This Saturday at UFC 212, the featherweight division will finally exorcise the specter of Conor McGregor. Eighteen months ago, "The Notorious" Irishman cut down Jose Aldo with a single back-stepping counter hook to win the 145-pound strap, then promptly bolted the division. McGregor never defended the title, and virtually no one believes he will ever return to featherweight, so the division has been forced to limp along in his absence.
This Saturday's main event is a chance to for the featherweights to finally move forward. Here are three questions heading into this crackerjack matchup.
1. Can UFC 212's Winner Claim to be Undisputed?
While McGregor still held the title, but occupied himself chasing two-division glory, the greatest featherweight in history - and perhaps the best to ever do it below 170 pounds - picked himself up, and calmly put on the most spectacular performance of his career. #JoseAldo picked apart #FrankieEdgar - the consensus number-two 145er - in clinical fashion at UFC 200, using basically only his jab and his cross.
In doing so, he silenced doubters who suspected his chin and his confidence, and openly wondered if Aldo could still fight up to his previous awe-inspiring standard. "Scarface" proved he is still an all-time great force to be reckoned with.
Meanwhile, on the rebound from his own loss to McGregor as a still-green 21-year-old, #MaxHolloway cut a swath through the division. His run of ten-straight victories is the longest in divisional history, and among the longest on the UFC record books, period. In doing so, he graduated from exciting young prospect to full-fledged badass and pound-for-pound killer.
Because of how unequivocally dope this fight is, and how truly elite its competitors are, the victor will reestablish the credibility of the division's champion. Aldo became the interim champion by dominating Edgar. Ditto for Holloway - after McGregor was stripped and Aldo promoted to undisputed - after he vanquished Anthony Pettis at UFC 206. With no McGregor return on the horizon, whoever comes out on top can rightly claim to be the best at 145 pounds.
2. Is This the Best Fight in Featherweight History?
Simply put, this is the most excitedly awaited featherweight fight that can be put together and one of the best in combat sports at any weight class. As the two striking dynamos largely eschew the takedown - and also defend it exceptionally well - the fight can only play out one way: as a howling whirlwind of limbs, a barnburner roaring into the night. And pyromaniacs are itching in anticipation of the conflagration.
Holloway is at the peak of his aggressive, swarming, combination-punching powers and has not really been challenged since reaching those heights. To that point, despite being one of the most exciting fighters on the roster, he has yet to win a single 'Fight of the Night' bonus because so few of his fights of late have been competitive. In Aldo, the defensive wizard and punishing tactician, Holloway will meet his equal - or even his superior - in the striking arts for the first time in years. But their clash of styles will make this a chess match as much as a firefight.
Both Aldo and "Blessed" can do it all with their striking: box, slug, pressure, counter, and outfight. But they have different preferences. Aldo likes to snipe from the edge of boxing range, not allowing his foe the opportunity to wing bombs in the pocket. Holloway, by contrast, prefers to come forward and bury his opponent under a barrage of staccato punches.
With respect to Aldo's masterful domination of Edgar and his war with Mendes in their second fight, this slugfest has the makings of an all-time classic. Edgar and Mendes are both wrestlers first, and it showed in their many attempts to ground Aldo and get the fight to their world. Edgar and Mendes boxed effectively at times with the champion, with the latter even dropping Aldo, but they both found themselves outgunned, frustrated, and looking for a new avenue to victory.
This will be the first time that Aldo's opponent will want to strike with him. Holloway's world IS standing and trading shots on the feet, and he has the kickboxing diversity, output, and pressure to contend there with the Brazilian. Finally, Aldo will be able to use his full arsenal without having to think about defending takedowns.
3. Where Does the Winner Go After Saturday?
The answer to this question depends completely on the outcome.
Should Aldo retain and unify the undisputed championship, he might head to lightweight to chase McGregor, should "Notorious" ever return to the Octagon. There isn't anyone at featherweight ready to immediately challenge him. Edgar is currently the next-highest ranked man at featherweight, but with two decisive losses to Aldo already, he is unlikely to receive another shot. And he is knocking off other would-be challengers, often brutally.
Edgar will be the biggest Holloway fan come Saturday, because a victorious Holloway would almost certainly battle "The Answer" next. The two have yet to fight, and it would make for yet another classic skirmish. They could even potentially fight if Holloway were to fall to Aldo, but Edgar is surely rooting for a "Blessed" victory. His only path to featherweight gold for the foreseeable future runs through the Hawaiian.
The UFC 212 headliner seems like a surefire "Fight of the Year" candidate, and whichever way it goes, you have to be watching when the sparks start to fly.
- Bas Rutten Breaks Down the UFC 212: Aldo vs. Holloway Main Event
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