While 2018 will go down in history as the year that the 155 pound lightweight division truly became the glamour division of the UFC, ten pounds south, the featherweight division also saw a banner year in 2018.
From the rise of Brian Ortega as a potential future superstar, to the fielding of a new crop of rising young contenders such as Zabit Magomedsharipov and Alexander Volkanovski, to Yair Rodriguez and The Korean Zombie having one of the best fights in UFC history at the UFC 25th Anniversary show in Denver on November 3, this division provided nothing but thrills. The incredible battle between champion Max Holloway and Ortega at UFC 231 in Toronto on December 8 was the best icing on a beautiful cake that was the amazing year of 2018.
Going into 2019, however, the featherweight division is hanging in a bit of limbo, thanks to the status of champion Max Holloway.
With the possibility of the Hawaiian champion moving up in weight, the division could be wide open. Add to that the number of both experienced contenders and rising prospects, 2019 could be the craziest year on record for the 145 pound weight class. Yet, as the new year kicks off, how are the five questions that must be answered about the immediate future of the featherweight division.
1) Will Max Holloway stay in the 145 pound division?
With his star-cementing performance last month against Brian Ortega, the world became Holloway’s oyster, and few fighters have as many future matchups as Max does. Somewhat surprisingly, many of those aren’t at 145, but in the 155 pound division. In the shadows of UFC 231, Dana White was very enthusiastic at the prospect of “Blessed” moving up to the 155 pounds, where there are several matchups that everyone would love. The UFC has already tried to make Max versus champion Khabib Nurmagomedov once. For hardcore fight fans, Max versus Tony Ferguson is a wet dream. Yet, for the most MMA fans, the fight they want to see is Max versus Conor McGregor, which would be a rematch of a fight the two had as UFC youngsters back in 2014, and Max’s last loss. It is a fight that makes a whole hell of a lot sense.
In addition to the financial windfalls that would be possible for Max if he moved up, there is also the factor that Max a big dude for featherweight. Reports suggest that he can get as high as forty pounds over his fighting weight between camps and common sense tells you that he won’t be able to cut down to 145 pounds forever, especially considering that Max may still be growing at twenty-seven years old. Plus, there are many that believe that the symptoms Max exhibited in his new infamous interview with Michael Bisping and the UFC Tonight crew were weight cutting related. Going to 155 in 2019 may be what is best for his body.
Then there is the fact that Max is running out of top contenders at 145. While most people seek to clean out their divisions once they become champion, Max did much of that work before he won the belt by outslugging Ricardo Lamas, submitting Cub Swanson, out-kickboxing Jeremy Stephens, and outfoxing Charles Oliveira. With his two destructions of Jose Aldo and running through Ortega, Max is almost out of challengers.
Notice the word “Almost” in that last sentence. There is one more legitimate challenger for Max at 145 pounds and that leads us to our second question.
2) Will Frankie Edgar challenge for the 145 pound title again?
While Dana White and the UFC Tonight crew wondered who was left to challenge Max Holloway for the title, somewhere in New Jersey, Frankie Edgar had to be looking on incredulously. Twice now, Holloway and Edgar have been signed to clash for the 145 pound title in a matchup that was looked at as one of the best matchups in any division. Edgar had to pull out of their UFC 219 clash with an eye injury and then Holloway had to pull out of UFC 222 with a leg injury. With that event in serious jeopardy, Edgar agreed to a three round bout with Ortega and suffered a shocking first round knockout, effectively knocking him out of the title picture for the time being.
Edgar followed up by doing what Edgar does — fight. He bounced back thirty-five days later with a three round domination of Cub Swanson and was scheduled to fight the Korean Zombie on the UFC 25th Anniversary Show, but he had to pull out with a torn bicep. It seems that Edgar is close to being fully healed and should be ready to get back in the cage soon. Even with his loss to Ortega, there is no reason why Edgar hasn’t earned the next shot at the world title, especially after the career he has had in the UFC and what he did for the company last year.
