Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson, and Frankie Edgar: are the four horsemen of the featherweight Apocalypse. Much like George St. Pierre led his division against a competitive field that seemed to be improving at a staggering rate (Hendricks, Lawler, MacDonald, Condit, Woodley, and Brown all come to mind), Aldo has bested the best and it seems like it may just be time to move on.
Aldo has been Featherweight kingpin for quite some time, and he’s made beating the best in the world look easy-- until the 4th round at least. He’s already defeated the next three contenders in the rankings, effectively cleaning out the division. By all accounts, and from a competitive (not to mention fan-friendly) standpoint, it looks like it’s time for him to move up to lightweight.
Stagnation at FW
Doing so, however, would be a big adjustment that isn’t necessarily in his favor. For one thing, he wouldn’t have his size advantage that he’s come to rely on. There are definitely lightweights that would be able to bully him around in the clinch. Ben Henderson is gigantic at 55, after all. Aldo might not even have the grappling advantage in that contest. Josh Thompson and Gilbert Melendez are talented wrestlers and deadly grapplers as well. It’s not at all clear that Aldo would be able to impose his will on the ground with any of the top lightweight talent.
And worst of all, he’d have to abdicate his title. That would mean less money, less prestige, and more risk. The only things counterbalancing all these negatives would be a less painful weight cut and the glorious possibility of being on a list that currently only has 2 other men on it. Of course, if he can pull off a successful title run at lightweight, there’s also massive profit potential.
Then there are the intangibles, would he be stronger, faster, more durable if he didn’t have to cut as much weight? Would he still fade in the latter rounds? These are important considerations that no one can really tell. He’d need a tune up fight at 55 before he could make an intelligent decision, and that’s not the way the UFC works. They prefer to push their top talent into fights ASAP to capitalize on their profitability at the earliest opportunity.
What would be nice, is if he could be locked into more money per fight for a long term contract and move up without worry for his financial future. Offer him a safety net so he can move up, find a groove at lightweight and push forward into what might just be a legendary career.
I wonder how many fights he has left on his contract. This could be a big determining factor. Especially if he entertained an offer from Bellator, a la Gilbert Melendez. Doing so would ensure a big counter from the UFC who would be very interested in keeping a potential 2 division champion.
Then again, all of this might be a moot point if a much improved Money Mendes can perform to his potential in October. Then suddenly a ton of interesting fights become possibilities. Mendes/Edgar, Mendes/Lamas, Mendes/Swanson II, Mendes/TKZ. Please sir, I want some more.
The Rest of the Shark Tank
Problematically this waiting period puts the rest of the division in a pickle. Swanson is currently waiting on his title shot, which may or may not end up being a rematch. Edgar is right there too. And Chan Sung Jung is sniffing at their heels like a hungry ass dog as well.
So here’s the dilemma. While Swanson was waiting on a fight to happen that lined up nicely time-wise with his entertaining scrap with Jeremy Stevens, now the timing is all out of whack. He’ll be inactive a good long time. And we know how reliable Dana White’s word is in regards to "promised" title shots. Chances are, he’ll need to take a top level fight to keep active and stay sharp.
The real problem there is the only guys it makes any sense to pair him with have all lost to Aldo more recently than he has. They’re all at least 2 to 3 impressive performances away from contention. I am really not salivating at the prospect of Swanson vs. Edgar, which in my mind is the obvious pairing.
Edgar’s only two fights removed from his last loss to Aldo. A competitive loss, but a clear one (for once). And Swanson getting knocked off by Edgar would be a travesty for all those who are fans of dynamic, aggressive striking who want to see Cub get another crack at Aldo.
And if Swanson won, then my heart would simply break for Frankie. Granted, that probably doesn’t matter to you, but damn I hate seeing the scrappy little fucker lose. Again, none of this would matter if Mendes beats Aldo, but that’s a big if.
The question is what do we want to see? On the one hand, I want to see the best man win. On the other, I want to see Aldo move up and make a run at the lightweight title, and clear the way for a feeding frenzy at featherweight like we’ve been witnessing at Welterweight since GSP walked away from his long-held strap. Or like the Melee at Middleweight since Silva was dethroned.
Much as part of me is nostalgic for the dominant days of our past champions- Silva, St. Pierre, and to a lesser degree BJ Penn, I have to admit that the last two years have been the most competitive and entertaining in UFC history. New blood, better athletes, and crazy competition have simply revitalized the stagnating divisions, driving the already exponential pace of martial arts innovation into a new, higher gear.
The dark ages are long gone, and the golden age is coming to a close. Welcome to the Silver age of MMA, where possibilities are infinite and no throne is secure. Christ on a cracker, even Jon Jones has 2 challengers that pose serious threats. Then again, Cain Velasquez is probably going to be fine, but heavyweights are always the exceptions and never the rule.
The situation at Featherweight is a powder keg just waiting for a match. Champions have been dropping off like flies recently, and I’m ready to see one move on to bigger and better things, rather than stay king of an emptied castle for an inordinate amount of time.
What do you guys think? Does Aldo need to move up, or do we just wait to see him outfoxed by a hungrier contender? Which would be better for the division, the sport, and for our insatiable thirst for violence?