Now that International Fight Week is over, we have a lot to talk about.
UFC 200 became the largest event in MMA history, three new champions were crowned, Brock Lesnar won in his return and the UFC was sold for $4 billion. With all the excitement that has taken place over the last week, it is important to take stock and see where the sport stands. Here is the state of the UFC's featherweight division.
The top of this division is absolutely stacked. Conor McGregor may very well be the face of the UFC now that Jon Jones faces suspension and Ronda Rousey has been MIA since her loss in November. His run through the 145-pound division was electrifying, picking up seven straight wins to earn the belt. This streak included wins over greats like Max Holloway, Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo. However, his antics in the welterweight division has forced the UFC to bring in an interim champion in order to keep fans caring about the division.
Aldo fought against Frankie Edgar at UFC 200 and beat him handedly in a decision win. He played defensively, avoided all of the damage that Edgar was trying to dole out, and countered effectively to bloody Edgar's face to win the title. He is seeking redemption for the 13 second knockout that McGregor handed him last December. They will have to meet again to unify the belt, or McGregor can focus on other divisions and vacate the belt to give it to Aldo. But I don't see his ego allowing that.
Edgar fought well at UFC 200, but was just outclassed by Aldo that night. The loss snapped a five fight win streak that saw him absolutely destroy his competition. He is definitely one of the best at 145, he just can't seem to climb to the top, having lost twice now to Aldo in title fights. However he is likely wanting to get back in the mix and fight some of the division's elite.
A great opponent for him would be Holloway. Holloway has won nine straight fights, last losing to McGregor in 2013. He is also the only person in the featherweight division to not get knocked out by McGregor and go the distance. Most people would get a title shot after nine wins and a chance at redeeming a loss to the champ. But with Aldo and McGregor needing to settle some unfinished business, he will have to wait. A fight between the No. 2 and No. 3 contender would be a great fight for the fans, a challenge for both fighters, and would set up the clear next opponent for the featherweight champion.
The rest of the top five consists of men coming off tough losses. Mendes has lost two straight to McGregor and Edgar and has already lost to Aldo for the title in 2014. He will need to have an impressive win against a tough opponent in order to remind UFC fans that he is one of the best featherweights in the world.
Ricardo Lamas may just be that opponent. The No. 5 contender has torn through most of the 145 division, but can't seem to beat a higher ranked fighter. He needs to beat another top five fighter in order to not plateau. A loss would show that he may never be a champion in the division. While Mendes would be a solid opponent, he has yet to fight Holloway or Edgar, so they be next on the horizon for The Bully.
The rest of the top 10 is full of talented fighters, but all come with some serious questions. Cub Swanson has long been a talented fighter in the UFC and at one point had a six-fight win streak. However, he is struggling as he has lost two of his last three and has fallen outside of the top five. He will need to have quite the performance against Tatsuya Kawajiri to prove his is still one of the best in the division.
Charles Oliveira has been solid, winning five of his last six. His main question comes from his next fight against Anthony Pettis. The former lightweight champion will be dropping to 145 to see if the division is a better fit for him. Oliveira will have to show that he can handle a bigger fighter and protect the division. A win against Pettis may be enough to help him climb a spot or two in the rankings.
Jeremy Stephens was always a solid fighter, but has struggled as of late. He lost three of his last five fights and one of those wins he missed weight by nearly five pounds. Though he won a unanimous decision against former bantamweight champion Renan Barao, he has yet to have his breakout win in the UFC. Though there is no shame in capping out as a top 10 fighter, he will find it hard to move into the top five.
Dennis Burmedez is another fighter who needs to reclaim his former glory. After coming up short in the TUF 14 finale, he rattled off seven straight wins, more wins than TUF winner Diego Brandao has had in the UFC. However, like so many other fighters in the division he has lost two of his last three. This is a fighter that does not seem like he will stay down for long though and will start his comeback against Rony Jason in August.
On paper, No. 10 Brian Ortega shows no major concerns. He is undefeated in his professional MMA career and is 3-0, 1 NC in the UFC. However, his last showing against Clay Guida was anything but impressive. Guida was not expected to win the fight, but came out and picked Ortega apart. If it wasn't for a late knee that knocked out Guida with 20 seconds remaining, Ortega would have likely picked up the first loss of the career. Not performing when fighting a lesser opponent is dangerous for Ortega and showed some of the weaknesses in his game. This might not bode well going forward in the featherweight division.
The featherweight division is a free for all at the top with plenty of talented fighters. With McGregor leading the way, this division may have the most UFC fan eyes on it. Even once you get outside of the top five, the talent pool is there that any fighter is capable of putting on a great show. While we have to wait for McGregor to come back to defend his belt, once he does this will be the most exciting division in the UFC, guaranteed.
(Image via MMAWeekly.com)