Given the names and pedigree of the men who’ve held the featherweight title, a changing of the guard seems to carry the most significance at 145 pounds. Whether it’s Jose Aldo’s long reign, Conor McGregor sleeping Jose Aldo in 13 seconds, or Max Holloway stunning Aldo twice, it’s almost like the crown is only earned after a definitive effort.
That’s what Alexander Volkanovski did against Holloway at UFC 245 to become the new featherweight king, but all signs point toward the two running it back before Volkanovski can properly begin his reign. Meanwhile, though, an exciting crop of contenders are jockeying for their spot in the next in line once Volkanovski and Holloway settle things.
Here’s a look at the featherweight division:
More Divisional Breakdowns: Strawweight | Women's Flyweight | Women's Bantamweight | Women's Featherweight | Flyweight | Bantamweight | Lightweight | Welterweight | Middleweight | Light Heavyweight | Heavyweight
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Max Holloway (12/14/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Alexander Volkanovski fought a near-perfect fight against Max Holloway to take the belt from the Hawaiian. Using his range, footwork and power, Volkanovski battered Holloway’s legs and gave as good as he got during exchanges on the inside to come away with the win. What was surprising is that he hardly needed to use his grappling in the fight, something that adds a bit of intrigue to the rematch. If Holloway makes the proper adjustments in the striking realm, Volkanovski still has that ability in his back pocket. That well-roundedness and the cardio to match Holloway’s pace is part of the reason Volkanovski is riding an 18-fight winning streak. He came away from his title-winning effort relatively unscathed and without any real adversity, and knowing how game Holloway has been during his own run as champion, the rematch should be dynamic.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Alexander Volkanovski (12/14/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Outside of his venture up to lightweight against Dustin Poirier, Max Holloway seemed pretty untouchable. In his two non-Jose Aldo title fights, he made easy work of Frankie Edgar and Brian Ortega, and it seemed like the 145-pound division was geared for another long reign. However, Alexander Volkanovski came in with a great game plan, chopping at Holloway’s legs and negating so much of his signature timing and movement. Holloway was pretty close to the consensus greatest featherweight of all-time title by the time he stepped into the Octagon with Volkanovski, but if he regains his belt and wins a hypothetical trilogy fight, it only adds to the legacy he always talks about chasing. Plus, it’s easy to forget the Hawaiian is still just 28 years old, so he still has plenty of wars and wins ahead of him.
Last Fight: TKO loss vs Max Holloway (12/8/2018)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Through seven UFC fights, Brian Ortega was as exciting a fighter as any, finishing all six of his wins (seven, if you include what eventually became a no contest) while becoming the first person to knock out Frankie Edgar. Ortega consistently showed his toughness, often taking significant damage before throwing up a wicked submission. With one of the nastiest submission games in the sport and real power in his hands to go with his chin, Ortega is a tough out for anyone, making his only loss to Max Holloway all the more impressive for the former champ. On the other hand, Ortega hasn’t competed since that fight. A torn ACL kept him from headlining a potentially exciting fight with Chan Sung Jung in Busan, and the injury likely keeps him out for the time being. That said, when Ortega does come back, he’s a dynamic, entertaining fighter with plenty of high-level Octagon experience at just 28 years old.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Calvin Kattar
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: At 6-foot-1 ½ with a 73-inch reach, Zabit Magomedsharipov might be the most unique physical specimen in the featherweight division. But physique is not the reason the Russian is riding a 14-fight winning streak. He is as creative a grappler and striker as there is in the weight class, and whether he’s threatening a Showtime kick or beating Brandon Davis with a Suloev stretch submission, he is as unpredictable as he is vicious. Some question marks around his cardio came up in his headlining three-round bout against Calvin Kattar, but he revealed afterward that he was coming off dealing with a staph infection that caused the bout to move from Boston to Moscow in the first place. He’s a highly intriguing matchup for anyone at the top of the division, and the rumored fight between him and Yair Rodriguez shapes up to be as wild and entertaining a fight as any.
Last Fight: TKO Win vs Frankie Edgar (12/21/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Few fighters are as bankable to earn a Performance Bonus as Chan Sung Jung. In eight UFC bouts, “The Korean Zombie” has seven bonuses to his name. And since coming back from a four-year layoff that included his mandatory military service, Jung is 3-1 with three first-round knockouts and the one loss coming at the buzzer in a classic fight against Yair Rodriguez. 2019 was a hallmark year for Jung as he knocked out Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar in a combined four minutes and 16 seconds, looking as vicious as ever. To go along with his real, fight-altering power, Jung has improved his footwork and learned to fight in a way that limits the damage he takes. The definition of an all-action fighter, Jung is the type of competitor who forces his opponents to show either their true grit or their inability to handle the brand of pressure he implements. No matter who he fights in the top- 5, it’s nearly guaranteed the bout won’t go to the judges’ scorecards, and the winners will always be the fans.
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Jeremy Stephens (10/18/2019)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Yair Rodriguez could probably give Zabit Magomedsharipov a run for his money in terms of being the most unpredictable, dynamic striker in the top 5. His arsenal of spinning and flying techniques has lent itself to numerous show-stopping finishes, including his reverse elbow at the buzzer to dispatch Chan Sung Jung in their memorable duel in November 2018. A winner in all but two of his 10 UFC bouts, Rodriguez is coming off a dominant performance in his grudge match against Jeremy Stephens that had everything but a finish. What that fight did have, though, was the statement that Rodriguez is ready for someone in the top 5, and whoever that opponent is, they’ll need to deal with Rodriguez’ unique unpredictability.
Outlook: Top to bottom, featherweight is as exciting a division as any because of the veteran talent balanced out by the up-and-comers eager to make noise in the top 15. Although he is 35 years old, Josh Emmett found a bit of new life in the featherweight division. In five fights at 145 pounds, Emmett has four wins and three knockouts. His comeback knockout over Michael Johnson was eye-popping, especially after a year out due to injury. Another impressive climber is Calvin Kattar. Three of his four UFC wins are by knockout, and in his bout with Zabit Magomedsharipov, one of the lasting thoughts was that if the headlining fight went five rounds, Kattar was the one carrying the momentum into the final two after pushing the pace in the third. The 32-year-old New Englander is as slick a boxer as any in the division, and he has real size and power. As for two of the more established rising contenders, Arnold Allen and Sodiq Yusuff continue to pass the tests laid out in front of them. For Allen, the 26-year-old Brit is spotless in seven UFC fights and was set to take on Josh Emmett in his first top 10 test until Emmett pulled out of the bout. Instead, he took home a hard-fought decision over Nik Lentz that showcased his pace and technical striking ability, and it’s only a matter of time before he gets his chance to prove he’s the real deal. Meanwhile, Yusuff continues to put on entertaining – and winning - fights. Victorious in his first four UFC fights, the 26-year-old Nigerian scored two first-round knockouts and established himself as the real deal when he won a close decision against Andre Fili. Both Yusuff and Allen have earned a top 15 and maybe even a top 10 opponent, but given the depth of the division, any fight inside the rankings is a surefire tough contest.
For more information and updates, sign up for the UFC Newsletter here.