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What Does the Future of the UFC’s Featherweight Division Look Like?

Credit: Josh Hedges/Getty Images


Following last night’s UFC Fight Night clash between Brian “T City” Ortega and Yair “El Pantera” Rodriguez which saw Ortega secure a round three arm triangle submission victory over Rodriguez, as well as the recent crowning of a new UFC featherweight champion Ilia Topuria, the featherweight division - which is arguably the UFC’s most competitive division - has seen a complete shift in direction over the past few months alone.


The UFC is home to the absolute best fighters in the world. From top to bottom in weight classes, men or women, the UFC houses some absolute killers. From Jon Jones in the heavyweight division who is hailed as the greatest mixed martial artist of all time, all the way to the champion of the 125-pound division in Alexandre Pantoja, these people are some of the “baddest” on planet earth. The UFC’s talent pool is deep, however, it arguably runs the deepest in the flyweight division, which has seen a seismic shift in rankings and champions over the course of the past few months. 


Since 2019, one man remained atop the featherweight division, dominating fighters and defending his belt for five straight years. Alexander “The Great” Volkanovski, was the king of the 145-pound division for an unprecedented amount of time, defending his belt five times against Brian Ortega, “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung, Yair Rodriguez, and most impressively, Max Holloway, twice. He held the belt for 1,520 days straight, giving him the honour of being the eighth longest-tenured champion in UFC history, an extremely impressive feat. 


However, recently at UFC 298, Volkanovski was finally dethroned by a surging contender in Ilia Topuria, who ripped through the division with six consecutive victories in just the last three years. A somewhat shocking loss for such a dominant champion, but every champ must have their day. 


Despite a shift in who runs the division, it’s not only the belt that has been moving around. Last night’s fight night in Mexico saw Ortega defeat Rodriguez, the former interim featherweight champion of the world. Not only is it impressive that a healthy Ortega can wipe out the number three contender just like that after a streak of injuries and losses, but it also cracks open the featherweight division completely, which has seemingly been at a standstill for so long.  It has now become evident for fans that the once-stagnant featherweight division, is now poised for a compelling transformation, filled with emerging talents and seasoned contenders vying for supremacy in this division of elite mixed martial arts.



Credit: Hans Gutknecht/Getty Images


At the top of the division sits the current champion, Ilia Topuria. The Georgian native who fights out of Spain, is one of the most exciting contenders the UFC has seen in a while, let alone the featherweight division. After a dominant run to the belt, followed by a knockout over one of the greatest champions in UFC history, Topuria looks poised to sit atop the division for the foreseeable future. It’s tough to envision any of the current contenders beating Topuria. A potential rematch with Volkanovski could be in the works, however, a similar result would not be surprising. His striking and power is levels above his competition and he’s a black belt in jiu-jitsu. However, anything can happen, especially in this division. 


Truly, anything can happen, when Max “Blessed” Holloway is in the same division as you. Fans could easily make an argument for Holloway being the greatest featherweight of all time. The former champion who held the division's belt for three years, has the most wins (20) and the most finishes (11) in division history. His unparalleled boxing and granite chin have made him a fan favourite, as well as a favourite to dethrone Ilia. His next fight will be against Justin Gaethje at UFC 300 on April 13th. With a win there, Max could very well receive a featherweight title shot in his next bout. 


Another fighter who could be poised for a title shot following a massive win is Brian Ortega. Following his submission win over Rodriguez, Ortega is back in the mix as one of the division's most dangerous contenders. Ortega had a rough streak for a few years in the UFC, consisting of a skid of losses and a dislocated shoulder in his last bout. He came into the fight unranked last night but now sits in the four spot following the win. His grappling poses severe problems for any fighter, not to mention his crisp striking. This bounce-back win could have easily positioned him for a title shot, however, it’s up to Dana White to decide what he believes would put the most money in the UFC president's pockets. 


Another fighter that should be on Topuria’s radar is the Russian prospect Movsar Evloev. The grappling specialist is on an eight-fight win streak, beating out featherweights like Arnold Allen and Dan Ige. His ability to transition so quickly, on top of his unstoppable takedowns, has shot him up to the fifth spot in the rankings. While it’s tough to see him beating Topuria, especially considering Topuria is also a black belt and a fantastic grappler, Evloev is one more win away from a potential title shot. Perhaps a matchup between Evloev and Ortega could line up the next challenger.



Credit: Irati Prat/Getty Images 


Regardless of what is on the radar for Topuria and the division in general, fans of the featherweight division have either been pleasantly surprised or absolutely devastated by the results over the past few months. Fans of Volkanovski are heartbroken, while fans of Holloway, Ortega and Evloev finally have some hope instilled in them again. 


However, that’s the beauty of the sport. One moment you think Volkanovski will remain the champion forever, the next he’s getting starched by a rising contender in his first-ever title shot in front of 30,000 live fans. It’s unpredictable. The future of the featherweight division is the epitome of that unpredictability. With the division once again cracked wide open, rising contenders are poised to make a name for themselves, while new champions and former champions will battle it out to remain atop the featherweight division. 


Whether Topuria remains champion for the next five years like Volkanovski - or Holloway, Ortega, Evloev, or someone else dethrone him within the next year, the foreseeable future of the featherweight division holds promise and excitement for any fan of mixed martial arts



 Edited By: Josh Reidelbach


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