Not to mention that the matchup between Holloway and Edgar is just as interesting now as it was a year ago. With his inside boxing and offensive wrestling, Edgar presents Holloway with some unique challenges that he has not faced before. Most of Holloway’s victories have been against other strikers and jiu-jitsu masters. He may have never faced a wrestler as good as Edgar, and damn, do I want to see this fight!
3) What is next for Brian Ortega?
When Ortega knocked out Edgar with a single uppercut at UFC 222 last March, the company has stumbled onto a gold mine. There are few babyfaces in combat sports as pure as Brian “T-City” Ortega. Jiu-Jitsu bros love his chokes. Women (like Claudia Gadelha) want to have his babies. He surfs. He loves to do charity work. He looks, talks, acts, and most importantly, fights like a star. That so many media and fans were firmly picking Ortega over Max, despite the fact that Max had twelve fights in row, shows how powerfully Ortega has won over the UFC audience. Despite the fact that Holloway cut him to ribbons with combinations until Ortega’s corner stopped the fight at the end of the fourth round, Ortega’s effort, his graciousness in defeat, and the fact that he looked normal in a week only advances his cause with fans. This is guy that people are going to be coming to see for a long time.
For now, however, his future seems uncertain. He won’t be getting an immediate rematch with Max. Jose Aldo, who would be a great opponent for him, is matched up with Renato Moicano on February 2 in Brazil. He’s already beaten Edgar. Names such as Zabit and Volkanovski seem a little too risky at this point. Then there’s the fact that like Max, Ortega is a big 145 pounder. 155 doesn’t seem too far away.
Given everything that is going on this division, Ortega’s best course of action may just be to wait. If Max does move up, Ortega is a great position to fight for the vacant title, possibly against the Moicano/Aldo winner. If Max versus Frankie does get made, Ortega should take a fight and look to call out the winner. But for now, Ortega should probably just kept suffering and working on his wrestling-which Max exposed a little bit last month. This guy has plenty more left in him.
4) How long can the old war horses last?
Few divisions have as many long-time contenders still fighting at a high level as does 145 pounds. Guys like Edgar, Aldo, Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Stephens, and others have been plying their trade in this division for many years now and the fact that many of them are still viable in 2019 is pretty remarkable.
Aldo, the most legendary of these men, rescued his career with his bodyshot knockout of Stephens in July in Calgary and if beats Moicano, who has emerged a legit title threat, in Ferbuary, he could be a position for another title shot.
Despite his loss to Aldo, Stephens was on a real knockout streak beforehand and seems to still be near top form. Lamas shook off a devasting knockout at the hands of an overweight Josh Emmett and a rough decision to Mirsad Bektic to stop Darren Elkins in November. Only Swanson had a really rough year, losing three times in nine months, getting submitted by Ortega and Moicano and dominated over three rounds by Edgar. It’s a tough break for a fighter that looked on the verge of a title shot just a year ago. Meanwhile, another 145 stalwart in Charles Olivera, who has been fighting at lightweight, seems poised to come back to the division.
The likes of Aldo and Lamas and Olivera and Swanson are still viable but there is a young set of contenders that is looking to knock them off. They will get plenty of chances to work in 2019 and if anyone of these guys can put some wins together, upset a Zabit or a Yair, that’s the fast track to a title shot! All of these guys can still fight and as long as have that fire in their bellies, they are going to continue to make this division a lot of fun.
5) Which young contender will break out in 2019?
Few, if any divisions, have as many young contenders ready to break out as does the 145 pound weight class. Of course, you have to start with Dagestan’s Zabit Magomedsharipov, who trains out of the Iron Army camp in New Jersey and may very well be the top prospect in the sport. He went 2-0 in 2018, the last win being a sick kneebar victory over Brandon Davis at UFC 228 in September. He has been on a collision course with Mexico’s Yair Rodriguez over a year now, and that fight is now as coveted as ever given how Yair rescued his career with his insane elbow knockout over the iron-chinned Korean Zombie in November, in one of the greatest fights in UFC history.
