On April 2, 2011, Pat Curran lost a lightweight fight to Eddie Alvarez. Starting on June 25 of that same year, Curran dropped down to featherweight, defeated Luis Palomino, Ronnie Mann, and Marlon Sandro en route to winning the Bellator summer series featherweight tournament, and then knocked out Joe Warren this March to become the Bellator Featherweight Championship. That's quite the divisional debut, eh? It takes a splash like that to debut at #2.
Featherweight is clearly easier to decipher than it was ten months ago, but there's still some more settling necessary until we're really certain about how good everyone is. Ten fighters in this month's rankings weren't ranked in June 2011. Add to that the fact that eight or nine fighters could make a legit claim to the #2 spot in the division, and it's clear that there have to be a lot more fights at 145 to go down before we really know who's who.
And I'm looking forward to each and every last one of them.
1.) Jose Aldo - Come on, son. Next fight: TBA, July 19
2.) Pat Curran - Patient, cerebral, and a wicked finisher, Curran's got the total package. His third round finishing sequence against Joe Warren is one that won't soon be forgotten by anyone who saw it. Except for Joe Warren, of course. Next fight: Patricio Freire, TBA
3.) Hatsu Hioki - His fight against Bart Palaszewski showed fans who were unfamiliar with his tenure in Japan why Hioki is so dangerous. And the second round of that fight showed why people should be skeptical whether or not Hioki can ever put it all together. Next fight: TBA
4.) Chad Mendes - His fight with Jose Aldo was completely predictable. Couldn't hang on the feet, couldn't keep Aldo down for 25 minutes. Like a lot of guys in the history of MMA, he could be a champion, if the colossus atop the division were to retire, get drafted, donate a leg to his brother, or retire to become Bob Reilly's protegee. Next fight: TBA
5.) Dustin Poirier - Victories over Pablo Garza and Max Holloway don't tell us a lot on paper, but he passed the eye test with flying colors. His fight with Jung Chan-Sung is one of my favorite fights of the spring season. Next fight: Jung Chan-Sung, May 15
6.) Erik Koch - Now healthy, Koch is itching for a fight. With the rest of the division not showing a whole lot of interest in a title shot, Koch's itching for the shot. While he may well get starched by the champion, he and his team are confident that he matches up right. Next fight: TBA
7.) Marlon Sandro - Sandro is on a mission to win the season 6 Bellator featherweight tournament. Not merely for the prestige, title, and cash prize, but for a shot at revenge against Pat Curran. Redemption is a very powerful motivator. Next fight: Alexandre "Popo" Bezerra, April 6
8.) Tatsuya Kawajiri - Kawajiri seems to have found a home at 145, after fighting for his entire career at lightweight. Since getting tarred and feathered by Gilbert Melendez a year ago, Kawajiri has finished Drew Fickett (at 170 lbs.), Joachim Hansen, Kazuyuki Miyata, and Donald Sanchez. Kawajiri could skyrocket up the list, if he's able to land a deal with Zuffa or Bellator. Next fight: TBA
9.) Patricio Freire - Pitbull #2 (for all you old ECW fans) lost to Joe Warren in the finals of Bellator's season two featherweight tournament, then won the season four tournament. An injury put him on the shelf, allowing Pat Curran to jump ahead of line and defeat Warren, thereby robbing Freire of his shot at revenge against Warren. Pitbull might not have Sandro's desire for redemption to motivate him, but he's an equally dangerous challenge for the young champion. Next fight: Pat Curran, TBA
10.) Jung Chan-Sung - The Korean Zombie made his name in a slugfest vs. Leonard Garcia, but earned respect and esteem with his KO victory against Mark Hominick. A win over Dustin Poirier next month might earn Jung a title shot. Or maybe not, because not even Dana White knows what's up in this division. Next fight: Dustin Poirier, May 15
11.) Mark Hominick - You can explain away the loss to Aldo by saying that he put up a better fight against Aldo than anyone else has. And the loss to the Korean Zombie can be explained away simply by saying that anyone can get caught. But two losses in a row are two losses in a row, and no one short of Steve Cantwell can afford three in a row. Fortunately, Zuffa brass likes him, so he's going to be a 7:1 betting favorite next time out. Next fight: Eddie Yagin, April 21
12.) Kenny Florian - Florian might very well be done fighting, and if so, it was a great career indeed. Including his stint on the first season of TUF he's fought in four divisions, has wins in three divisions, and three total career title shots in two different weight classes. If he's done, he'll be missed. Next fight: TBA
13.) Diego Nunes - Eight fights in Zuffa, six wins, eight decisions. I'm sorry, if you can't finish a fight, you have a glass ceiling over your head. Dennis Siver is next, and a finish over someone as tough as Siver would speak volumes as to where his ceiling lies. Next fight: Dennis Siver, April 14
14.) Hiroyuki Takaya - The DREAM featherweight champion is one of the last of a dying breed; an elite fighter based in Japan. Other than Kawajiri, there's not much more opportunity for Takaya to prove to the world how good he is. Impressive wins over Bibiano Fernandes, Joachim Hansen, Hideo Tokoro are going to become distant memories. And that's a damned shame. Next fight: TBA
15.) Yuri Alcantara - He's not quite Renan Barao, but Alcantara's 27-3 record, which includes a current thirteen fight win streak, is quite impressive. After knocking out Ricardo Lamas at the final WEC event, Alcantara defeated Felipe Arantes and Michihiro Omigawa on the two 2011 Brazil cards. His win over Omigawa was particularly impressive, and portends a bright future. Next fight: TBA
