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10 Best Featherweight Title Fights in UFC History

 

The UFC featherweight title doesn’t have as rich a history as the heavyweight strap or even the welterweight title, having been introduced into the promotion at UFC 123 in advance of fighters from the WEC matriculating to the Octagon.

But despite being less than 10 years old and there having been only three champions – Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and current champ Max Holloway, who defends his title against Brian Ortega at UFC 226 in Las Vegas – there have been some outstanding battles fought over the 145-pound title.

Here’s a look at the best of them, in chronological order.

This is The 10.

Jose Aldo def. Mark Hominick by Unanimous Decision (UFC 129)
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The first featherweight title fight in UFC history took place at the biggest event the company had ever put together at the time, as more than 55,000 people packed Rogers Centre in Toronto, Ontario to watch Aldo and Hominick throw down in the Octagon.

While Aldo entered as the dominant reigning champion, Hominick was the bigger story heading into the contest, as UFC 129 marked the first time the London, Ontario native and Canadian MMA pioneer was able to compete in his home province and he and his wife were expecting their first child. There was a “Hollywood couldn’t have scripted it better” feel to things and the bout played out that way as well, minus the predictable finish.

Aldo controlled the action throughout the opening four rounds, using his speed and precision to pick away at Hominick in space and leave him with a gargantuan hematoma on his forehead. But “The Machine” was undeterred and as the champion faded in the fifth, Hominick poured it on, sending the partisan crowd into a hysterics as they tried to will a finish into existence.

It wasn’t meant to be though, as Aldo was never really in serious trouble and took home a clear decision win on the cards. Regardless of the results, this was still a thrilling debut for the featherweight title.

Jose Aldo def. Chad Mendes by Knockout (Knee) at 4:59 of Round 1 (UFC 142)
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After dispatching Kenny Florian at UFC 136, Aldo got a homecoming to kick off the 2012 campaign as the Octagon returned to Brazil and “The King of Rio” climbed into the cage opposite Team Alpha Male standout Chad Mendes.

At the time, this was the best fight possible in the division and a matchup that had been brewing for some time. Mendes was the undefeated challenger and viewed as a formidable threat to Aldo and his crown.

Late in the opening frame, the Brazilian star spun around and dropped Mendes with a perfectly placed knee, bringing the clash to a sudden halt and kicking off one of the coolest, most organically awesome victory celebrations in UFC history as Aldo raced into the crowd and was swarmed by jubilant fans.

Jose Aldo def. Frankie Edgar by Unanimous Decision (UFC 156)
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Following a three-year run at the top of the lightweight division, Edgar dropped down to featherweight and into an immediate title fight opposite Aldo. While had lost his last two outings, both of Edgar’s setbacks against Benson Henderson were debated decisions and most anticipated he would give Aldo all he could handle in this one.

While Edgar went and made it a competitive fight and pushed the champion, Aldo was a step ahead the entire way; a shade quicker, a touch sharper, a little too slick for the perennial contender from Toms River, New Jersey.

Although he had enjoyed more spectacular finishes and even more dominant showings, this was the fight that truly established Aldo as the top featherweight in the history of the sport. To outwork the fast-paced Edgar for 25 minutes and score a decisive decision over the former lightweight kingpin forced everybody to give the Nova Uniao product his due and elevated him to a new level of stardom and acclaim in the UFC.

Jose Aldo def. Chad Mendes by Unanimous Decision (UFC 179)
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Just under three years after their first meeting, Aldo and Mendes ran it back, returning to Rio de Janeiro for a championship rematch.

In the time since their first encounter, Aldo had added three more successful title defenses to his resume, further cementing himself as the ruler of the featherweight ranks and one of the top talents in the sport. Meanwhile, all Mendes had done was go out and earn five consecutive victories, four by stoppage, to once again rise to the top of the list of contenders.

The first fight ended quickly, but the second fight was a five-round classic, with Mendes pushing Aldo like no one else had to that point in his career. While the scores came back 49-46 across the board, the 25-minute affair felt much closer than that and remains, in my opinion, the greatest championship fight in the history of the UFC featherweight division.

Conor McGregor def. Chad Mendes by TKO (punches) at 4:57 of Round 2 (UFC 189)
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Originally scheduled to face Aldo following their promotional world tour, “The Notorious” one welcomed Mendes into the Octagon for an interim title fight in the summer of 2015 and blew the roof off the MGM Grand Garden Arena.

Packed to the gills with a raucous pro-McGregor crowd, things got off to a rough start for the Irish standout, as Mendes controlled the opening round with his wrestling and appeared poised to do the same throughout the second as well. But after Mendes attacked a submission and came up short, McGregor pounced, sniping home his signature left hand to send the American crashing to the canvas in a heap and sending the crowd into hysterics.

