Mirsad Bektic's UFC 204 Return Will Give the Featherweight Division a Sorely Needed Boost
Just a year or two ago, an argument could easily be made that featherweight was the most stacked division in the UFC.
On the divisional throne sat an iron-fisted champion in Jose Aldo. Immediately under him were Frankie Edgar and Chad Mendes, two dynamite talents that seemed capable of beating anybody else in the division. Below them were contenders like “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Dennis Bermudez, and Jeremy Stephens, all of whom seemed to be just an impressive win or two shy of a title shot. And all the while, Conor McGregor was torpedoing his way up the divisional ranks, knocking heads into the bleachers as he did.
At the risk of conjuring up a feeling of doom and gloom, featherweight is no longer the division it was a year or two ago—far from it, in fact.
A disgruntled Jose Aldo is begging to be released from his UFC contract—not so that he can move to Bellator or Rizin Fighting Federation, but so that he can leave the sport altogether. Frankie Edgar is riding a fairly decisive July loss to Aldo, and as such, will require a few more wins before he’s again talked about as a contender. Chad Mendes is serving a suspension after a brush with USADA—whether that bust can be attributed to his psoriasis medication or not. The Korean Zombie is on the tail end of the mandatory military service required of all South Korean citizens. Ricardo Lamas, Cub Swanson, Charles Oliveira, Denis Bermudez and Jeremy Stephens have all experienced decisive losses in the near past. And in the year since he won the featherweight title from Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor has not been seen in the division, opting instead to compete in the welterweight and lightweight divisions.
Granted, the featherweight top-10 has recently been given a boost by the additions of streaking Hawaiian Max Holloway and former lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, but it’s still far from the shark tank it was two years ago.
The fix for this featherweight recession, of course, is simply a new wave a young talent—and we’re now beginning to witness the arrival that new wave.
Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez is banging on the door of the featherweight top-10 with both hands. South Korea’s Doo Ho Choi is not far behind him, having dazzled with three first-round KOs in his first three bouts with the UFC. Finland’s Makwan Amirkhani is motoring his way up the ranks, and seems like a shoo-in for a top-15 spot in the near future. England’s Arnold Allen is also on the way up.
Yet perhaps no featherweight prospect is more promising than Mirsad Bektic who, at just 25 years old, has already packed together a solid 10-0 overall record, and a 3-0 mark in the UFC. It has, however, been some time since we’ve heard the Bosnian-American talent’s name.
The reason we haven’t heard Bektic’s name is so long is because he’s spent the last year and a half on the shelf nursing an ACL injury. Luckily, the 25-year-old’s long-awaited return to action is now less than a week away, as he’s scheduled for an appearance on the main card of UFC 204 this Saturday night. Of course, Bektic’s elusive return to action was very nearly spoiled—twice.
It was first put in jeopardy when his originally scheduled opponent, the aforementioned Arnold Allen, pulled out the bout. When Allen was replaced by undefeated Canadian featherweight Jeremy Kennedy, things looked be back on track. Yet Bektic’s return to action was once again put in doubt when Kennedy withdrew from the bout just a day later. Luckily, the UFC was able to find an opponent for Bektic less than a week out from fight night. The undefeated prospect will now make his comeback against Hawaii’s Russell Doane.
Without any intention of disparaging Doane’s talent or gutsiness, there’s no denying that he has the look of a sacrificial lamb. Not only does he typically compete one division south of Bektic at bantamweight, but he’s also on a three-fight losing streak and, of course, will have just days to prepare for this dangerous encounter. Sure, it’s possible he’ll win—the most basic appeal of MMA is that anything is possible—but it’s far more likely that the opportunistic Doane is eaten alive by his returning foe.
Should Bektic defeat the struggling Doane as logic suggests he will, it will do little to raise his stock. It certainly won’t push him up the rankings in the way that a win over a fellow prospect in Allen would have. The important thing, however, is that it will allow him to get his foot back in the door of the featherweight division, at which point he can get to work on reminding the world why he’s regarded as one of the division’s very brightest prospects. At a time when many of the featherweight class’ top fighters are out of commission, it’ll be damn good to have him back.
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