Coming behind up those two men is Australia’s Alexander Volkanovski, who went 3-0 in 2018, the last being an upset knockout win over former title challenger Chad Mendes last week. This dude can wrestle and kickbox and as thick as they get in the 145 pound division. The sleeper contender remains Bosnia’s Mirsad Bektic, who recovered from his shocking loss to Darren Elkins in UFC 209 by going 2-0 in 145, the last being career making win over Lamas at UFC 225 in Chicago. He may be the hardest hitter in division and he can also wrestle.
The question is which one of these guys is going to get the right matchup and cash in. Zabit vs Yair is one of the best fights that can be made in any division. Volkanovski is ready for a top five guy and Bektic may have trouble getting anyone to fight him. Any one of these guys could be ready to be champion by the end of the year; its just the matter of which one surges forward first.
And one more…
6) What are we missing?
As a wise man said, there are known knowns and known unknowns, all of which we have covered here. But what are the unknown unknowns, the things we don’t know we don’t know? Will anyone from the 155 pound division come down in weight looking for green pastures? Does anyone from 135, following the current trend move up and start tearing through everyone? Who is the next young prospect that’s going to come along and wow us? Will the GOAT himself Artem Lobov, stop having mercy and start running through anyone? And maybe, just maybe, will Conor McGregor move back down to challenge Max Holloway.
One thing I have learned about MMA and the featherweight division — you don’t rule anything out…
Artem Lobov Loves Fighting in the UFC But Refuses to Ever Beg for His Job
Artem Lobov didn’t know for certain after his last loss if he would still be a UFC fighter.
While the former “Ultimate Fighter” finalist always puts on exciting fights, he had dropped his last two bouts in a row and didn’t know if the UFC was going to keep him on the roster any longer.
Rather than plead for his job or ask UFC president Dana White for one more chance, Lobov went an alternate route by putting out feelers to other promotions about potential employment as well as exploring options in both boxing and kickboxing. Of course, Lobov wanted to return to the UFC but no matter what he’s always going to look out for his own best interests and that doesn’t involve getting down on his knees to ask for a job.
“The UFC is full of beggars. They’re all beggars,” Lobov said about the current roster of fighters in the UFC. “You need to be a go getter. You need to go and get it. You need to go and make changes and go after what you want. All these guys they beg for everything. When they want more money, they don’t how else to go about it. They say ‘oh please pay me more, you’re not paying me enough’. What kind of attitude is that? I hate people like that. I never want to be a guy like that and I never will be. I went out there, I reached out to other organizations and said I could potentially be getting cut, I’m not yet but I could be, what are the offers, what are the options?
“You have to put yourself in the situation where you have other options rather than just waiting for fate to turn out the way you want it to.”
According to Lobov, he’s always going to make sure he’s got somewhere to go even if the UFC decides one day they no longer want to work with him.
That’s why he hinted at retiring from mixed martial arts after his last fight and instead hinted at pursuing opportunities in other combat sports that would keep him busy with paychecks flowing into his bank account.
“You know I’m just a guy I don’t like being dependant on someone. I take my career into my own hands and I make things happen for myself,” Lobov said. “I see a lot of guys they get released [from the UFC] or they’re praying they don’t get released or if they do they don’t know what to do. I see it all the time. I’m not one of those guys. I know there’s options out there. I thought I perhaps might get released from the UFC so I was just being realistic about the situation I was in. Don’t get me wrong, there have been people in worse situations than mine and still got kept on so it wasn’t for certain.
“But I was expecting if I do get cut, I had a plan of action. That’s what I was talking about. I had offers from the boxing world, I had offers from the K-1 world. I had offers from other MMA organizations and trust me those weren’t just some s–tty little offers because I couldn’t get it done in the UFC. Those offers were for more than in the UFC. So they were very, very good offers.”
