1. Jose Aldo (23-1)
The featherweight king took a different approach to his fifth title defense against Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163, but it turned out to be no less effective. With a foot injury limiting the Brazilian’s ability to unleash his trademark leg kicks, Aldo relied on jabs and takedowns to rack up points against the “Korean Zombie” before finishing the fight in the fourth round after Jung separated his shoulder throwing a punch. While the Nova Uniao star continues to toy with the idea of a move to 155 pounds, plenty of challenges await in a suddenly crowded featherweight division.
2. Chad Mendes (14-1)
Mendes scored his third consecutive first-round knockout at UFC on Fox 7, ending the five-fight winning streak of fellow wrestler Darren Elkins in the process. Buoyed by the addition of head coach Duane “Bang” Ludwig at Team Alpha Male, Mendes appears to be on track to eventually securing a rematch with Jose Aldo, the man to whom he lost at UFC 142. However, he will first have to make it through former lightweight contender Clay Guida at UFC 164 in August.
3. Ricardo Lamas (13-2)
After impressive wins over Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch, Lamas was looking for a title shot against Jose Aldo, and rightfully so. However, “The Bully” was instead paired with Chan Sung Jung at UFC 162 on July 6, only to see their matchup nixed by an injury to Anthony Pettis. Having seen “The Korean Zombie” fall short in his bid to capture UFC gold against Aldo, Lamas can only hope that the next opportunity will be his.
4. Cub Swanson (20-5)
Swanson extended his UFC winning streak to five at UFC 162, stopping fellow contender Dennis Siver on third-round punches. The Jackson’s MMA product was grounded for much of the opening stanza, but his superior speed and boxing allowed him to take control over the bout’s final 10 minutes. Swanson has been adamant about wanting another shot at Jose Aldo -- he lost to the Brazilian at WEC 41 -- but the waiting list is lengthy in an increasingly deep division.
5. Frankie Edgar (16-4-1)
Footwork and accurate punching combinations allowed Edgar to secure his first featherweight victory against a game Charles Oliveira at UFC 162. The “Fight of the Night”-winning performance was the New Jersey native’s first non-title bout since 2009, but Edgar probably needs at least one more notable 145-pound triumph before he can begin to think about a return date with Jose Aldo, to whom he lost at UFC 156.
6. Pat Curran (19-4)
Curran solidified himself as one of Bellator’s stalwarts during the promotion’s Season 8 transition to Spike TV with a pair of 145-pound title defenses. The Crystal Lake, Ill., native took a solid five-round verdict over Patricio Freire on Jan. 17 before choking out Shahbulat Shamhalaev at Bellator 95. “Paddy Mike” will likely make his next title defense against Season 6 tournament winner Daniel Straus.
7. Clay Guida (30-13)
A drop to 145 pounds seemed to have no effect on the frenetic “Carpenter,” who repeatedly grounded and occasionally pounded Hatsu Hioki in a controversial, three-round split decision on Jan. 26 in Chicago. Guida was set to build on that performance against fellow wrestler Chad Mendes at UFC on Fox 7 on April 20 before an injury put him on the shelf. The two featherweights will instead collide at UFC 164 in August.
8. Hatsu Hioki (26-6-2)
Hioki’s active guard work was not enough to sway the judges in a three-round split decision loss to Clay Guida on Jan. 26. After debuting in the UFC with back-to-back wins, the “Son of Shooto” has fallen from the rank of top contender with consecutive decision defeats to Guida and Ricardo Lamas. Hioki will try to halt his skid on Aug. 28, when he meets Darren Elkins at UFC on Fox Sports 1.
9. Nik Lentz (24-5-2, 1 NC)
At UFC on FX 8, the Minnesotan utilized clinches, takedowns and ground-and-pound to outpoint Hacran Dias in front of a hostile Brazilian audience. Now 3-0 at featherweight, the competition only figures to get tougher for Lentz as he attempts to ascend the divisional ladder.
10. Chan Sung Jung (13-4)
The popular “Korean Zombie” returned after more than a year-long absence to challenge Jose Aldo for the featherweight title at UFC 163. While it was surgery on Jung’s left shoulder that had sidelined him since his pivotal win over Dustin Poirier in May 2012, it was his right shoulder that caused his demise against the 145-pound king. Jung appeared to separate his shoulder after an errant overhand right in the fourth round, which allowed Aldo to up his aggression and secure a TKO finish two minutes into the frame.
Other contenders:Darren Elkins, Erik Koch, Dustin Poirier, Dennis Siver, Daniel Straus.
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