Trials and Tribulations: The UFC Featherweight Division

On June 3rd, the featherweight division will finally return to prominence. UFC 212 will culminate in the end of an era characterised by misfortune and setbacks for the featherweight division.

The main event will conclude with either former champion, Jose Aldo, or the young phenom, Max Holloway, atop the UFC’s 145lb division.  However, in order to appreciate the importance of this event, one must recall the mainstay that was once the featherweight division.

Before the ascent of an obsessed Irishman, the featherweight division was notorious for its explosive fighting styles, fast-paced grappling scrambles and enduring conditioning. Within the division, Jose Aldo was acknowledged as the undisputed king, who sat upon the 145lb throne.

Rising to fame in the WEC, Aldo established his presence by defeating, Mike Brown, Urijah Faber and Manvel Gamburyan. His dominance in the cage, accentuated with his ability to excite fans, earned him the inaugural UFC featherweight championship.

His reign among the division included a near 10-year undefeated streak. Boasting highlight reel knockouts over Chad Mendes and Cub Swanson.

He was an unstoppable force with the names of Hominick, Florian, Edgar and Lamas all hanging above his mantle.  Did I mention he also stopped a Korean Zombie?

The Rise of McGregor:

In the shadows of Aldo’s supremacy, a young brash lad by the name of Conor McGregor made his UFC debut.  April 6th, 2013 would not only reshape the world of MMA forever, but it would also mark the beginning of a gridlock; which would reside within the featherweight division for 1 and a half years.

With the “It” factor clearly cemented into Mystic Mac, the UFC would immediately push him into the mainstream.  Following victories over the top talent in the division, the UFC placed Ireland’s newfound hero against the legendary Brazilian champion.

Shocking the MMA world with a 13-second knockout victory, McGregor emerged into a superstar. The fate of the division was in his hands.

A title defense would not occur anytime soon, as the UFC exploited McGregor’s uncanny ability to promote fights. It was soon announced that he would battle the Lightweight champion for the 155lb title. Conor placed the 145lb weight class in his rear-view mirror and quickly became the biggest UFC star.

Impeding Progress:

During McGregor’s inactivity, the featherweight division would experience an 8-month hiatus from headlining a UFC event.  The absence of top stars like Chan Sung Jung and Chad Mendes; along with Anthony Pettis hoping to reinvent himself plagued the division.

There was never any plan from the UFC to ever have their new cash cow defend his gold.  The lack of direction, disorganisation and falling interest left many in the division wondering what would happen next.

With interim title’s utilised due to injury and long periods out of competition; many were confused as to why at UFC 200, one would be implemented with Conor being one of the most active fighters on the roster.

The unreasonable demands and unwillingness to defend his title would only muddy the 145lb waters.

Fast forward past Nate Diaz (twice) and turning Eddie Alvarez’s nightmare into a reality, the 145lb title would be stripped from McGregor, thus promoting then interim champion, Jose Aldo, to “undisputed champion”.

It would be at UFC 206, less than 1 month after Aldo’s promotion, the UFC attempted to increase PPV buys after losing its main event.  They would introduce another interim title bout into the featherweight division between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis.

A move that left many within the MMA community, scratching their heads.

The UFC was imploding the division from the inside after finally relieving themselves of Conor McGregor. To make matters worse, Anthony Pettis would go onto miss weight, resulting in only Holloway eligible for the interim title.

By the grace of the MMA gods, Max Holloway would win and save us from an even more unusual situation.  One week later, renowned pioneer and former face of the featherweight division, Urijah Faber, competed in his retirement fight.

The featherweight division has undoubtedly seen better days and certainly has experienced its dark ages.  The McGregor effect took hold on that fateful night at UFC 194 and nearly destroyed the whole division with it.

A Bright Future:

However, it has not been all negative.  While the division was mismanaged with no order or direction, a fresh crop of talent developed in the background.  The rise of Yair Rodriguez, Brain Ortega, Dennis Bermudez, Mirsad Bektic and Doo Ho Choi can all be attributed to the McGregor title reign.

The most notable being, interim champion, Max Holloway. The native Hawaiian has lead the charge in this new era of talented fighters. Currently holding a 10 fight win streak with 7 finishes, Holloway looks to solidify himself among the, pound-for-pound, best in the world.

His incessant ability to put on a show and deliver excitement to the fans resembles the performances displayed by Jose Aldo. At only 25 years old, the future is hopeful for the featherweight division. Expect those at 145lbs to brandish some of the most sensational fights in the future.

Saturday will finally conclude this infamous time period in featherweight history and officially conclude the McGregor era. The spotlight will once again, shine down on the best featherweights in the world.

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Will Jose Aldo reclaim his ever-so-familiar throne, or will Max Holloway usher in a new era?