With Max “Blessed” Holloway moving up to face Dustin Poirier for the interim Lightweight title, that leaves the 145-pound division without a champion. That isn’t to say there aren’t a list of viable contenders. The way I see it, you have 6 fighters, all in need of a big fight next, setting up two top contenders fights and one fight for the interim or vacant featherweight title (depending on the UFC’s decision regarding Holloway’s current venture at 155 pounds.).
The first fight on my 145 pounds wish list is a battle between two of the most exciting guys on the division. Yair Rodriguez has had a very stop-start career in the UFC but after his huge win over “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, Yair announced that he was back and here to stay. He finished Jung with a crazy last minute upwards elbow after a back and forth war, putting him into the top 10 rankings. Yair needs to build momentum towards the top of the division and to do that he needs a top opponent who will push him further than he’s gone before.
That opponent is Brian Ortega. Ortega recently fought for the title, going into the clash with Holloway with a lot of hype around him. Holloway frankly put the brakes on the Ortega finish train and showed everyone just how good he is. After a great fight but ultimately a fight that Ortega lost, he also needs to build some momentum in my opinion before he fights for the title once again. It would be easy to throw him in for the interim title or vacant one after he challenged for it last but there are other fighters who have picked up impressive wins in that time who are more deserving. By beating Yair, Ortega can rebuild himself at 145 pounds and put the division on notice that he’s coming to fight for that belt once again.
The second bout involves an enigma who has all eyes on him right now taking on a man who has been derailing hype trains for years and years. Zabit Magomedsharipov prompted me to write this wish list after his big win at the weekend when he defeated Jeremy Stephens via a convincing decision. The excitement around this guy is at an all-time high and he just beat a staple of the division in Stephens. I can definitely see the UFC putting him right into the title fight due to the hype around him and how exciting he is to watch but in my eyes, he needs a win over another top contender first. Had Stephens not lost to Jose Aldo before this fight, we may have a different story.
After encountering Stephens and making it through, Zabit needs a true acid test and only one man fits that bill to the highest degree. Frankie Edgar has always gone about his business in the UFC but his resume is incredible, he’s still a top contender in the UFC and he’s a very tough fight for anyone out there. Frankie Edgar is the perfect fighter to match up with an exciting prospect. Despite his lengthy UFC career, he is still going strong, picking up wins and smiling whilst doing it. His cardio, wrestling and bulletproof mindset make him a nightmare fight for anyone and if Zabit hopes to get past him, he will need to produce an almost flawless performance. This fight puts either man in title contention with a win whether it be Edgar silencing another up and comer or Zabit proving he really is as good as people think by beating Edgar, who is held in such high regard.
This leaves the title fight and two men who in recent months have produced striking clinics. They both have looked incredible in their recent fights and with Holloway moving up, we get the opportunity for this fight which may not have happened otherwise due to both men having strong claims to Holloway’s crown. Alexander Volkanovski was one of the biggest success stories of 2018, picking up 3 wins and beating the likes of Darren Elkins and Chad Mendes. Volkanovski is a great striker, with excellent footwork and a good fight IQ. He will happily stand with opponents, often engaging in trades where his footwork, head movement and accuracy will see him come out on top. He’s exciting and worthy of a title shot after his huge TKO win over Mendes in a fight of the night winning bout.
When talking about featherweights you have to mention one name. Jose Aldo. He was the long-reigning king of the division but many believed his time was up after big losses to Conor McGregor and Max Holloway who beat him on two occasions. Aldo had different intentions and instead put himself right back into title contention with a soul-stealing body shot TKO over Jeremy Stephens and a TKO over Renato Moicano. With two huge wins, Aldo has climbed right back to the top, the only issue was Max held the belt and he already beat Aldo twice in dominant fashion. With Holloway moving up, it seems like the perfect time for Aldo to reclaim what was once his and he couldn’t be more deserving of the opportunity. Aldo vs Volkanovski is such a tactical and high-level striking battle that feels like it could explode into a brawl at any moment with both fighters are known to stand and trade shots. It’s a fight I have to see take place. The winner would likely face the winner of Zabit vs Frankie Edgar in their first defence and from there the division will only grow in strength with a great balance of UFC veterans, new blood and exciting, fresh match ups.
Thanks for sticking with me for another edition of backseat matchmaker. Do you like the way I booked it or do you have a better idea? Let us know and get involved. Bye bye for now.