In the end, the UFC told Lobov that they didn’t want him going anywhere but back into the Octagon for another fight.
Now he’s returning at UFC 223 where he’ll face Alex Caceres on the undercard and Lobov is excited to put on another exciting show — because that’s all he knows how to do.
“Of course, I was happy to receive a call from the UFC that they still want me, that they don’t want to release me,” Lobov said. “They’re happy with me fighting in the UFC and I said in that case, give me a fight and that’s how it happened.”
Dan Henderson – A Sincere Thanks
Dan Henderson – A Sincere Thanks
Maybe it’s my roots in pro wrestling, but I wish the UFC would allow its legends to walk to the cage, grab a mic, and address the fans when they walk away from the sport. Give Dan Henderson more than a few minutes to express himself. Let him have a clear mind, a body free from exhaustion and a spotlight deserving of the significance of the announcement. Let the fans stand, chant in unison, “Thank you Dan.”
Dan Henderson is an MMA icon, it’s not even up for debate. Whether you feel he won, or lost at UFC 204, you don’t doubt his spot in the history in sport. He’s on Mt. Rushmore, undoubtedly. He achieved amazing success at every level, and in every organization he’s competed in. More so, he’s earned fans in droves that will forever admire his understated sense of self, and the H-Bomb that scrambled brains and left fans dizzy with excitement.
Dan was an elite high school wrestler, a college National Championship qualifier, a two-time Olympic wrestler and is a multi-time world champion. As a mixed martial artist, he’s been at the top since he debuted. He’s won multiple world titles, in multiple weight classes, including holding the Pride Welterweight and Middleweight Titles at the same time. He has beaten literally a who’s who of MMA. Don’t believe me? I’ll run the names. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Babalu Sobral, Renzo Gracie, Shogun Rua, Murilo Bustamante, Vitor Belfort, Wanderlei Silva, Rich Franklin, Michael Bisping, Hector Lombard and Fedor Emelianenko. Let that sink in.
Respected doesn’t begin to cover it. Fans and fighters alike love Dan Henderson. He’s basically the most respected man in the sport. Here’s what a few of his peers had to say as they took to Twitter to pay their respects. There are many, many more.
Aside from being perhaps America’s best ever professional MMA fighter, Dan might just be America’s best man as well. Nobody in the sport represents the USA like Dan does. He just leaks “Merica from every pore. As you settle in to watch another political debate tonight, think how much better a Henderson/Stann presidential ticket might look. Of the two, I don’t care who is President and who is Vice President, they’ve got my vote. I don’t even care about their policies, they can run on integrity and patriotism.
Even as I write this, I have to be honest, I’m not the biggest Dan Henderson fan in the world. I’m still a little bitter that I made the trip to Vegas in 2007 to watch my favorite Wanderlei Silva fight in person. It was Pride 33, and Dan Henderson did what he often does, landed the H Bomb and sent his opponent into a world of gum drop dreams and candy cane memories, planting Silva with a highlight reel KO, and taking his Middleweight title in the process. Fair play for Hendo, I mean, you play with the bull, you get the horns. However, after the fight he made a comment that Silva’s post fight party was in the emergency room, and it bugged me. For going on nine years it has bugged me. I guess it’s time to let it go. I too embrace Dan Henderson as the best of the best. The GOAT if you will.
Fast forward to Manchester, England last night. It was roughly 5AM local time as the main event was set to kick off, and the fans were hot. They were their to cheer for their hometown hero, Middleweight Champion Micheal Bisping. I have to admit, I was nervous, I didn’t know what I was to witness, I just knew I had to see it play out. It was time for Dan Henderson’s last fight.
As I watched him make that long walk, to Toby Keith’s “Made in America” it seemed logical that Dan would land the shot and walk away from the sport as the UFC Champion, the only belt that has alluded him. It made poetic sense, it should have happened, and it damn near did.
