Like his countrymen before him, Jose Aldo (center) will get to fight at home in January.
1. Jose Aldo (20-1)
Nova Uniao’s top student maintained his position atop the 145-pound division by turning away former UFC lightweight title challenger Kenny Florian in a five-round decision at UFC 136. The 25-year-old champ will next defend against unbeaten wrestler Chad Mendes on Jan. 14 before a partisan crowd in Rio de Janeiro.
2. Hatsu Hioki (24-4-2)
It wasn’t pretty, but Hioki avoided the curse of the Japanese imports with an Oct. 29 split decision win over George Roop in his Octagon debut. The Shooto champ will return home on Feb. 26 for another stiff test against hard-hitting WEC transfer Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144.
3. Chad Mendes (11-0)
Team Alpha Male’s new top featherweight was clinical in his August dismantling of grappling whiz Rani Yahya, cementing Mendes’ position as the division’s No. 1 contender. After some delay, the NCAA wrestling standout will get his shot at divisional kingpin Jose Aldo on Jan. 14 in Rio de Janeiro.
4. Pat Curran (16-4)
Curran started slowly but finished brutally in his Aug. 20 showdown with former Sengoku and Pancrase champion Marlon Sandro in the final of Bellator's Summer Series tournament. With his head kick knockout of Sandro, Curran earned the right to challenge champ Joe Warren, a shot which will come in February at an as-yet-unannounced Bellator event.
5. Kenny Florian (14-6)
Florian was denied his third UFC title bid on Oct. 8, his size advantage and clinching tactics insufficient for stymieing the skills of featherweight ruler Jose Aldo. Following the five-round loss, Florian contemplated retirement but has since stated that he plans to return to the 155-pound division, likely in mid-2012.
6. Marlon Sandro (20-3)
Sandro notched his 20th career victory in impressive fashion on Nov. 19, submitting Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace Rafael Dias with a first-round arm-triangle choke. However, to get the rematch he desires -- a second crack at Bellator Summer Series tournament winner Pat Curran -- the heavy-handed Nova Uniao representative may have to navigate through the company’s upcoming sixth-season featherweight tournament.
7. Diego Nunes (16-2)
Nunes proved a tough out for Kenny Florian in June but has been out of order since that decision loss due to injury and personal troubles. Finally healed, “The Gun” will get the date he wanted with fellow WEC-import Manny Gamburyan when he faces the hard-hitting judoka at UFC 141 on Dec. 30.
8. Dustin Poirier (11-1)
The 22-year-old Poirier earned the first stoppage of his UFC tenure on Nov. 12, by taking apart Pablo Garza before submitting him with a brabo choke in the second round. The win keeps Poirier unbeaten as a featherweight and should set up a higher stakes bout come 2012.
9. Bart Palaszewski (36-14)
Palaszewski notched this biggest win of his nearly 10-year career on Oct. 29, when he blasted former lightweight contender Tyson Griffin for a knockout win in less than three minutes. The going won’t get any easier in the Team Curran fighter’s sophomore Octagon appearance, as “Bartimus” is slated for action on hostile soil against Japanese star Hatsu Hioki at UFC 144 on Feb. 26.
10. Joe Warren (7-2)
Bellator’s 145-pound titleholder seemed a clear-cut favorite to win the company’s fifth-season 135-pound bracket, but things took an unexpected turn on Sept. 24 when Warren was flattened by a left hook from fellow wrestler Alexis Vila. With top contender Patricio Freire injured, Warren will move back up the scale to defend his title against Pat Curran in February.
Other contenders: Patricio Freire, Manny Gamburyan, Tyson Griffin, Mark Hominick, Erik Koch.
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