The featherweight division has only seen the belt exchanged between two fighters in the promotions history. The division was created back in 2010 when World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) merged with the UFC, and as a part of the merger the current WEC champion Jose Aldo (26-2) became the inaugural champion, making his first defense dating back to April of 2011 against Mark Hominick. Aldo never looked back, defending his belt seven times and taking out any fighter the division had to offer him as a contender. 2 years after Aldo had his first successful defense for the title a new star in the making was making his debut, Conor Mcgregor(19-3) . Mcgregor went on to win six straight bouts in the division, taking out any fighter that was put in front of him until finally getting his shot at the belt. He defeated Aldo in 13 seconds, making history as the only other champion in the divisions history. Between both Aldo and Mcgregor, the division had been whipped out and with Mcgregors move up in weight it seemed that the division was a complete mess.
Soon after McGregor announced his move up in weight for his next bout, another familiar face at the top was flagged for a violation. Chad Mendes(17-4) , who contended for the title 3 times, was flagged for a banned substance by USADA, suspending him for 2 years. This was another setback for the division since Mendes was one of the biggest names the 145-pound division had to offer. Frankie Edgar (20-5) is another name in the division that has gone through any of the top names put in front of him as well as contended for the title twice. Most recently, he losses a unanimous decision to Jose Aldo for the interim belt, more then likely solidifying him to change weight classes due to this being his second time coming up short against Aldo.
The division that seemed to be in desperate need of new faces at the top, suddenly seems to of gained some new fighters to make things interesting. Numerous young prospects have emerged to be future title contenders and new faces to make the division a lot more interesting.
Most recently Yair Rodriquez (9-1) headlined an event against Alex Caceres. Rodriquez is known as having an incredibly unique fan friendly style, throwing numerous different flying kicks and striking techniques that guarantee entertainment. Going into his headlining bout, he was up against another prospect in Andre Fili who he brutally knocked out in the second round with a flying head kick. His performance seemed to be the highlight of UFC 197 and it got a ton of people interested in seeing his next fight. With only 4 fights under the promotion, Rodriquez was getting a huge opportunity and push from the UFC by being the headliner for an event. He was able to get the win via split decision as well as catapult himself into the top of the rankings. At 23 years old he has a ton of room to get better an develop as a mixed martial artists and seems to just be a few fights away from getting a shot at the belt.
Another rising prospect who has been getting a ton of buzz is the 25 year old undefeated jiu jitsu specialist Brian Ortega (11-0-1) . Ortega has only 4 bouts under the promotion but all of them have been highly entertaining. He has a reputation of being “the king of the third round” due to his last 3 fights being down on the judges score cards and finding a way to get the finish in the final 5 minutes. Ortega has shown that he is one of the deadliest fighters on the ground in the division as well as how great his cardio is. As the fight progresses he begins to gain more confidence, which is not something that is seen in most young prospects. In his last bout he faced his first big test and step up in completion at UFC 199 against Clay Guida. The fight was a close back-and-forth battle and in the final round, with about a minute left Ortega began looking for the finish and dominating Guida in the standup until landing a flying knee with 20 seconds left, leaving one of the toughest fighters in the division unconscious. Ortega is set to face Hacran Dias in his next bout and he is another fighter that seems to be a few stellar performances away from getting a chance against the champion.
Doo Ho Choi(14-1) , also known as the “Korean Superboy” is without a doubt something special. He has looked absolute phenomenal since making his UFC debut, with all 3 of his wins being first round knockouts. Choi has some of the best striking in the division and the main question surrounding him was how he would do against better competition. In his last bout he faced that test in Thiago Tavares, who is a respected veteran of the UFC. The 9-year UFC vet took Choi down early, but as soon as the fight got back to the standup Choi dropped him with a straight right from hell, followed up with ground and pound to finish the bout in devastating fashion. It was a spectacular finish for Choi, who’s exciting style and unique persona set him up to be a force to be reckoned with in the featherweight division.
The last fighter on this list you cant put in the category of a prospect due to UFC debut dating back to 2012 and owning 15 fights under the promotion, Hawaiian native Max Holloway (16-3) has looked unstoppable recently and seems to be the next guy in line for a title fight. When Holloway first entered the UFC he was 4-0 and made his debut against a very tough opponent in Dustin Porier who was an upcoming fighter as well. After his first career loss, Holloway strung together 3 wins in the year of 2012 until suffering back to back losses against Dennis Burmudez and current champion Conor Mcgregor. Since his loss to Mcgrgeor, from 2014 until now he has gone on a 9 fight winning streak, taking out some of the biggest names in the division. At the young age of just 24 years old, he has the experience that a veteran would have, facing the toughest talent the division has to offer and being able to face any stylistic matchup thrown at him. Holloway has shown that he is one of the most well rounded fighters in the division and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him as the next UFC featherweight champion.