As the first round neared conclusion, Bisping, who had looked sharp, was a little tardy in getting his left hand back after throwing it at Henderson, big mistake. Shuffle, shuffle, Right Hand, BANG….Henderson landed and sent Bisping falling to the canvas. Hendo jumped into action, landing punches and elbows that lumped and opened up Bisping’s face. It was close, it was really close, but Bisping escaped the first round, albeit in shaky fashion.
Dan Henderson’s shuffle, shuffle, right hand shouldn’t be effective. You know it’s coming. It’s coming….I mean, it’s what he does. You should be able to prepare for it, defend against it, but you can’t. Nobody can. The Shuffle, shuffle, H Bomb is like the bass-line of that song you hear in the club on Saturday night, and can’t keep from hearing in your head over and over Monday morning. You don’t know where you heard it, but it now lives in your head, and you’re powerless against it.
In the end, Michael Bisping was awarded the judge’s decision. Some fans agreed, some didn’t, but life goes on, and Dan Henderson is in no way tarnished by the experience. If anything, his legend grows. He made the walk, forty-seven times in his career. He won way more than he lost, he held belts all over the world, and he won the hearts of fans everywhere as well. How can you not love Dan Henderson? I tried, and I’ve failed. I look up to him as a fighter, and as a human being. He’s a 46-year-old man, who is tougher than you are, and he walks into the sunset with a clear mind, and a full life.
Success for Dan Henderson isn’t measured with a golden belt, it’s measured in a golden life. My hat is off to him, and the sport will be less than it was when he competed. Hero, Legend, Icon….Thank You Dan Henderson.
2014 Fight Booth MMA Awards
Sure, it may be a different .com, but it’s the same staff. And we are more than happy to continue the tradition started 5 years ago over at HOV-MMA right here inside of the FightBooth. Welcome to our 6th annual year-end MMA award extravaganza. Let’s start right at the top.
Fighter of the Year – Robbie Lawler
It was a storybook year for the “Ruthless” one. After losing a hard-fought five round title fight to Johny Hendricks for the strap vacated by Georges St. Pierre, Lawler fought his way back to a title shot with wins over Jake Ellenberger and Matt Brown. In the final PPV of 2014 he would bring the welterweight title back to AKA by beating Hendricks in another close fight. Lawler turned the volume up to 11 in the final sequence of the fight completing one of the greatest comeback stories in MMA history with an exclamation point. Hearing the words “UFC Champion Robbie Lawler” in the year 2014 was quite the pinch me moment.
Fight of the Year – Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2 (UFC 179)
This rematch happened the right way. Mendes earned it the hard way winning five consecutive fights after being knocked senseless by Aldo back at UFC 142. This time around he went the distance, but the result was the same. King Aldo got his hand raised once again while Prince Mendes gained even more respect in defeat than he ever has in victory.
KO of the Year – Ronda Rousey’s 16-second obliteration of Alexis Davis
Because armbars are so 2013.
Submission of the Year – Anthony Pettis guillotines Gilbert Melendez
There were plenty of incredible submissions in 2014: St. Preux, Rockhold’s kimura on Boetsch, Benavidez’s Joa Constrictor, and Oliveira’s Peruvian are just a few of the pleasing to the eye variety that immediately come to mind. Pettis’ takes the honors this year though for being the most important and unexpected.
After six consecutive losses, Roxanne Modafferi needed a victory in the worst way. In her Invicta FC debut, we witnessed a “Happy Warrior” reborn. A completely reinvented Modafferi was able to best fellow women’s MMA pioneer Tara LaRosa to go up 2-1 in what has to be the best WMMA trilogy to date. She followed it up by teaching the extremely talented and dangerous Andrea “KGB” Lee in December to position herself as a legit contender for a rematch with Barb Honchak’s (for the Invicta FC title this time) in 2015.
