With the ever growing tension between UFC featherweight champion and interim featherweight champion Conor McGregor set to come to a head on December 12 in their UFC 194 main event clash, there has never been as much anticipation for a 145 lbs mixed martial arts bout.
There was a lot of excitement in the MMA world when the Brazilian was promoted to UFC featherweight champion following his final WEC title defense against Manvel Gamburyan in September 2010, and rightfully so. With six finishes in his seven WEC outings, his only decision win coming via his demolition of Urijah Faber’s legs, UFC thought they were on to a solid draw with Aldo. Although his UFC reign has been clinical and dominant, he has not had the same devastating wins that became his calling card under the WEC banner.
After taking just one round to dethrone ‘The California Kid’ in 2008 before defeating him via decision in their rematch a year later, Mike Brown was considered the best in the world at the weight class. It took Aldo all of two rounds to put him away in November 2009, and ever since then he has not budged from his throne. Cub Swanson, a perennial contender at featherweight, lasted just eight seconds with Aldo after a flying knee introduced him to the canvas and secured the Nova Uniao man his date with Brown.
The finishes have not come as regularly with UFC. Just two out of Aldo’s seven opponents have failed to last the distance with him. For some, the knee that stopped Chad Mendes in their first meeting comes with an asterisk based on the fact that Aldo grabbed the cage that stopped an evitable takedown from the Team Alpha Male fighter just a minute before the fatal shot ended his night. Similarly, the way that ‘Korean Zombie’, Chan Sung Jung, suffered a dislocated shoulder on route to his fourth round TKO loss to Aldo seems to have marred the win for the Brazilian.
And it’s not like the level of competition has significantly gotten stiffer since UFC took over as the dominance featherweight flagship. Aldo went through a who’s who of contenders to claim his spot at the top of the division when he was with WEC. As mentioned earlier, Swanson, Brown and Faber were considered some of the best that the weight class had to offer until ‘Scarface’ emerged and laid their title hopes to rest.
UFC have given Aldo and an immense array of talent to tackle too. To add to the champion’s appeal, UFC gave former lightweight title contender Kenny Florian the honor of being the Brazilian’s second UFC title defense to test his mettle. After that, former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar dropped down and, like Florian, he suffered a decision loss. After his victory over ‘Korean Zombie’, another decision win over Ricardo Lamas came and went, doing little to bolster Aldo’s career. Media and fans were hopeful that Mendes would become Aldo’s great rival who could propel him into the mainstream, but now after defeating the American twice, a third bout between the two is not at the forefront of the MMA world’s wish list.
While Aldo’s domination has not been enough to captivate the imagination of sports fans outside of MMA world, a certain Irishman has undoubtedly brought a whole new wealth of interest to the 145 lbs division.
McGregor’s spectacular fighting style and microphone skills have been creating headlines ever since his debut for the promotion in April 2013. His antics inside and outside of the Octagon have brought a whole new array of fans to the forefront for the Brazilian champion as well as himself, and the whole featherweight division is enjoying the additional shine the Dubliner has brought to the bracket.
With McGregor involved, featherweight championship bouts have been given pride of place as the main event when other divisions have belts contested at the same event. At UFC 129, Aldo’s first defense against Mark Hominick was forced to play second fiddle to GSP’s defense against Jake Shields. Aldo’s next defense against Kenny Florian was also given co-main event status as Frankie Edgar defended his title against Gray Maynard. Again in February 2014, Aldo’s teammate Renan Barao was given the headline privilege as Ricardo Lamas endeavored to capture Aldo’s title at UFC 169.
‘The Notorious’ kept his main event slot at UFC 189 even when Aldo pulled out. While he saw off Chad Mendes from the interim title in the main event last July, established welterweight champion Robbie Lawler was forced into the co-main event slot for his defense against Canadian Rory MacDonald. Chris Weidman and Luke Rockhold will again play a supporting role to McGregor and Aldo on December 12 despite many considering that their middleweight title bout is one of the greatest matchups the division has ever seen.
Next week is stacked with three cards in Vegas that support the big unification bout. There are so many important featherweight fights taking place that week that will determine the future challengers to the featherweight crown and that once again points to this era being the golden age of UFC featherweights. Aldo and McGregor’s meeting has made Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes’ fight even more intriguing, and Max Holloway and Jeremy Stephen’s clash at UFC 194 has been boosted in the same way.
December will be the climax of the featherweight division’s time in the spotlight, at least this time around. Regardless of the outcome of all the 145 lbs contests that take place that week, the featherweight division will be the main talking point for weeks after the event.
The problem with keeping the appeal on the featherweight bracket is the looming exit of McGregor and potentially Aldo to the lightweight division. It is rumored that this will be the Irishman’s last foray with 145 lbs, and the Brazilian’s trouble with making championship wait have been noted ever since his first UFC outing against Hominick.
We shouldn’t dwell on the negative, though. December is set up to be one of the memorable months in terms of UFC action, never mind the featherweight division, and we have a whole feast of action to get through before we can even contemplate what is next for Aldo, McGregor, and the 145 lbs bracket.
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