16.) Robert Paralta - His win over Takaya would have been a real eye opener. But since it happened on the unaired prelims of a Strikeforce event, it passed by with nary a whisper. He's been impressive with the UFC, defeating Mike Lullo and Mackens Semerzier, although the Semerzier fight was later ruled a no-contest. I'd love to see him take on Daniel Pineda, who replaced Peralta when Peralta pulled out of the Semerzier rematch. Next fight: TBA
17.) Ross Pearson - Another converted lightweight, Pearson's a guy I can't figure out. I didn't think much of him during TUF, but then he went out and won the tournament. I thought Siver would pummel him, I was wrong. I jumped on his bandwagon, and Cole Miller choked him out. I thought Barboza would crush him, and although he lost to Barboza, you could easily make the case that he won that fight. He looked really good in his featherweight debut against Assuncao, so now I'm on his bandwagon again. That might be the kiss of death, of course. Next fight: Cub Swanson, June 22
18.) Dennis Siver - He's making his divisional debut on the UFC event from Sweden next weekend. At 155 he was a bull, although a bit undersized. With his improving takedown defense and sharp kickboxing, he could be a force at 145. Or Diego Nunes could twist him like a pretzel for 15 minutes and we won't think about him again. Next fight: Diego Nunes, April 14
19.) Ricardo Lamas - I might be sleeping on Lamas here. His UFC wins (Matt Grice TKO and Cub Swanson (submission) are big wins, and he's been fighting with the WEC and UFC since early 2009, so he's used to the big stage. He was going to get his big chance, when he was tapped to replace Erik Koch against Dustin Poirier over Super Bowl weekend. Unfortunately for Lamas, he later had to pull out of the fight, and his return date is up in the air. Next fight: TBA
20.) Cub Swanson - I really want to put him higher, but he has to be behind Lamas, of course, and since I don't know what to do with Lamas, there you go. He's alternated wins and losses over his last seven fights, and he's only won six of his last ten fights. And while I can rationalize that, I can also say that if he beats Ross Pearson as impressively as he wiped the floor with George Roop, he's going to get a push. Next fight: George Roop, June 22
21.) Mike Brown - The #1 enigma of the featherweight division, Brown has seen the highest of highs by winning the WEC featherweight championship and defending it on two occasions. He's also crashed hard, losing four of seven fights since his second victory over Faber. The low point was losing twice in one month after coming into the UFC fold, dropping decisions to Diego Nunes and Rani Yahya. The fact of the matter is that Brown might be done. Hid fight with Daniel Pineda next month is the most important of his career. Next fight: Daniel Pineda, May 26
22.) Michihiro Omigawa - Maybe the worst part of the downfall of Japanese MMA is that unconventional fighters like Omigawa are pitted against the stylistic nightmares that UFC has to offer. Omigawa's never going to look as good as he's capable against dominant grapplers like Chad Mendes, Darren Elkins, and Yuri Alcantara. And yes, I know he won the Elkins fight, despite the judges' scorecards. But that robbery doesn't change the fact that he didn't look anywhere near as good fighting a conventional American wrestler as opposed to the style of fighter he was paired up against in Japan. Next fight: TBA
23.) Jonathan Brookins - It's clear he has a ceiling, as Erik Koch very rudely demonstrated last September. It's also clear he's got talent, based on his destruction of Vagner Rocha. UFC matchmakers need to be very careful with whom they pair Brookins, because he can be outmuscled and made to look awful against the wrong opponent. Next fight: TBA
24.) Jimy Hettes - I sure would like to see more fighters fight like Hees fights. He's like relentless Velcro covered flypaper on the ground. He finished Alex Caceres in August 2011, but it was his decision victory over Nan Phan that shows his potential. He was extremely successful at getting the more experienced Phan to the ground, and not only did he manage dominant positions, but he showed strong ground and pound as well. I'd love to see him fight Robert Peralta asap. Next fight: TBA
25.) George Roop - There is a contingent of fans who will go to their graves content in their beliefs that Roop defeated Hioki in Hioki's promotional debut last night. While I might not be in that group, and while I sure as hell won't be taking thoughts of George Roop to my grave, he did look surprisingly good in that fight. Of course, I contend that Hioki allowed Roop to look good, but that's another story for another day. What isn't in doubt is the manner that Cub Swanson starched him his last time in the cage. Roop's a good fighter, nothing more. If Manny Gamburyan gets one more shot, a loser leaves town match with him would be entertaining as all hell. Next fight: TBA
Fighters who weren't ranked on June 14: Curran, Kawajiri, Alcantara, Peralta, Pearson, Siver, Lamas, Brookins, Hettes
Fighters who dropped out since June 14: Manvel Gamburyan (2 losses), Joe Warren (2 losses), Bibiano Fernandes (dropped to bantamweight), Masanori Kanehara (1 loss, 1 win), Joachim Hansen (1 loss), Rani Yahya (1 loss), Josh Grispi (inactive), Mackens Semerzier (2 losses, one of which overturned to a NC), Leonard Garcia (1 loss)
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