Comeback of the Year (Performance) – Cathal Pendred (UFC Fight Night: Dublin)
Holy mackerel. If you missed Pendred’s comeback performance against Mike King (who it turns out was all juiced up mind you) at UFC Dublin I suggest you go back and watch it on Fight Pass….NOW. This was one for the ages folks. Since King did end up popping positive for PED’s, Pendred would be awarded his half of the fight of the night bonus as well. What did Pendred do with that extra $50K? Proving that the good guy truly did win, Pendred donated a portion of King’s bonus to a Children’s Hospital in Dublin.
Upset of the Year: Herica Tiburcio defeats Michelle Waterson (Invicta FC 10)
Like Yasuko Tamada before her, Herica Tiburcio was expected to be another albeit talented, virtually unknown import to make “The Karate Hottie” look good. Instead, the 4’11” Brazilian atomweight prospect became a champion on a December night in Houston, Texas. Her victory over Waterson was just as moving as it was surprising. The shallowness of the division easily warrants an immediate rematch between the new champion and the newest chosen face of the company. Tiburcio-Waterson sits right near the top of our list of 2015 fights to watch for.
Most Vulgar Display of Power: Michelle Waterson abuses Yasuko Tamada at Invicta FC 8
After watching the fight between Michelle Waterson and Yasuko Tamada for the Invicta FC atomweight title at Invicta FC 8 I fully expected Waterson to be escorted off the premises in handcuffs with yellow caution tape surrounding the cage.
Performance of the Year – T.J. Dillashaw upsets Renan Barao to become UFC Bantamweight Champion
A runner up to upset of the year, Dillashaw’s masterful performance at UFC 173 was quite the revelation. Depending on what site you frequent, Dillashaw entered the contest as the +700 dog who clearly had no business ending Renan Barao’s 33-fight unbeaten streak. Dillashaw’s performance on this night would be one that had fans and media alike uttering the words “holy sh*t” out loud and in their minds for a good 20+ minutes. UFC color man Joe Rogan called it the best performance he had ever seen, and he’s seen plenty. While I don’t agree with everything Joe says, this one is tough to disagree with. It certainly was without question the best performance of 2014 in all of sports.
Event of the Year – UFC 175: Weidman vs. Machida
A fight of the year contender in the main event, our KO of the year in the co-main, some unfortunate live drama that saw a heavyweight fight scrapped, Uriah Hall’s toe, and plenty more from a cast of supporting players like Urijah Faber and Rob Font made certain that the UFC’s 3rd annual International Fight Week offering provided fireworks from start to finish.
Brandon who? The Cal-State Bakersfield wrestling standout entered 2014 as a 5-0 MMA prospect poised to make an impact in Bellator’s season 10 middleweight tournament. After winning the tourney, Halsey would end Alexander Shlemenko’s 13-fight win streak inside of the middleweight division in just 35-seconds to become Bellator’s middleweight champion. Halsey joins the likes of previous breakout fighter of the year winners Anthony Pettis, Daniel Cormier, Nick Newell, and Conor McGregor. Just saying, you may want to keep an eye on this one.
Staredown of the Year: Jon Jones vs. Daniel Cormier
While the fight didn’t materialize in 2014, one would be hard pressed to find a better “staredown” than the one that happened when these two shook up the world inside of the MGM Grand on August 4th.
Rivalry of the Year: Johny Hendricks vs. Robbie Lawler
Not every great rivalry in the fight game requires in your face antics and pre-fight smack talk. The 10 rounds of pain that took place between now former UFC welterweight champion Johny Hendricks and current champ Robbie Lawler certainly cemented these two fiery competitors as strange bedfellows for life. With their trilogy bout recently scrapped, one can only thank the UFC Gods for letting this ongoing battle linger on a little longer. There’s no need to match these two men up again straight away; the damage they did to one another in 2014 mentally and physically was immeasurable. Next up for Hendricks will be the tough as nails Matt Brown at UFC 185 in Texas. For the new champ and 2014 FOTY Robbie Lawler you can expect a well deserved resting period in the immediate future.
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