1. Max Holloway (18-3)He debuted in the UFC as an undertrained 20-year-old scrapper. Now he has 17 UFC bouts, 11 straight wins and a brutal, thrilling stoppage of the greatest 145-pounder of all-time on his resume. Holloway now rules the featherweight division courtesy of his third-round knockout of Jose Aldo at UFC 212 in Rio de Janeiro, and, at just 25 years old, seems to be the best young fighter in the sport. Things have not been easy for the “Blessed” Hawaiian so far in the UFC, and they figure to stay that way. With Aldo out of the immediate picture, Holloway seems primed to make his first UFC title defense against Frankie Edgar, another all-time great.
2. Jose Aldo (26-3)For 10 minutes in Rio de Janeiro, Aldo demonstrated beautiful, powerful counterpunching in his exciting showdown with Max Holloway. Then, a four-punch combination from Holloway put Aldo down in Round 3, and the Hawaiian smashed away until referee “Big” John McCarthy was forced to intervene. Aldo turns 31 in September and is nowhere near a spent legend, but what fight comes next for the all-time 145-pound king is unclear.
3. Frankie Edgar (22-5-1)Edgar was a big winner at UFC 211 in May, hammering and halting rising Mexican prospect Yair Rodriguez in 10 minutes. Better than that for “The Answer,” he was a winner by proxy at UFC 212, too: The former UFC lightweight champ's two failed title bids against Jose Aldo seemed like they may disqualify him from another shot at featherweight gold indefinitely, but Max Holloway's rousing knockout of Aldo in Rio de Janeiro could install the still-outstanding Edgar as his first UFC title challenger.
4. Ricardo Lamas (18-5)Lamas is often the forgotten man at 145 pounds, having lost in his February 2014 UFC title bid against Jose Aldo and having been recently defeated by current featherweight king Max Holloway. When “The Bully” gets the right matchup and opponent, he vividly reminds us of his capabilities. Just look at what happened at UFC 214 in Anaheim, California, where Lamas slowed the roll of fast-rising prospect Jason Knight, punching out “Hick Diaz” in the first round to reassert his place among the featherweight elite.
5. Cub Swanson (25-7)Swanson, a perennial top-10 featherweight and perhaps the best fighter in the division to never get a crack at a WEC or UFC title, deserved better than a five-round main event with Conor McGregor training partner Artem Lobov. Nonetheless, Swanson accepted the dubious headlining fight for the UFC's return to Nashville, Tennessee, and then performed in true Cub Swanson fashion, for better or for worse: Swanson indulged Lobov's free-swinging style and ate 123 significant strikes, more than any fight in his pro career, but still comfortably prevailed via unanimous decision after an entertaining brawl that arguably had no business going 25 minutes.
6. Darren Elkins (23-5)One of MMA's quintessential grinders, Elkins has now won five straight fights, courtesy of his UFC on Fox 25 split decision over Dennis Bermudez. While "The Damage" has gone 12-3 in his last 15 Octagon appearances, his recent streak over quality opposition seems to be a reflection of his relocation to Team Alpha Male and the improvements it has roused in his overall game.
7. Brian Ortega (12-0, 1 NC)In Ortega's July 2014 UFC debut, he choked out Mike de la Torre in just 99 seconds and then tested positive for the steroid drostanolone. Since serving his suspension and returning to action, Ortega has been a thrilling revelation at 145 pounds, putting together four consecutive third-round stoppages. The undefeated Ortega's thrilling run has come against increasingly stiff opposition, with victories over Thiago Tavares, Diego Brandao, Clay Guida and the previously undefeated Renato “Moicano” Carneiro at UFC 214. It is time for “T-City” to take another step up.
8. Chan Sung Jung (15-4)After nearly four years away from the sport, it seemed divine when “The Korean Zombie” returned from mandatory military duty in his home country and smashed through Dennis Bermudez in February. Jung doubled down after his win, calling out and securing a bout with fellow former UFC title challenger Ricardo Lamas, only to suffer a knee injury and withdraw from the UFC 214 card.
9. Doo Ho Choi (14-2)After the fight Choi had with Cub Swanson at UFC 206 in December, people would have been excited about nearly any future opponent for “The Korean Superboy,” but his pairing with fellow free-swinging prospect Andre Fili for UFC 214 on July 29 seemed especially good. Unfortunately, Choi suffered a shoulder injury that knocked him out of the contest and will keep him on the shelf until October or later.
10. Patricio Freire (26-4)The last two years were brutal for Freire. He lost the Bellator MMA featherweight title to a man he had already beaten twice, Daniel Straus, and then moved up to 155 pounds to face former UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson, only to retire in the second round after breaking his shin. “Pitbull” got back on track on April 21, returning to 145 pounds and guillotining Straus to regain his Bellator title. The question remains whether or not the company can find the Brazilian some fresh talent to face, as “Pitbull” already seems lined up to defend against Daniel Weichel -- a man he knocked out in June 2015.
Other Contenders: Renato Carneiro, Andre Harrison, Calvin Kattar, Jason Knight, Yair Rodriguez.
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