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. The Nova Uniao star will next defend his title against streaking contender Ricardo Lamas at UFC 169.
2. Chad Mendes (16-1)It was not as spectacular as some of his recent work, but “Money” nonetheless emerged with his fifth straight victory at UFC on Fox 9, as he earned a unanimous decision over fellow wrestler Nik Lentz. The long-term goal remains the same for Mendes: a chance to avenge the only loss of his professional career against reigning featherweight king Jose Aldo.
3. Ricardo Lamas (13-2)After impressive wins over Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch -- the latest of which came at UFC on Fox 6 in January -- Lamas began lobbying for a shot at 145-pound king Jose Aldo. It took some time, but his wish has finally been granted. “The Bully” will square off with the talented Brazilian at UFC 169 in New Jersey.
4. Cub Swanson (20-5)Swanson extended his UFC winning streak to five fights at UFC 162, stopping fellow contender Dennis Siver on third-round punches. The Jackson’s MMA standout has been adamant about wanting another crack at Jose Aldo -- he lost to the Brazilian at WEC 41 -- but he will have to wait until Ricardo Lamas receives his title shot in February. In the meantime, Swanson underwent minor elbow surgery.
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 export’s first non-title bout since 2009. The Toms River, N.J., native will turn back the clock when he squares off with B.J. Penn -- the man he defeated to first capture lightweight gold -- for a third time in 2014. First, the rivals will coach opposing teams on “The Ultimate Fighter 19.”
6. 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. Elkins will next lock horns with the hard-hitting Jeremy Stephens at UFC on Fox 10 in Chicago.
7. Nik Lentz (24-6-2, 1 NC)Lentz’s grind-it-out approach carried him to three victories in as many 145-pound outings, but he found the going tougher against Chad Mendes at UFC on Fox 9. Although the Minnesotan survived a ferocious volley of power punches in round one, he was unable to mount enough offense in the final two frames to get the nod from the cageside judges.
8. 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 led to his demise against the 145-pound king. Jung dislocated 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. He will be sidelined until the injury heals.
9. Dustin Poirier (15-3)Poirier made Diego Brandao pay for coming in overweight for their UFC 168 clash, as “The Diamond” overwhelmed his Brazilian foe with a barrage of strikes to secure the finish late in the first round. The 24-year-old Louisianan has won eight of his last 10 fights, including consecutive triumphs over Brandao and Erik Koch.
10. Clay Guida (30-14)After a lengthy tenure as a fringe contender-slash-gatekeeper in the 155-pound division, Guida took his frenetic style to the featherweight class in 2013. “The Carpenter” has split his first two bouts at 145 pounds -- a narrow decision win over Hatsu Hioki in January was followed by a third-round knockout loss to Chad Mendes -- but the Jackson’s MMA fighter remains a daunting task for almost any opponent.
Other Contenders: Pat Curran, Patricio Freire, Erik Koch, Dennis Siver, Daniel Straus.
Continue Reading » Bantamweight