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Featherweight Cheat Sheet

The featherweights are coming....The featherweights are coming...Here are ten to watch in the 145-pound weight class...

Home to some of the most exciting and talented fighters in the world, the WEC’s featherweight division has figured prominently in many year-end ‘Best Of’ lists over the last few years. Now with the merge of the UFC and WEC, fans will soon begin seeing these 145-pounders battle it out in the Octagon. If you’re already a fan of the featherweights, you know what I’m talking about. If you’re new to the division, get ready, because you’re in for a treat. And to get you prepared for the new arrivals, here are ten fighters to watch.

Jose Aldo
Overall Record – 18-1
WEC Record – 8-0
Key Fight – W5 Urijah Faber
Previous UFC experience - None

A dynamic fighter who has crashed the pound for pound list with his dominating wins over Urijah Faber, Mike Brown, Manny Gamburyan, and Cub Swanson, among others, newly crowned UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo is the perfect leading man to introduce the 145-pounders to new fans. Champ in the WEC since November of 2009, Aldo has barely been threatened in the organization, and that’s saying a lot considering his level of competition. A brutally accurate puncher and a devastating Muay Thai practitioner, Aldo still hasn’t shown off his black belt level jiu-jitsu game here in the States yet, and he’s only 24 years old. Over the last couple years, people have called him the next Anderson Silva, but it’s getting to the point where fighters may start getting called the next Jose Aldo.

Raphael Assuncao  
Overall Record – 15-3
WEC Record – 3-2
Key Fight – W3 Yves Jabouin
Previous UFC experience - None

The brother of former UFC fighter Junior Assuncao, Raphael Assuncao has the same stellar ground game as his sibling, but unlike many stellar jiu-jitsu practitioners, he is just as comfortable keeping it on the feet and showing off his standup game. Having recently snapped a two fight losing streak (against Urijah Faber and Diego Nunes) with a win over LC Davis earlier this month, Assuncao is looking forward to the bright lights of the UFC and re-establishing himself as one of the top 145 pounders on the planet.

Mike Brown
Overall Record – 24-6
WEC Record – 6-2
Key Fight -   TKO1 Urijah Faber
Previous UFC experience – 0-1 (Lost to Genki Sudo at UFC 47 in 2004)

A longtime veteran of mixed martial arts and one of the game’s true good guys, Mike Brown put a smile on the faces of hardcore fans in November of 2008 when he upset Urijah Faber for the WEC featherweight crown. After two defenses of the title (against Faber and Leonard Garcia), Brown would lose his belt to Jose Aldo, but in subsequent first round victories over Anthony Morrison and Cole Province (which sandwiched a loss to Manny Gamburyan), the 35-year old American Top Team standout proved that he’s still a force in the division.

Manvel Gamburyan  
Overall Record – 13-6
WEC Record – 3-1
Key Fight – KO 1 Mike Brown
Previous UFC experience – 2-3 (defeated Nate Mohr and Jeff Cox, lost to Nate Diaz, Rob Emerson and Thiago Tavares)

A key example of the type of fighter whose career took off once he was able to compete in his natural weight class, Manny Gamburyan got a new lease on life when he dropped to 145 pounds and began terrorizing the WEC featherweight division. Winner of three straight in the featherweight division over John Franchi, Leonard Garcia, and Mike Brown, the former Ultimate Fighter 5 finalist lost in his September title bout against Jose Aldo, but he expects to be better than ever when he returns in 2011.

Josh Grispi  
Overall Record – 14-1
WEC Record – 4-0
Key Fight – Wsub1 Jens Pulver
Previous UFC experience – None

Next in line for a shot at featherweight boss Jose Aldo, New England phenom Josh Grispi looks like he might be the one man right now with the goods to stop the reign of the Brazilian bomber. Blasphemy, you say? Well, just look at the 22-year old’s WEC resume: four fights, four wins, four first round finishes. And when you read off the names of the four fighters he beat – Mark Hominick, Micah Miller, Jens Pulver, and LC Davis – it’s clear that Grispi’s success is no “Fluke”.

Mark Hominick
Overall Record – 19-8
WEC Record – 3-2
Key Fight – TKO2 Yves Jabouin  

Previous UFC experience – 2-0 (defeated Yves Edwards and Jorge Gurgel)
Unbeaten in a two fight UFC stint in 2006, Canada’s Mark “The Machine” Hominick subsequently had a rough introduction to the WEC with back-to-back losses to Rani Yahya and Josh Grispi. But in 2010, the stablemate of Sam Stout and Chris Horodecki righted his ship, reeling off three straight wins that included a Fight of the Night war against countryman Yves Jabouin in June. Fresh from a September victory over Leonard Garcia, Hominick makes his UFC return in January against George Roop.

Erik Koch
Overall Record – 11-1
WEC Record – 3-1
Key Fight -   TKO1 Francisco Rivera
Previous UFC experience – None

Roommate and training partner of lightweight contender Anthony Pettis, Erik Koch showed some of his buddy’s highlight reel striking in his bout earlier this month against Francisco Rivera, as he delivered a crushing kick to the head that put an end to his opponent’s night and earned the “New Breed” a Knockout of the Night bonus. It was Koch’s biggest statement on the world stage, and with WEC wins over Jameel Massouh and Bendy Casimir and the upside that comes with being 22 years old, you can expect there will be more to come after his jump to the UFC.

Chad Mendes
Overall Record – 9-0
WEC Record – 4-0
Key Fight – W3 Javier Vazquez  
Previous UFC experience – None

A member of the Team Alpha Male squad in Sacramento that includes Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, two-time Division I All-American Chad Mendes has made a smooth transition from the mat to the cage, and he’s got the unbeaten 9-0 record to prove it. A tenacious wrestler who has already notched WEC wins over Javier Vazquez, Erik Koch, and Cub Swanson, Mendes has gotten some criticism for not being a finisher, but given his relative lack of experience and his level of competition, this is likely to change as he continues to elevate his game in the coming months and years.

Diego Nunes  
Overall Record – 15-1
WEC Record – 3-1
Key Fight – W3 Tyler Toner  
Previous UFC experience – None

While featherweight champ Jose Aldo gets the bulk of the attention in the renowned Nova Uniao camp in Brazil, stablemate Diego “The Gun” Nunes has quietly built a 15-1 pro record, with his only loss coming via decision to LC Davis in November of 2009. Nunes has since bounced back with wins over Raphael Assuncao and Tyler Toner, and while he hasn’t set the division on fire yet, he’s shown glimpses of the kind of talent that will get UFC fans to sit up and take notice next year.

George Roop  
Overall Record – 11-7-1
WEC Record – 1-1-1
Key Fight – KO2 Chan Sung Jung  
Previous UFC experience – 1-2 (Defeated Dave Kaplan, lost to Shane Nelson and George Sotiropoulos)

Mr. George Roop has had an interesting career since his stint on The Ultimate Fighter’s eighth season, going 1-2 in the UFC at lightweight, making a brief dip to the bantamweight division, and then resurfacing at his current weight of 145 pounds. And when it was all said and done, after a Fight of the Night brawl with Leonard Garcia in March and a stirring knockout of the iron-jawed “Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung in September, it looks like the 29-year old scrapper from Arizona is finally hitting his stride in time for his Octagon return in January.