In the past year the UFC’s featherweight division – the weight class that starts at 136 lbs. and goes up to 145 lbs. – has gone from completely stagnant to one of the most exciting in all of MMA. Longtime champion José Aldo has had a complete stranglehold on the division since its inception. He was the last WEC featherweight champion, and by virtue became the first UFC featherweight champion when the UFC merged with the WEC back in 2009. José Aldo hasn’t lost a fight since 2005, and he’s systematically shut down all opposition to this throne since.
In his last title defense against #1 contender Chad Mendes, Aldo was pushed to the limit. Chad Mendes had encountered Aldo once before in Brazil, and was the victim of a brutal highlight reel knockout via knee to the face that instantly became one of the most memorable finishes in UFC history. He got his chance at redemption at UFC 179, and became the closest to dethroning José Aldo since he first took on the mantle of featherweight champion. Their brutal, back and forth war was a surefire fight of the year candidate, and saved an otherwise dull card. In the post-fight conference both men called out Conor McGregor, the upstart Irishman who’s been making a stir in the UFC through his brash trash talking, flamboyancy, and quotable quips.
For the first time, the featherweight division is arguably the hottest in all of the UFC. It has a longstanding, dominant champion in Aldo, a perennial contender and rival to the champion in Chad Mendes, and a fighter who looks like he could be on the brink of mainstream superstardom in Conor McGregor. That’s not to count out the rest of the division either; the top 10 is a trail of killers, some of whom are on ridiculous winning streaks and others who were champions in other divisions before switching up their weight class. These are the 10 best fighters in the UFC’s featherweight division who stand a chance at defeating José Aldo.
#10 Nik Lentz
Nik Lentz is a 30-year-old fighter from El Paso, Texas who’s at the very bottom of the UFC’s featherweight rankings. Lentz has been competing in the UFC for many years now. He made his debut at UFC 103 in 2009, and since then he’s had his ups and downs in the organization. Out of his 13 fights under the UFC banner, he’s won 8 and lost 3, with 1 draw and 1 no contest. Lentz has a grinding wrestling style that wears his opponents down slowly, and most of his victories are by decision. With a total professional record of 25-6, Lentz is showing just how far someone can take a predominantly wrestling style in the UFC.
#9 Dennis Siver
Russian-German striking specialist Dennis Siver is currently ranked #9 in the featherweight division, and in truth probably has the biggest opportunity of anyone there currently. That’s because Siver is booked to face Conor McGregor at a UFC event in Boston come this January. With all the hype surrounding Conor McGregor – who has yet to lose since joining the UFC and is on a 12-fight win streak. – if Siver can somehow stop the hype train he will instantly catapult himself into the upper echelons of the UFC’s featherweight division. He has a total professional record of 22-9, with his last 2 losses in the UFC coming to Cub Swanson and Donald Cerrone.
#8 Chan Sung Jung
‘The Korean Zombie is a perennial fan favorite thanks to his energetic, sometimes frantic crowd pleasing style and pace. Fans know when they see Chan Sung Jung’s name on the card that there’s the potential for fireworks. Prior to Aldo vs. Mendes 2 last week, Chan Sung Jung was probably the man who could claim to have pushed Aldo furthest. Unfortunately their bout was cut short after a strike from Aldo dislodged Jung’s right shoulder, rendering him unable to continue. Unfortunately we’ll all have to wait before seeing more of the Korean Zombie in the octagon – he recently signed up to do his mandatory 2-year military service that all South Korean males are legally obliged to do. He’ll surely be dropped from the rankings soon due to inactivity, so here’s one last hurrah to Chan Sung Jung, and here’s to hoping we see him back in the UFC as soon as possible.
#7 Dennis Bermudez
Dennis Bermudez might be the most underrated fighter in the UFC. Despite flying so low under the radar – pretty much no one outside of ardent fans know who he is – Bermudez is currently riding one of the longest win streaks in the UFC with 7 victories in a row. He’s red hot right now, and he’s scheduled to face Ricardo Lamas at UFC 180. If he can pull out the win there, in the minds of many fans he’ll deserve a title shot, or at the very least a title eliminator. Bermudez has a professional record of 14-3, with his only 3 losses coming consecutively in the middle of his career, right in between 2 7-fight win streaks. Bermudez is a man who works in bursts, or so it seems, and we can’t wait to see more out of him in the octagon.
#6 Dustin Poirier
‘Diamond’ Dustin Poirier is currently sitting at #6 in the rankings after dropping down in the aftermath of his fight with Conor McGregor. After weeks of buildup, the two men were finally locked in the cage. Unfortunately for Poirier, Conor got the better of him that night and put him away in the 1st round, but don’t discount Poirier just yet. His only losses have come to elite fighters in the featherweight division and he’s only 25 years old. If he can fine-tune some aspects of his game – such as leaving his guard open on the feet – he’ll be a contender within a few more fights.
#5 Conor McGregor
Not much can be said that hasn’t already been written extensively about Conor McGregor. The 26-year-old Irishman has taken the MMA world entirely by storm since making his UFC debut in Stockholm in April 2013. Since then he’s gone 4-0 in the UFC, finishing 3 of his 4 fights definitively in the 1st round. Conor’s flamboyant style and assured confidence have drawn comparisons to a young Muhammad Ali, and thus far the comparison isn’t that far off. What Conor has demonstrated in the cage has been his own brand of precise, lethal, and beautiful striking and movement. There are still some questions mark surrounding ‘Mystic Mack’, such as what happens if he encounters a wrestler, but for now we’re all just enjoying the hype train and seeing how far it can go.
#4 Ricardo Lamas
Besides Mendes, Lamas is the most recent challenger to José Aldo’s featherweight championship. The two fought back at UFC 169, and Aldo won a dominant 5-round decision over Lamas, who rebounded afterwards with a win over Hacran Dias. He’s scheduled to face Dennis Bermudez at UFC 180 in Mexico City, where he’ll get the opportunity to douse Bermudez’ surging hot streak.
#3 Frankie Edgar
The former UFC lightweight champion Frankie Edgar has now fought his way up to the very top of the featherweight division. Edgar’s reign as champion came when he defeated BJ Penn, and his fame only grew after storied fights against Gray Maynard that highlighted his now legendary chin. He faced José Aldo in early 2013, with Aldo’s title on the line, but came up short. Now he’s booked to face Cub Swanson, with the winner being the likely #1 contender (barring a boost into title contention by Conor McGregor).
#2 Cub Swanson
Cub Swanson is one of those fighters that have had to literally fight their way to the very top of the division. He lost in his UFC debut against Ricardo Lamas back in 2011, and since then he’s won 6 fights in a row. Fans have been clamoring for Cub to get his title shot, and he announced on Twitter recently that he’d been guaranteed the next title shot at José Aldo should he manage to defeat the former champ Frankie Edgar.
#1 Chad Mendes
Chad Mendes won’t be getting another shot at the title anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to remain relevant in the featherweight division. Mendes put in a highlight reel performance against José Aldo, pushing him further than anyone has. In a world without the current champ, it’s almost certain that Mendes would be the one sitting on the mountain holding the title. Sadly, it just wasn’t meant to be. Mendes will undoubtedly remain near the top of the table, and if Aldo ever slips and loses the title to anyone it’ll be Mendes waiting in line to have the first crack at the new champ.