fight set to go down in a few short days, now seemed like a good time to take a look at the UFC Featherweight division. As the division enters its second year of existence, what do we have to look forward to? Who are the big names to watch? And where is the division headed? Let's see what we can figure out.
Next in Line:
After Aldo vs. Mendes, there is no clear cut path to the next title shot. A planned Erik Koch vs. Dustin Poirier fight at UFC 143 would have very possibly solidified the next #1 contender, but with Koch out of that fight due to injury, the field is wide open. In addition to Koch and Poirier, you also have a possible contender in former Sengoku champion Hatsu Hioki (more on him in a minute).
But my choice for next contender remains the #12 ranked Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung. I made my views on this known after Jung's shock KO of former #1 contender Mark Hominick, and I stick by it now. In his favor: he's a known name for UFC fans, he provides exciting fights, he is coming off a massively marketable win. Obviously, there are reasons to hold off on him - he's only on a 2 fight win streak, and one of those fights was Leonard Garcia - but the division needs some marketability. And let's be frank, they're not going to get it this weekend, as I expect UFC 142 to draw pretty poor numbers. Jung gives the division some interest, while giving time to build up a Koch, Poirier, or Hioki more. I'm not saying this is my prediction for how the UFC will play things, but it's the call I would make.
Key Match Ups:
As always with the newer, lighter weight classes, things remain in a bit of flux, so there are not a tremendous amount of big marquee match-ups on the way. Still, there are some good one to watch for:
- #7 Dustin Poirier vs. Max Holloway (UFC 143) - This is the make-do for Poirier vs. Koch, and, sorry to say, it's a definite step down. Holloway is just not a compelling opponent, and this feels more like Poirier killing time before his next big challenge. Of course, that's a perfect set-up for a complacent Poirier to be upset, which would certainly give Holloway's career a hige boost. But I expect Poirier to win here and perhaps reschedule that showdown with Koch.
- #3 Hatsu Hioki vs. #10 Bart Palaszewski (UFC 144) - As I said above, Hioki is a strong possibility for a future (if not the next) title challenger. He came into the UFC on a wave of hype thanks to his achievements in Japan. But as we've seem time and again lately, that hype didn't quite pan out on his debut, a somewhat lackluster, too close win over George Roop. He can get back on track here easily, but needs to look good against the veteran. Bartimus is not someone I expected to see so close to the top of the UFC division, but the journeyman veteran is coming in off a win over Tyson Griffin, and has looked strong lately. I don't see him as a title challenger if he beats Hioki, but he'll be very close.
- Leonard Garcia vs. Tiequan Zhang (UFC 144) - OK, ok, it's not really a big match-up by any means. But Garcia is, for better or worse, one of the real staples of the division, and every fight of his will draw at least some attention. He's almost impervious to losses, but also far removed from the title picture. Still, his name is such that a win for him will get him back towards the top, while a win for Zhang will help boost his UFC resume.
- #11 Mark Hominick vs. Eddie Yagin (UFC 145) - Hominick is still hurting from that fast KO loss to Jung, but he's also just one fight removed from a gutsy performance against Aldo. He needs a win here, badly, but that win will put him right back at the top. Yagin is taking a huge step up here, and it will be interesting to see how he does.
In The Mix:
A number of Featherweights have no fights set up, but could find themselves in the title picture very soon:
- #6 Diego Nunes - He's only on a one fight win streak, but the division is shallow, and he is a very skilled fighter who could easily make a run towards the top if he gets a choice opponent next time out.
- #9 Erik Koch - Like I said, the 13-1 fighter was maybe 1 fight away from a title shot when he went down to injury. Hopefully he bounces back soon.
- Jim Hettes - He's young, and just 2-0 in the UFC, but again, in a shallow division like Featherweight, the kind of dominating win he had over Nam Phan - and on the Lesnar vs. Overeem PPV main card no less - immediately launches him to the top of the ranks. I am very intrigued to see how the UFC handles him now.
- Diego Brandao - An Ultimate Fighter winner, and a super exciting one at that. Not to be a broken record, but shallow division + high profile = in the mix.
Others to Consider:
We wrap it up with a few fighters that may not find themselves in the title picture right now, but should be mentioned:
- #8 Kenny Florian - When will he return? Will he stay at Featherweight? Move back up to Lightweight? Dolce diet down to Bantamweight and challenge Dominick Cruz? All unknown, but you can bet that wherever and whenever he returns, it will be in a big fight.
- Dennis Bermudez - That Brandao TUF final fight was a great one, and though Bermudez lost, he still comes out in a good place in the division.
- Antonio Carvalho - A great prospect for the UFC, with some high-end international experience, including a win over Hioki. He debuts this weekend against Felipe Arantas, and could make a real splash very quickly.
- Ross Pearson - The TUF champion made a nice FW debut at UFC 141, defeating Junior Assuncao. I'm not sure how high he can go in the division, but for now, he's in a good position.
- Charles Oliviera - Oliveira went from one of the hottest young guns in the UFC to somewhat forgotten in mere months. He was an undefeated 14-0 with 2 UFC wins late last year, but a pair of losses and the Nik Lentz no contest have hurt him. He now goes down to FW to face Eric Wisely at the UFC on Fox 2 show, and I am very excited to see if he can get back on track.