The UFC’s featherweight division is one of the toughest weight classes to rank at the moment. With so many lightweights like Frankie Edgar, Clay Guida and Anthony Pettis dropping down in hopes of finding new life at 145 pounds, it seems like new fighters worthy of a top 10 ranking are emerging every week.
If you recall from my last two division rankings, the flyweights and the bantamweights are the two most top-heavy weight classes in the UFC. But at featherweight, outside of longtime featherweight kingpin Jose Aldo, there really is no clear-cut number one fighter. With so many men clamoring for a shot at the title, this is the first weight class in the UFC that can muster any sort of debate regarding the top 10.
So without further ado, here are the UFC’s top 10 featherweights:
UFC Featherweight Champion: Jose “Junior” Aldo
With a win over former UFC Lightweight champion Frankie Edgar at UFC 156, Jose Aldo has established himself as the top 145-pounder on the planet and the greatest featherweight in the history of MMA. Riding a 15-fight win streak, including victories over three of the top 10 featherweights, the Ultimate Fighter 12 winner Jonathan Brookins and MMA legends Urijah Faber, Kenny Florian and Mike Brown, Aldo quickly rose up the pound-for-pound rankings and is now on par with MMA greats Georges St. Pierre and fellow Brazilian striker Anderson Silva. Silva, who many consider the greatest mixed martial artist ever, recently said he would retire if he fought in Aldo’s weight class.
With some of the fastest hands in the business to go along with incredible takedown defense, powerful knees and the most lethal leg kicks in the game, I don’t see anyone below 155 pounds as a threat to the champion’s title reign. With his next opponent, Pettis, deciding to drop down in weight to challenge for the belt, Aldo faces a unique opposition as Pettis has shown flashes of brilliance that rivals the featherweight kingpin’s own arsenal of attacks. If Aldo can pull out another win on August 3, I don’t see the longtime champion sticking around at 145 pounds, as he will have nothing left to prove in the division he has dominated for the past seven years. An immediate title shot at 155 pounds against the winner of Benson Henderson vs. Gilbert Melendez would prove interesting as Aldo would no longer be the bigger and faster fighter in the octagon. If he can manage to win the belt in yet another weight class, it will cement his status as perhaps the greatest champion of all-time.
1. Chad “Money” Mendes
It seems like nobody at 145 pounds wants to fight Chad Mendes — and I don’t blame them. After his only career loss, to Aldo back in January 2012, Mendes has bounced back with two devastating 1st-round KO wins over Cody McKenzie and Yaotzin Meza. With the best wrestling in the division to go along with a vastly improving striking game, the Team Alpha Male product has proven why he is still the man to beat outside of the champion. Even though his competition as of late has been anything but elite, Mendes dispatched them with ease. His knockout win over McKenzie was a straight right punch to the liver, a mere 31 seconds into the fight for crying out loud! His next opponent was scheduled to be Manny Gamburyan at UFC 157, but Gamuryan pulled out due to injury. With no fighters stepping in to take on the featherweight juggernaut, Mendes was scratched from the card. His upcoming fight against former UFC lightweight contender Clay Guida gives Mendes a big-name opponent willing to step up and fight him. A win here would establish Mendes as the top contender for the belt he so desperately desires.
2. Ricardo “The Bully” Lamas
After a fairly successful career as a lightweight, MMA workhorse Ricardo Lamas decided it was time for a change and made the drop to featherweight for his UFC debut in 2011. Since then, he has quickly risen through the ranks of the 145-pounders, finishing three of four opponents including former number-one contender Erik Koch and Japanese icon Hatsu Hioki. “The Bully” was all but assured a title shot against Aldo after dismantling Koch at UFC on Fox 6 and leaving him bleeding from both eyes. But as the UFC has shown of late, big name fighters take precedence over those who deserve the title shot (ask Johnny Hendricks) and Lamas saw his title shot given to lightweight contender Pettis. Lamas may have no opponent lined up at the moment but another win over a big name like Koch and Dana White will have no choice but to grant the WEC veteran the title shot he deserves.
3. Frankie “The Answer” Edgar
The only other fighter, besides Aldo, to have his name appear on the UFC’s pound-for-pound rankings, Edgar has a strong case for being placed directly behind the champion at 145 pounds. The only problem is “The Answer” is 0-1 as a featherweight with his only lone loss being to Aldo at UFC 156. Edgar is of course the former UFC lightweight champion and, aside from my colleague Justin Tucker, he has won the hearts of fans everywhere with his “never give up” fighting style. Edgar proved to be Aldo’s toughest match to date and even managed to win a round or two in the eyes of many who watched their super fight. Though he’s hit a rough patch as of late, with only one win in his last five fights, Edgar’s unbreakable will has made every fight an instant classic. His next fight will again be at 145 and will be his first non-title fight since 2009. Edgar has called out fellow featherweight Cub Swason lately, which makes sense as both as both fighters are looking for a big name to put them over. If this fight does become a reality, I see Edgar boxing his way to a decision victory and throwing his name back into the title hunt. A loss would be heartbreaking for the New Jersey native and his fans, but I’ve learned to never count out the UFC’s version of Arturo Gatti even when the deck is stacked against him.