While it wasn’t the showdown with Aldo that was expected, McGregor maintained his place in the championship queue by collecting the biggest win of his career and the UFC got its first real look at the true power of his stardom.
Conor McGregor punches Jose Aldo at UFC 194

Conor McGregor def. Jose Aldo by Knockout (left hand) at 0:13 of Round 1 (UFC 194)
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Sitting on press row in advance of this fight, I stopped typing and closed my laptop as Bruce Buffer began his introductions. I wanted to take everything in and after waiting basically a year to see this fight, I didn’t want to miss a moment of the action because I was looking down at my computer, fixing a typo or sending a tweet.

Thirteen seconds later, I was trying to comprehend what I had just seen.

As Aldo uncharacteristically rushed forward, McGregor stepped out and smashed him with a left hand, sending the Brazilian champion crashing to the canvas in a heap. Just like that, the fight was over and Conor McGregor was the undisputed UFC featherweight champion.

I wish I could tell you that I knew something special was going to happen or that I had a sense it would end quickly, but unlike McGregor, I don’t have any mystic abilities. I simply wanted to enjoy the biggest fight in featherweight history.

Jose Aldo def. Frankie Edgar by Unanimous Decision at UFC 200
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Coming off his 13-second loss to McGregor and with Edgar having notched five straight wins since their first meeting – including a first-round knockout win over Mendes – there were a lot of questions about how Aldo would bounce back and if this was where Edgar would ascend to the throne.

Just as he did in their first meeting, Aldo outworked Edgar over five rounds, claiming another unanimous decision win over “The Answer” and answering all the questions about his place at the top of the division. As good as Edgar had looked over his previous five bouts, Aldo was still just a shade quicker and sharper at every step, beating him to the punch and never really allowing Edgar to get into a rhythm.

This was a tremendous bounce-back effort for Aldo that earned him the interim title and took away some of the sting of his loss to McGregor. While many of the Irishman’s loyalists will never allow the Brazilian legend to live down his 13-second defeat at the hands of their man, Aldo’s run of success between the WEC and UFC remains the most impressive stretch of performances to date in the 145-pound weight class.

Max Holloway def. Anthony Pettis by TKO (strikes) at 4:50 of Round 3 (UFC 206)
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“Blessed” began his march to the top of the featherweight division in inauspicious fashion, finishing Will Chope on the preliminary portion of the first event aired exclusively on UFC FIGHT PASS. A little less than three years later, he rolled into Toronto and collected the interim title by finishing Pettis.

The victory pushed Holloway’s winning streak to double digits and showcased the remarkable skills that the Hawaiian standout had been steadily honing throughout his unbeaten run.

He marched forward with confidence, pounding Pettis with combinations, keeping him off balance. Along the cage in the closing minutes of the middle stanza, he strung together shot after shot after shot, changing levels, ripping into the former lightweight champion until all he could do was crumble.

In case people somehow didn’t believe Holloway was the real deal before this fight, he made sure it was clear to everyone with this performance.

Max Holloway def. Jose Aldo by TKO (strikes) at 4:13 of Round 3 (UFC 212)
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In order to unify the featherweight titles, Holloway had to go to Rio de Janeiro and take out “The King of Rio.” Out hiking with his team before the fight on an episode of Embedded, Holloway joked that he was surveying his future lands because when one king topples another, he takes their lands.

Then he marched into the Octagon and toppled Aldo.

After starting out as a close fight, Holloway’s confidence grew with each passing minute. He went from being cautious and measured on the outside to pressing forward without a whole lot of regard for what Aldo was offering. He hit the Brazilian with a pair of one-twos with the second one putting him on the canvas. Holloway eventually moved to mount and pounded out the finish, leaving Aldo battered, bloodied and in disbelief.

Max Holloway def. Jose Aldo by TKO (strikes) at 4:51 of Round 3 (UFC 218)
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Originally scheduled to face Frankie Edgar, “The Answer” suffered an injury and Aldo jumped at the chance to run it back with the man who walked into his backyard and took his title. Holloway was happy to do it for a second time too, and while it took a couple seconds longer, his performance was just as impressive and further solidified his place atop the featherweight division.

Once again, Holloway got more aggressive and more comfortable as the fight wore on, and by the time it reached the middle stanza, “Blessed” was brimming with confidence and stalking Aldo, hunting him down with his usual assortment of rights and lefts; jabs, hooks and crosses; body and head; lather, rinse, repeat.

When he had Aldo hurt, Holloway pounced, reminding everyone that in addition to having elite striking skills and diverse offensive attacks, the featherweight champion also has excellent finishing instincts and when he smells blood in the water, it’s over.