After Alexander Volkanovski thwarted Brian Ortega in epic fashion at UFC 266, we’re taking a look at where the featherweight division stands moving forward.
Champion: Alexander Volkanovski
(23-1, 11 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Brian Ortega (9/25/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Alexander “The Great” hasn’t done anything but act like and fight like a true champion, and that’s exactly what he did in the second defense of his belt against Brian Ortega. He displayed the technical know-how, fight IQ and resilience that makes him such an all-around puzzle for everyone. Coming up is likely the winner between the November bout between Max Holloway and Yair Rodriguez. Volkanovski says he is a champion chasing the contenders and expressed his frustrations with only fighting once in the last year or so. With that in mind, the Holloway-Rodriguez fight will be indicative of what’s to come for the featherweight king.
1) Max Holloway
(22-6, 10 KOs, 2 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Calvin Kattar (1/16/2021)
Next fight: vs Yair Rodriguez (11/13/2021)
Outlook: Holloway very well could’ve sat back and waited for a title shot after demolishing Calvin Kattar on Fight Island – a notion to which both UFC President Dana White and Volkanovski agreed. However, Holloway wants activity, and so he will follow through on an earlier booking against Yair Rodriguez. A win keeps Holloway at the top of the queue while also giving “Blessed” another chance to show his skills against a dynamic striker. It’s rare to have an expected trilogy in which one fighter bested the other in the previous two fights, but it’s a testament to both Holloway’s body of work as well as the close nature of the second fight in particular against Volkanovski.
2) Brian Ortega
(15-2, 1 No Contest, 3 KOs, 7 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Alexander Volkanovski (9/25/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: “T-City” was definitely a better version of himself in his second title shot compared to his fight against Max Holloway at UFC 231, but other than a pair of deep submission attempts, he wasn’t able to push Volkanovski into many uncomfortable moments. Now, the 30-year-old has some rebuilding to do. He looked excellent in his comeback bout against Chan Sung Jung, and there are plenty of fights for him in the top half of the division. Despite the loss, he certainly earned the respect of Volkanovski and his peers, so the future remains bright for LA’s Ortega.
(14-2, 1 No Contest, 4 KOs, 3 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Jeremy Stephens (10/18/2019)
Next fight: vs Max Holloway (11/13/2021)
Outlook: Two years have passed since Yair Rodriguez fought, but that doesn’t dim the shine of the Mexican’s contender status. Myriad factors played into the inactivity, and yet, he is one win over Max Holloway away from earning a featherweight title shot. It’s a clear path with a big roadblock, but throughout his UFC career, Rodriguez has shown the dynamic goods worthy of his elite status in the division. He isn’t as battle-tested as some in the Top 5, but skill-for-skill, Rodriguez is right there. Taking out a former champ is about as big of a statement one can make before actually going for the belt, and that’s the sole task Rodriguez needs to concern himself with as the year closes out.
(17-6, 6 KOs, 8 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Win vs Dan Ige (6/19/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: “The Korean Zombie” returned to form in a hard-fought but ultimately comfortable decision win over Dan Ige in June. After the fight, he tested the waters about a fight with Max Holloway, but with that temporarily out of the picture, a few different tests are still out there. Kattar is still looking for a fight to bounce back from his loss to Holloway. Jung could always just wait for the Holloway-Rodriguez fight to play out and take the loser as well. If Holloway wins and earns a title shot, that sets up a potential rematch against Rodriguez, and anyone who calls themselves a fight fan wouldn’t mind watching those two run it back after their 2018 Fight of the Year.
(22-5, 11 KOs, 2 Submissions)
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Max Holloway (1/16/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: After putting his toughness on full display against perhaps the best version of Holloway to date, Kattar took some necessary time off to recover from that war. He’s the freshest name in the division’s Top 5, and so the possibilities are also vast in terms of who he fights next. In fact, Holloway is the only fighter in the division’s Top 8 whom he has fought. That said, his next fight is crucial. He needs a statement victory to solidify his elite status in the division. Whether that’s fighting someone above him like The Korean Zombie or Brian Ortega, or defending his spot against surging 145ers like Arnold Allen and Giga Chikadze, Kattar is in an decisive spot when it comes to the trajectory of his climb up the ladder.
In the Mix: Arnold Allen, Josh Emmett, Giga Chikadze
Outlook: The featherweight division is perhaps only behind bantamweight in terms of its talent saturation, and breaking through into the Top 10 is becoming a tougher task by the week. Arnold Allen, Josh Emmett and Giga Chikadze are a trio who are a testament to that fact. None of them have had a particularly fast track to their current position, and now it’s time for them to get their crack at the top-half of the division.
England’s Allen has shown his high fight IQ and technical abilities in a variety of ways, most recently in a fun prospect-vs-prospect fight against Sodiq Yusuff. He and Emmett were booked at the beginning of 2020, but the matchup was scratched. Speaking of Emmett, he had an immense win over Shane Burgos in one of the best fights of 2020, but a knee injury sustained in that fight has kept him out of the Octagon since. He might deserve a shot up the ladder more than anyone, but the fighter with the most steam in his ascension right now is Giga Chikadze. The kickboxing ace found his groove after a few UFC fights and seems bound for a Top 5 fight after three straight finishes, including a first-round TKO of Cub Swanson and a third-round TKO in a main event against Edson Barboza.