4. “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung
Dear Chan Sung Jung, please come back into our lives. With a 3-0 record in the UFC, “The Korean Zombie” has emerged as the most exciting fighter in the promotion, regardless of weight class. If you don’t believe me, just look at his résumé: two-time UFC Submission of the Year, two-time UFC fight of the year, fastest knockout in UFC history the first and only successful twister in UFC history. Combine all that with the knack for taking tremendous amounts of damage without falling down- not to mention the best nickname in the business- and you get one of the most popular fighters on the planet. But fight fans have been robbed of the Zombie’s greatness because of his shoulder injury that has kept him on the sidelines since May 2012. I fully expect Jung to come back with a vengeance sometime this summer and pick up right where he left off as a perennial championship contender.
5. Cub Swanson
Before 2012 rolled around, Cub Swanson was one of the most inconsistent and disappointing fighters at 145 pounds. With no back-to-back wins in two years and a loss in his UFC debut, the Southern California native was on the outside looking in at the top 10 featherweights. This was a guy who was one win away from a title shot before running into Aldo’s knee a mere eight seconds into their bout. Aldo’s career skyrocketed while Swanson’s floundered. He was a man with worlds of talent who could never put it all together and perform the way everyone knew he could. But after dropping his UFC debut, Swanson went on a tear with knockouts in all three of his 2012 fights. But it was his performance against highly-touted featherweight Dustin Poirier at UFC on Fuel 7 that separated Swanson from constant reshuffling in the middle tier of the division. A matchup against Frankie Edgar makes sense because both men are calling for the bout to happen. A win over a huge name like Edgar would most certainly propel the Greg Jackson product into the upper echelon of the division.
6. Dennis Siver
With a 19-8 record at 155 and 170 pounds, UFC veteran Dennis Siver has found new life at 145-pounds. The German striker has never looked better- with two dominating victories after dropping down in weight. While his only two opponents at featherweight haven’t been big names, his performance has been good enough to earn him a spot in the top 10. While he’s not in line for a title shot anytime soon, a bout against a name like Cub Swanson or Ricardo Lamas would be a great way to see how the 34 year-old stacks up against the young guns hungry for respect Siver has already earned.
7. Dustin “The Diamond” Poirier
Win or lose, Dustin Poirier has looked phenomenal since making his UFC debut in 2011. The only problem is Poirier doesn’t have a victory over a big-name featherweight. But even with no signature wins in the UFC, Poirier has shown he belongs in the top 10 with an incredibly well-rounded fight game. His highly impressive submission game and always improving stand up, “The Diamond” has proven he’s a threat to end the fight from any position in the octagon. With his last two losses coming at the hands of The Korean Zombie and Swanson, Poirier has nothing to hang his head over, as both had the fans on their feet the entire match. His loss to Jung was the UFC’s 2012 fight of the year. He may have hit a rough patch in his career, but I expect another big-name opponent for Poirier as he’s certainly earned it.
8. Nik “The Carny” Lentz
Nik Lentz has quietly made his way into the top 10 following an impressive win over UFC veteran Diego Nunes in a fight that saw “The Carny” land 186 more strikes than his opponent. A highly successful lightweight, Lentz made the decision to drop down in weight last year and has looked like a new man. No longer is he the smaller fighter in the cage, and he has put on relentless attacks in both his featherweight bouts. One more win should stake his claim as a top 145-pounder but with no fight lined up, I can’t imagine the UFC will feed another lamb to the suffocating and dangerous ground game of Lentz. He’s man handled to straight opponents and has proven he’s no joke. With win over a big name in his next fight, the media and fans will be forced to accept Lentz as a legitimate threat at 145.
9. Clay “The Carpenter” Guida
Following back-to-back losses to current UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson and former number-one contender Grey Maynard, Clay Guida made the decision to drop down a weight class in hopes of earning the title shot that has eluded him throughout his career. A fan favorite known for aggressive and wild style of fighting, “The Carpenter” has looked like a shell of his former self, following two uncharacteristically slow fights. Even after earning a split-decision victory over Hioki, Guida had fans scratching their heads and wondering where the man who earned five Fights of the Night and even a Fight of the Year had gone. But a win is a win and Hioki is a more than capable fighter. A win over Mendes at UFC on Fox 7 will push Guida into the top 10, but a loss, especially a boring one, could mean the end for the seven-year UFC veteran’s championship dreams.
10. Erik “New Breed” Koch
Oh how the mighty have fallen. Luck wasn’t on Erik Koch’s side in 2012. Scheduled to face Aldo at UFC 149, Koch was forced to wait as the champ was forced out with an injury. Koch withdrew from the rescheduled UFC 153 matchup with an injury of his own. His title shot would inevitably go to Edgar and Koch lost the title shot he had worked so hard for. With more than a year on the sideline, “New Breed” finally found his way back into the octagon at UFC on Fox 6 and into the waiting fists of Lamas. One beat down later and Koch finds himself all the way at the bottom of the list. It’ll be a long time before Koch can earn another title shot, but at 24, the Roufussport product has his best years ahead of him.
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