You don't get to be the top MMA promotion in the world without doing a lot of things right, and one of the things the UFC is incredibly well is matchmaking. Joe Silva and Sean Shelby rarely disappoint when it comes to matching up fighters and the fans are the one that benefit from it. But after taking a look at the plan for the next few events, I was surprised to see that one division currently seems to be up in the air - featherweight.
The UFC has eight events scheduled over the rest of 2013, and 91 bouts currently booked across the shows (the TUF 18 Finale will add more bouts, but they'll likely all be from the show and will feature bantamweights). Of the 91 that are books, 11 are in the 145-pound division. With nine divisions, that's about the right proportion. But only four of the 11 officially ranked fighter (the champ and 10 contenders) are currently scheduled to fight. That being said, a title fight is unofficially official and one of the other ranked fighters is set to fight sometime next year. So that ties up another three.
So let's take a look at what the UFC can do with the currently-unbooked guys, and what they might do pending the outcomes of the already-booked fights.
1. Jose Aldo vs. Ricardo Lamas - This bout has been mentioned by UFC president Dana White but hasn't been made official. While they've talked about having it on their Super Bowl card at UFC 169, I don't think this fight can carry a pay-per-view. So it'd either be underneath a title fight in a heavier weight class (Velasquez/Werdum?), or it could possibly be moved to UFC 170. On the 170 card, my guess is that it would co-main event under the Jon Jones vs. Glover Teixeira fight.
2. Cub Swanson vs. Chad Mendes/Nik Lentz winner - Swanson has come up short against both Aldo and Mendes in the WEC but has been on fire since his move to the UFC. If he's not going to get a title shot right away and it's going to Lamas, he should be taking on the next best available guy in a top contender's bout. The winner of Lentz/Mendes at UFC on Fox 9 is that guy.
3. If B.J. Penn beats Frankie Edgar, he gets an immediate title shot - Edgar/Penn is already booked barring an injury or something, but it's not happening for a while. Edgar is the number three contender in the division but is highly unlikely to get another title shot any time soon. If Penn beats him, he should be pushed past Mendes/Lentz/Swanson into a straight title shot, because it will sell. Yes, that's skipping the line. But he's .
4. No matter the outcome of the Edgar/Penn fight, Edgar should fight Chan Sung Jung - This gives the Korean Zombie plenty of time to heal up since Edgar/Penn isn't till April at the earliest. It keeps Jung and Edgar away from the title picture (since they both had shots and lost). It's got the potential to be an awesome fight. And due to Edgar's precarious position at the moment, the outcome of the Penn fight doesn't really matter leading into this.
5. Dustin Poirier/Diego Brandao winner vs. Dennis Siver/Manny Gamburyan winner - While Brando and Gamburyan aren't currently ranked, a win against a ranked fighter (Poirier is currently at 6, Siver at 7) basically puts them in that spot. This mini-tourney would decide who the top second-tier guy would be, basically just out of the immediate title picture. These two wins would certainly put one of them in a good position for consideration though, depending upon the fallout of the above fights.
6. If Nik Lentz loses to Chad Mendes, have him face Clay Guida - Despite only having two bouts in the division, there aren't a lot of appealing fights for Guida out there. Lentz is one of the few guys in the division that could potentially stall his wrestling and while it might not be the prettiest fight ever, it'd definitely be a good test to see where they stand.
7. Erik Koch vs. Siver/Gamburyan loser - Koch has lost two in a row now but he's still ranked at number 10 at the moment. The loser of the Siver/Gamburyan fight is a solid rebound fight for Koch and if one of the two can find a way to get past him, it would keep them in the hunt.
8. Darren Elkins vs. Dennis Bermudez/Steven Siler winner - Elkins is just on the outside of the top 10 at the moment. Bermudez has won four in a row, while Siler is 5-1 in the UFC and coming off a 50-second knockout win over Mike Brown. The winner of that fight is right in the mix and would be a perfect candidate to fight Elkins, who is 6-1 at featherweight.
9. Hatsu Hioki vs. Charles Oliveira - I know this one's a little odd, but I like it. Hioki has lost three in a row but is apparently still in the organization. Oliveira was supposed to fight Estevan Payan but backed out with an injury. The UFC has continually fed Hioki guys that can put him on his back and grind away if need be, and it's time to change it up. If they're going to keep him, they should put him in a fight with a guy that will engage him on the feet or in the grappling arena. And Do Bronx is that guy. The fight has a ton of potential.
10. Rony Jason/Jeremy Stephens winner vs. Akira Corassani/Maximo Blanco winner - All of them are undefeated at featherweight in the UFC aside from Blanco, and matching up the winners here just seems logical.
Note - I didn't include Conor McGregor because no one's sure when he'll actually return from his ACL injury. That makes it pretty tough to find a potential fit.