Much like the bantamweight division, there are several men that could reasonably vie for the top spot at featherweight for the decade. Jose Aldo ruled the division with an iron fist for more than half the decade… but was it enough to claim the top spot? How about the man who dethroned him the first time, Conor McGregor? Or the man who put together the record long win streak, Max Holloway. Depending on your basis of criteria, all have legitimate claims to the top spot. If it was pure impact, McGregor would take it, hands down. While that has a part in my criteria, I’m placing a far greater emphasis on the quality of their fighting ability. Even with that said, there’s always room for debate.
1. Max Holloway: Despite recently losing his throne to Alexander Volkanovski, Holloway has the best combination of quality and quantity. Blessed won 17 fights overall for the decade, including 14 in a row within the division. Holloway was willing to fight at less than his best too, being willing to accept a contest with Khabib Nurmagomedov despite exhibiting concussion-like symptoms. Did I mention he also has wins over quality opponents like Aldo (twice), Brian Ortega, and Frankie Edgar? That his fight with Ortega is one of the best contestsThat’s just the tip of the iceberg.
2. Jose Aldo: I wouldn’t be at all surprised if more people believe Aldo deserves the top spot than Holloway. For a decade, he turned away all comers, methodically picking them apart while occasionally throwing out a highlight reel finish. He had an instant classic with Chad Mendes in their rematch and methodically picked apart several other worthy opponents. One-decisions don’t necessarily make for memorable contests, but they do help establish the narrative of dominance… and dominant is the best way to describe Aldo’s five-plus year reign of the featherweight division.
3. Conor McGregor: I have little doubt there are several McGregor fans who find it appalling I’d rank him behind a pair of men whom McGregor beat in Holloway and Aldo. However, McGregor moved onto other opportunities rather than prove his dominance at 145. Plus, his win over Holloway came when Holloway was 21 and far from his peak. Regardless, McGregor’s featherweight run was one of the most incredible feats seen in MMA history, wins over Mendes and Dustin Poirier included in there besides Holloway and Aldo. If the Notorious one had continued to ply his trade at the division, he likely would have eventually become the undisputed GOAT at featherweight. Then again, it’s doubtful he could have continued to make that weight….
4. Alexander Volkanovski: Had Volkanovski made his UFC debut just a bit earlier, we very well could be debating whether he was the top featherweight of the decade. As it is, he ended it with wins over Aldo and Holloway, claiming ownership of the featherweight title. It isn’t just that he’s undefeated in his UFC run either. None of his contests within the confines of the Octagon have been particularly competitive. Perhaps a few more finishes would help his cause, but Volkanovski’s dominance can’t be questioned.
5. Brian Ortega: Given it’s been well over a year since we last saw Ortega in action, it’s easy to forget how many people believed he was going to be the one to dethrone Holloway at the end of 2018. After all, not only had every single one of his UFC contests been stopped before the final bell, he tended to do so with dramatic flair. Four consecutive third round finishes was followed by a guillotine finish of Cub Swanson that saw Ortega readjust as he was hanging onto his neck. After that, Ortega became the first man to finish Frankie Edgar. Here’s hoping he hasn’t lost a step when he returns.
6. Frankie Edgar: Edgar was never able to grab the featherweight title despite multiple opportunities. However, much like Urijah Faber, Edgar was an eternal bridesmaid, going close to a decade without a loss in a non-title fight, five of those years at featherweight. He generally did so in dominant fashion too, scrubbing the mat with the likes of Faber, Mendes, Cub Swanson, and Yair Rodriguez. His days at the top appear to be over, having dropped three of his last four, but that shouldn’t taint his impressive accomplishments earlier in the decade.
7. Chad Mendes: For a brief period, Mendes was the archrival of Aldo. Following a controversial loss to Aldo in their first encounter – the infamous fence grab by Aldo – Mendes ripped off five consecutive wins in dominant fashion, four of them finishes. His sophomore effort with Aldo was an instant classic, one that appears to have been forgotten about by many. Mendes may have come up short, but he proved a worthy adversary for the longtime champion. Mendes’ career went south shortly thereafter, but he should be remembered as a dominant force at his peak.
8. Patricio Frieire: Like most of Bellator’s championship belts, the featherweight title has been passed around like a hot potato. The younger of the Pitbull brothers not only held it on multiple occasions during the decade (also for the most combined days), he also has five successful defenses under his belt, three more than anyone else in the history of the Bellator featherweight division. Currently holding the lightweight title as well, Patricio appears to be at the peak of his powers.
9. Cub Swanson: Swanson’s decade was full of ups and downs, coming thisclose to challenging for the UFC title on a couple of occasions while also enduring a couple of losing streaks, including a four-fight losing streak towards the end of the decade. Swanson always came up short against the elite of the division, dropping fights to Mendes, Edgar, Ortega, Ricardo Lamas, and Renato Moicano. However, when he was in his prime, Swanson was beating just about everyone else and doing so in an entertaining fashion. Who can forget his epic slugfest with Doo Ho Choi?
10. Ricardo Lamas: I had a plethora of names going through my head for the final spot on the list. I chose Lamas as he managed to stay near the top of the division for the majority of decade, losing only to the elite like Aldo, Mendes, and Holloway. Along the way, Lamas also managed to pull off some brutal finishes in the process. Erik Koch and Jason Knight were never the same after Lamas was done with them.
Honorable Mentions: Pat Curran, Daniel Straus, Renato Moicano, Chan Sung Jung, Zabit Magomedsharipov, Dustin Poirier.
Curran and Straus struggled to establish dominance as the featherweight champion of Bellator, but came thisclose to making the list, Curran in particular. Moicano was on his way to making the list before stumbling at the end of the decade. Jung’s (Korean Zombie) legacy was damaged by his military stint that took three years of his career, plus a torn ACL. Magomedsharipov is still lacking a signature win to establish himself as a true elite. Poirier would have made the list had he continued to fight at featherweight. Regardless, he made the right decision to move to lightweight.
Note: Next in line based on how I’ve been doing the articles would be the women’s featherweight division. However, given the lack of viable options to pick from, I won’t be picking a list and moving on to lightweight division.