The word on the street is that should Conor McGregor make history on November 12 and become the first UFC two-weight world champion, he will shortly after relinquish his featherweight title.
Even if McGregor is defeated by the current lightweight champion, Eddie Alvarez, it is still unlikely we will see Ireland’s favorite son return to the 145lb division. The simple reason being the bigger fights lay elsewhere in the ranks of the promotion.
Former featherweight champion, and current interim champion, Jose Aldo once claimed that he was the king, Chad Mendes the prince, and McGregor a mere joker. That was until McGregor flattened him in just 13 seconds of their title fight last December.
Prince Mendes has since tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs and is currently serving a two-year ban. While Aldo has took the hump with the promotion for refusing to give him another crack at the joker, and looks likely to take a lengthy hiatus from the sport.
So, who are the contenders to emerge as ruler of the featherweight throne?
The Hawaiian has gone from strength-to-strength while amassing an incredible nine-fight win streak over the last three years. Picking up three bonuses along the way he is one of only a pair of UFC fighters to win eight on the bounce without receiving a title shot.
His last defeat ironically was to current king McGregor, when he lost via a unanimous decision. Holloway’s toughest test, on paper anyway, lays in wait this December when he will face a rejuvenated contender to the division, former lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.
‘Showtime’ Pettis emerged as the poster boy of MMA when he claimed the lightweight title in the summer of 2013. After successfully defending against former Strikeforce champion Gilbert Melendez, Pettis went on to lose his title and took a bad beating in the process at the hands of Rafael dos Anjos.
The Milwaukee native seemed to lose his confidence following that night and went on to slump to a further two defeats at the hands of now current champ Eddie Alvarez and Edson Barboza. ‘Showtime’ decided it was time for change and dropped down to 145lbs, defeating Charles Oliveira to set up this big fight with Holloway.
Jeremy Stephens gained a popularity boost earlier this year at the UFC 205 press conference. Conor McGregor hilariously remarked “who the f**k is that guy” when Stephens proceeded to answer a question that had been directed at McGregor.
An embarrassing moment for ‘Lil Heathen’, but what he was in the process of saying is that he doesn’t just TKO people, when he knocks them out, they don’t move. This statement often tends to be the case as Stephens packs some big power for a featherweight. But can he knock out a man that has never been knocked out? We will find out when he faces Frankie Edgar at UFC 205.
Frankie is no stranger to title fights having contested eight in his UFC career thus far. Four wins and two losses as a lightweight before a pair of defeats to Jose Aldo fighting for featherweight gold. Most recently at UFC 200 for the interim title.
A win over Stephens should put ‘The Answer’ straight back into contention again. A showdown with the winner of Holloway versus Pettis could be on the cards for early 2017, where Edgar will hope to make it third time lucky for featherweight gold.
In every sport there are prospects lurking in the shadows waiting on their opportunity. The UFC featherweight division is no different and in one of them prospects Bektic is a young man with all the necessary tools to take him right to the top.
The 11-0 well rounded powerful Bosnian is at a stage of his career now where his next opponent should be a significant jump in competition. If he can navigate that obstacle with the same assurance he has in his recent fights, 2017 could be a very big year for him.
Another prospect is Mexico’s ‘El Pantera’, who burst onto the scene after an impressive run to win The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America. Rodriguez is a long time Taekwondo practitioner and brings a lot of excitement with his fan-friendly style.
Still a bit of a diamond in the rough though, the 24-year-old not only has the potential to be a champion, but a global superstar. Like Bektic, he might find his next opponent to be a significant jump in competition, where victory could see him on the verge of title contention entering 2017.
Neál Martin, Pundit Arena
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