A few weeks ago I wrote "Light-Heavyweight – A Pending Crisis" that detailed how the UFC LHW division is aging rapidly, and there are not many young prospects emerging to fill the void. Now I want to focus a division that I feel is going to provide some of the most excitement over the next five to ten years, Featherweight.
Basically, "this ain't your Daddy's WEC", the Current UFC Featherweight division has over 50 fighters and is only behind Welterweight, and Lightweight when it comes to quantity of fighters. But it is not just the quantity, it is the young talent either in their prime, or quickly approaching it. Where the UFC Light-Heavyweight division only has five fighters under the age of 30 in the whole division, 8 of the top 10 Featherweights in UFC are under the age 30 (Aldo, Hioki, Mendes, TKZ, Poirier, Koch, Nunes, and Bartimus) and more talent is coming, but we will look at that in a minute.
The Champion Jose Aldo is 25 years old, and a dynamic force with an amazing highlight reel of finishes, and fights. He is listed in the top 5 of every Pound for Pound list, and does not seem to be slowing down. Despite his level of dominance, he is not going to run out of challengers anytime soon. There are the constant rumors that he will move up to Lightweight, and I would not be surprised if he does, but this division will still be just fine even if he moves.
There is currently a growing line for title shots, with Eirk Koch standing at the head of the line. He may have jumped over a few people to get the title shot, due to timing, but he will certainly put on an exciting fight while it last. Chan Sung Jung (The Korean Zombie) is next in line. He has made tremendous strides over his last three fights to put himself in this position, and his win over Dustin Poirier was a brilliant performance on the feet, and ground. Standing behind him is the man who actually turned down a title shot to get one more fight in, and long considered the second best Featherweight in the world, Hatsu Hioki.
Continue reading after the Jump...
Young, and rising Talent:
But don’t think that the young talent stops at the end of the top 10. Charles Oliviera (22), Darren Elkins (28) and Ross Pearson (27) are closing in on the top 10 with one or two more wins. Other young prospects like Jim Hettes (24), Robert Peralta (26), Diego Brandao (25), Dennis Bermudez (25), Steven Siler (25), Marcus Brimage (27), and Max Holloway (20) have all shown signs that they will continue to improve and move up the rankings. A lot of people also want to write off Josh Grispi, but at only 23 "the fluke" is another guy who could make some noise if he can put his personal distractions behind him.
To bridge a gap that sometimes develops between prospects and serious contenders, it is always good to have solid veterans on the roster. Featherweight has that too. Denis Siver, Manny Gamburyan, Yuri Alcantara, Tyson Griffin, Ricardo Lamas, Javier Vazquez, and Michihiro Omigawa are all established in the division. These fighters will test the prospects that come up, and serve as valuable gatekeepers in the division. Some of these guys (Siver, Alcantara, Lamas) with a few good wins could also be in line for a title shot themselves.
The Bellator Barometer: (I think you can gauge how strong a division is overall in MMA by looking at the talent level in Bellator)
Featherweight also happens to be one of Bellator’s strongest divisions. What that tells me is that there are enough top fighters, and quality prospects to go around. Bellator has 4 fighters ranked in the top 15 of the USA Today/SB Nation Rankings. Pat Curran, Daniel Straus, Marlon Sandro, and Patricio Freire are all fighters that would step right into UFC and contend with the best that they have. In addition Bellator has a very good prospects like Alexandre Bezerra, Roberto Vargas, and Mike Corey. I feel that if UFC really felt like their division needed help, then they would be working harder to bring in some of these guys before Bellator could grab them up.
To sum this all up, even if Jose Aldo makes the jump to Lightweight at some point, it is not going to be due to a cleaned out division. Aldo receives and deserves a ton of praise, but with the amount of young and hungary talent gunning for him at the top of this division he is going to have to battle the complacency that has hurt other top level fighters over the years. This is going to be one of the most exciting divisions to watch not just over the next year or two, but over the next 5-10 years. It is likely many of these fighters will become familiar with each other, and with familiarity comes contempt. I expect some pretty heated rivalries to come through in not just one fight, but rematches, and trilogies.
As always when I need a place to dump all my thoughts on MMA they go here