What does it mean for the UFC’s featherweight division if Conor McGregor does not return to the weight class? How would you see the next 18 months in that weight class being booked out?
RICH HANSEN, MMATORCH COLUMNIST
Other than the fact that a Featherweight Title fight will once again sell less than 200,000 PPV buys? Other than the fact that Max Holloway will get a title shot before he turns 30? Not a darn thing. It goes from the new-fangled glamour division to just another division fill of little dudes that don’t capture the imagination of anybody.
If McGregor is gone, Holloway will fight the winner of the UFC 200 bout between Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar, presumably before the end of the year. The winner of that will face someone else. The winner of that will face either someone else, or someone previously mentioned. All while selling a paltry number of pay-per-views.
FRANK HYDEN, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Well, it means less popularity for one. McGregor moves the needle like few others, so him not being in the division hurts. However, it also means the division can move forward. We’ve got Jose Aldo vs. Frankie Edgar for the Interim UFC Featherweight Title at UFC 200. I assume they just drop the Interim label for the winner and then book Max Holloway to finally get his title shot next. After that, things get dicey. There’s not anyone out there who has separated themselves among the contenders. If Anthony Pettis does drop to featherweight, that would certainly be interesting, but you couldn’t give him a title shot immediately. Even giving him a shot after one win would be questionable enough. I truly don’t know what happens in the division after Holloway getting his shot. I guess you could wait and see what happens with Mendes? Or book the Aldo-Edgar 2 loser against Ricardo Lamas or someone and give them another title shot if they win there. It’s so hard to say because you’ve got a lot of guys around the middle, I don’t see anybody surging towards the top. It’s too up in the air to call.
MICHAEL BANE, MMATORCH CONTRIBUTOR
Well, it certainly means the featherweight division probably won’t headline any major UFC cards in the foreseeable future. The draw of the 145 pound weight class has long been minimal, up until the irresistible force known as Conor McGregor burst onto the scene. It’s sad, because the top of the division features some of the best pound for pound fighters in the world, and some exciting fights on the way. Sadly, the exit of McGregor is likely to leave us with another lighter weight class that only your more hardcore fan base is really going to care about.
Booking out the future of this division gets pretty easy, as the championship fight is already set. Former long-reigning king of the 145ers Jose Aldo takes on Frankie Edgar for the interim title at UFC 200. Aldo was one of the most dominant champions the sport had scene before McGregor shockingly put him to sleep last December. Edgar may actually accomplish something McGregor was hoping to do in March, by becoming one of the few fighters ever to hold titles in two different weight classes. While Aldo hasn’t fought since losing his title, Edgar has been both unstoppable and getting better, culminated by a first round knockout of perennial contender Chad Mendes. Should McGregor leave, the winner of this fight in July will be the rightful featherweight champion.
The first title defense is pretty easy to draw up. Max Holloway has ripped off nine straight victories, and there’s no one else for him to fight. There also isn’t another entirely logical contender at the moment, and a fight between the 24 year old Holloway and Aldo or Edgar could serve up some fireworks in a display of high-level MMA. Despite his young age, Holloway has shown a tremendous fight IQ, and he continues to improve on an already impressive skill set.
With Chad Mendes currently in limbo due to a potential anti-doping violation, the next likely contender comes from a guy who has yet to take a fight at 145 pounds. Former champion Anthony Pettis has suffered three straight losses at lightweight, and a drop down may be exactly what he needs to get the momentum going back in the right direction. The UFC has always liked promoting Pettis, and while it may not be quite deserved, a win in his debut may thrust Showtime into a title shot. Jeremy Stephens, Cub Swanson, and Ricardo Lamas are all fighters that have enough name value to catapult Pettis to a chance at the belt, and a fight between Pettis and Holloway/Edgar/Aldo is one that could deliver a lot of excitement.
None of that compares to the Pettis vs. McGregor fight I’d love to see, but it doesn’t appear the stars are going to align for that to happen any time soon. McGregor seems more intent on avenging his loss to Diaz and then probably moving to 155 pounds to get trucked by Rafael dos Anjos. While it’s not what I’d choose for him, guess it doesn’t matter. I’m the sucker fan who’s going to be shelling out to see him regardless. MOAR MCGREGOR!
[Photo (c) Gary A. Vasquez via USA Today Sports]
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