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 (15-1)
The influence of new Team Alpha Male coach Duane Ludwig showed itself once again at UFC 164, as Mendes become the first person to stop Clay Guida with strikes, finishing the “Carpenter” with a clean right hook in round three. With a stout wrestling base and dangerous knockout power, Mendes has a rematch with Jose Aldo in his sights, although nothing is certain in a loaded featherweight division.
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 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 a deepening 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 came in 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, the man 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 get to showcase his skills on the promotion’s first-ever pay-per-view card against Season 6 tournament winner Daniel Straus on Nov. 2.
7. Darren Elkins (17-3)
After a hiccup against Chad Mendes in April, “The Damage” earned his sixth win in seven outings by outpointing Hatsu Hioki at UFC Fight Night 27. A series of Hioki body kicks in the opening round had Elkins reeling, but he ultimately recovered to get the win on the strength of takedowns, ground-and-pound and solid punching combinations.
8. 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.
9. 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.
10. Dustin Poirier (14-3)
Poirier brawled past fellow prospect Erik Koch at UFC 164, withstanding a late surge from the Roufusport fighter to earn a unanimous decision from the judges. Now, “The Diamond” is targeting a potential rematch with the man who beat him in February, Cub Swanson, though Poirier may have to pick up another win or two to get a return bout with the now-top-5 talent.
Other contenders:Clay Guida, Hatsu Hioki, Erik Koch, Dennis Siver, Daniel Straus.
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