Max Holloway was certainly blessed at UFC 212 Saturday night, shocking the MMA world with a third round TKO upset win over Jose Aldo. It was the best result possible for the featherweight division, which was desperately in need of a shot in the arm.
Featherweight has perhaps been one of the strangest weight classes to watch develop in the UFC in the modern era. When the promotion absorbed World Extreme Cagefighting, it awarded Jose Aldo the 145lb belt, which he’d held in WEC. Aldo was already recognized as a ferocious competitor, so the move wasn’t as controversial as it might have been. Still, in his very first official UFC title defense at UFC 129 in Toronto, he was nearly finished in the final round by local hero Mark Hominick.
What a different world it could have been had Hominick finished the job. Instead, Aldo became one of the most dominant champions in the promotion, when healthy. The problem, however, was that Aldo seemed either injury prone or downright unlucky, devastating cards time and again. That, added with the fact that with a language barrier and a seemingly dry personality, Aldo was about the least marketable champion the UFC had. Fellow Brazilians like Anderson Silva, Junior dos Santos, and later, Amanda Nunes were all welcomed by the UFC faithful. Yet Aldo, the arguably the most fearsome champion to come out of the nation, struggled to capture interest outside of hardcore MMA lovers. At least until Conor McGregor came along.
It was McGregor, of course, that thrust the 145lb weight class into the spotlight. Prior to his arrival in 2013, it had been a couple years of Total Aldo Dominance (outside of that fifth round from Hominick). McGregor trash talked (and backed it up) along the way to a title fight with Aldo, which, once rescheduled due to yet another Aldo injury, took place at UFC 194. The Notorious One did in thirteen seconds what Holloway did in three rounds: finished Aldo, and shocked the world. Yet McGregor didn’t bother to stick around the division, but instead immediately set his sights north, at lightweight. We all know the story: after back-to-back fights split between him and Nate Diaz, McGregor made short work of Eddie Alvarez, and captured the 155lb title as well.
While McGregor was technically stripped of the featherweight title shortly after winning the lightweight crown, in essence, Conor McGregor abdicated the 145lb throne. The UFC just expedited the matter. In the end, the questionable decision was made to make Aldo the undisputed champion again. He’d won the interim featherweight title at UFC 200, pretty much because McGregor was busy fighting Diaz and the UFC likes to market title fights. Yet in the same breath they promoted an interim title fight between Max Holloway and Anthony Pettis, to ensure UFC 206 in Toronto this past December had a title fight on the card.
Marketing efforts first, sport second, right? In any case, Holloway won (which was crucial, since Pettis missed weight and was not eligible to win a title), and proceeded to call out “Jose Waldo” in an inspired bit of post-fight trash talking. It set up the inevitable title unification belt that fans eventually got in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil Saturday night.
In the end, it couldn’t have been a better ending. Unless, of course, you’re Jose Aldo, or Brazilian.
No question, Aldo has been a dominant champion, outside of McGregor. Yet the victory by Holloway opens up a host of matchmaking possibilities: Frankie Edgar, who with a win could be the next two division champ in the UFC. Cub Swanson, who has perennially been flirting with a title shot, but has never quite made it. Holloway has a win over him, but his last few performances could justify a rematch.
Speaking of rematches, one with Aldo can and should happen — just not right away. While we think of Aldo as a long standing champ, the reality is that he’s 1-2 in his last three fights. Let him retool and rebuild, pick up a win or two, and then try to take back what was his.
Lets also not forget the Korean Zombie, Chan Sung Jung, who made a triumphant return to action this year. While he’s currently injured, he’d be a shoo-in for a title shot with another win or two.
In the mean time, there’s a host of intriguing match-ups at featherweight that involve neither Aldo nor McGregor, and that’s a refreshing change for a division that was left in limbo with McGregor’s exit.