It is an interesting time for the UFC featherweight division.
Champion Jose Aldo is coming off a successful title defense over Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163 on Aug. 3, but a broken foot suffered by the Brazilian phenom in the opening round of the fight will push him to the sidelines for the rest of the year and possibly the early portion of 2014.
While a belt holder being out of action is never good for a division, Aldo's injury will keep the 145-pound weight class—a division which has become one of the hottest under the UFC banner—from truly launching into rarefied air.
At the current time, four potential title contenders are all looking for their opportunities as the championship picture develops. Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson and Frankie Edgar have all thrown their respective hats into the ring in an attempt to carve out the title status at 145-pounds.
Lamas and Swanson are both on tremendous winning streaks, with "The Bully" collecting four straight and "Killer Cub" notching five consecutive. The last time Swanson lost inside the Octagon, it came by way of an arm triangle choke handed out by Lamas, which would keep the 30-year-old Chicagoland native ahead of the Jackson's MMA fighter in the bigger picture.
Mendes and Edgar have both had title opportunities in the past two years, with "The Answer" being just one fight removed from his bout with Aldo. The Toms River-native picked up his first win as a featherweight over Charles Oliveira at UFC 162 in July. Mendes, on the other hand, has been on a three-fight tear since coming up short in his championship bid, as he's collected three consecutive knockout victories.
Of the fighters in the upper tier of the featherweight division, only Mendes has a bout on the upcoming schedule as he will square-off with former lightweight contender turned featherweight Clay Guida at UFC 164 on Aug. 31.
Once Mendes versus Guida is decided, it would set up the perfect scenario for the UFC to insert a four-man tournament to sort out who gets the next shot at Aldo's crown.
The Tournament Format is Practical and Fan-Friendly in Some Cases
Tournaments have played a crucial and memorable role in the history of MMA. From the early days of the UFC to the golden era of Pride, tournaments of all shapes and sizes have been instrumental in promotion's rising to prominence and putting their superstars on display.
That being said, tournaments can also serve to be a detriment in the greater picture for a promotion. Bellator has made the format it's business model from the company's inception, and while it has served to establish champions, the down side comes in the lack of activity those champions are forced to endure while the next season's tournament plays out.
Bellator has attempted to hasten the process by instituting a "Summer Series"—which appears to be a solid move in the right direction—but shorter tournaments are no equivalent to the beauty of a divisional title picture in full swing.
In my opinion, there is nothing better in mixed martial arts than watching a champion attempt to hold onto his/her title, while a pack of talented contenders rise and fall on the climb. Granted, recent examples of title opportunities being given to fighters coming off losses, or not ever having competed in a weight class for that matter, tend to sour those particular scenarios, but the "earned" far outweigh the "given" and that is enough to keep sanity intact for the most part.
With the current dilemma in the UFC featherweight division, a four-man tournament would make absolute sense. The promotion used the format to determine the title holder when they instituted the flyweight division, and bringing it back would be a perfect way to not only determine the next featherweight title challenger, but bring interest to the division in the process.
The featherweight collective has come a long way in a short amount of time, and with Lamas, Swanson, Edgar and Mendes/Guida stepping in to a four-man tournament, the fan recognition for the 145-pound weight class could potentially reach new heights. Edgar is already an established fan-favorite and Swanson is well on his way with the series of brutal knockouts he's collected on his road to contention.
Mendes and Lamas may not be household names as of yet, but both have the potential to have bright futures at the top of the featherweight division. If Guida defeats Mendes in Milwaukee, he would be a great addition to a tournament as the Chicago-native has been one of the UFC's most recognizable stars for the past several years.
With Edgar and Swanson just having competed at UFC 162 back in July, and Mendes and Guida set to square-off in three weeks, every fighter involved in a potential tournament would be on a similar timeline. Lamas was originally slated to face the "Korean Zombie" on the UFC 162 as well, but Jung being pulled out to face Aldo eventually forced him off the card entirely.
Having all fighters involved on the same time line and injury free, would set the table for the opening round of a featherweight tournament. The UFC could place the first round on one card and the finals on another card three months later to determine who will be the next challenger to Aldo's title.
What better solution is there than four top-ranked featherweights putting it all on the line in a winner-take-all format?