Sorting out the complicated UFC featherweight division

Alexander-Volkanovski-hits-Max-Holloway

Alexander Volkanovski hits Max Holloway in a mixed martial arts featherweight championship bout. (John Locher/AP)

Calvin Kattar continued his hot streak by edging out Dan Ige in Wednesday’s UFC Fight Night main event and in doing so cemented his status as a true contender in the compelling featherweight division.

Kattar has some of the best hands and takedown defence at 145 pounds and doesn’t get fatigued in five-round contests. He can fight just as effectively moving backwards as he can being the aggressor and he’s only been taken down two times in his UFC career, spending a mere 50 seconds on his back.

Featherweight has a strong list of potential title challengers. After Wednesday’s result, Kattar has worked his way into the conversation and now has the top-five in his sights.

“I know I’m on these guys’ radar,” Kattar said at the post-fight press conference. “I’m a problem to deal with, and they’re all starting to realize they’re going to have to deal with me eventually soon. … I keep winning, they can’t deny me. That was my mindset getting into the UFC. I didn’t ask to get in the UFC. I just said if I keep winning, they won’t deny me. They can’t deny me. There’s nothing they can do if you keep winning. That’s what I’m doing right now. If they don’t want to give me a title shot now, go out, get another win. They can’t keep denying me forever. Hopefully top five after this fight and that’s a short list.”

The 145-pound division is in excellent shape at the moment, as it usually is, however there are a lot of moving parts at the top of the division and it isn’t quite clear how it’s all going to pan out in the second half of 2020.

Current champ Alexander Volkanovski and former titleholder Max Holloway just went five hard rounds for the second time in the past seven months. Volkanovski emerged victorious in both instances but the rematch at UFC 251 was a tightly-contested split decision that the majority of onlookers believed Holloway won.

A third consecutive fight between these two seems unlikely, even though UFC president Dana White said he also thought Holloway should’ve had his hand raised.

This leaves questions as to who Volkanovski might face next.

Volkanovski was a curious onlooker Wednesday and seemed to like what he saw.

“I respect his mindset as the champ,” Kattar said of Volkanovski. “He says he wants contenders. He’s not trying to jump around other weight classes like everybody’s doing nowadays – not hating on them either, two belts sounds real nice – but I respect the fact that he wants to go out and fight the contenders in his weight class and he’s got one in me.”

Realistically, the next challenger could very well end up being the winner of a scheduled August meeting between Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez.

Magomedsharipov is the No. 2-ranked contender behind only Holloway. His lone loss in MMA was seven years ago and he boasts a 6-0 record in the UFC, including a November win over Kattar. Meanwhile, Rodriguez is ranked fifth and holds a highlight-reel knockout win over Chan Sung Jung.

Speaking of Jung – better known simply as “The Korean Zombie” – he is perhaps the biggest star in the division outside of Holloway and he was less than complimentary of Volkanovski’s latest performance.

“To be honest, it is shameful that Volkanovski is a champion of my weight class,” a message posted on Jung’s Instagram account said. “Give him to me then you don’t need to worry about the judges decision. As you know, I won’t let the judges decide the result of my fight. I will finish him at the title match and that is what UFC fans want to watch.”

Jung is ranked ahead of Rodriguez despite the aforementioned loss, which occurred with one second remaining in the fifth round of a fight Jung was winning. He rebounded from the last-second error by picking up first-round knockout wins over Renato Moicano and Frankie Edgar.

If Volkanovski’s next opponent isn’t the winner of Magomedsharipov vs. Rodriguez, Jung makes the most sense – especially from a marketability standpoint.

Ranked one spot ahead of Jung is Brian Ortega. The popular submission specialist hasn’t fought since his courageous losing effort against Holloway in December 2018 back when Holloway still had the belt. It was his first loss in MMA. As an elite grappler who also boasts knockout power, he should still be considered a threat to the throne.

Ortega and Jung were supposed to fight in December but Ortega sustained a knee injury and they have yet to reschedule that matchup.

No. 7-ranked Josh Emmett is also firmly in the mix after he made a statement in June with a unanimous decision win over Shane Burgos in what was perhaps the most entertaining three-round fight of 2020. What made that win all the more impressive was that Emmett sustained several significant leg injuries, including a torn ACL, early in the fight yet persevered. He’ll be on the sidelines recovering for a while but he’ll eventually return to a high-profile matchup.

Outside of the top 10, there’s the leg-lock expert Ryan Hall and the rising Sodiq Yusuff both of whom are unbeaten in the UFC. There’s also a pair of Brits to keep an eye on in No. 11-ranked Arnold Allen who’s 7-0 in the UFC and unbeaten Lerone Murphy who finished Ricardo Ramos impressively Wednesday night.

Also, Burgos, Edson Barboza, Herbert Burns and Bryce Mitchell are among those able to give anyone a run for their money on any given day in this ultra-competitive division.

So, as you can see, featherweight is chugging along nicely at the moment and seems to get more interesting with each passing event thanks in part to performers like Kattar.

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