Ranking MMA's Top 10 Featherweights Outside Zuffa Umbrella
The next chapter of the series includes a number of Bellator competitors, as the company has swallowed up five of the ten spots. There's a noticeable absence of European talent, as the smaller weight classes seemingly have not caught on just yet in that region.
With Bellator not featuring a featherweight tournament this season and the Japanese MMA scene in dire straits, it could be some time before we see members on this list compete again.
No. 10: Daniel Straus
Straus has built up an impressive 17-4 record, despite dropping to 4-3 early in his career following a second round knockout loss to Pat Curran.
After the Curran loss, Straus tore through 10 straight wins to earn entrance in the Bellator Season 4 Featherweight tournament.
Wins over Nazareno Malegarie and Kenny Foster paved the way for a showdown with the favored Patricio Freire. A 15-minute, hard-fought battle ensued, with Patricio getting the unanimous nod from the judges and earning the title shot.
Straus rebounded with an October decision win over TUF alum Jason Dent, unifying the NAAFS Lightweight championship.
No. 9: Tom Niinimaki
Niinimaki (16-5-1) debuted in MMA with heavy strikes that put opponents away early, with six of his first nine wins coming by various ways of technical knockout.
An 0-4-1 stretch followed, and Niinimaki went back to the FinnFighters Gym with a newfound desire to study the grappling arts and to improve his complete arsenal.
Niinimaki returned to action in 2010, winning his next three fights with a rear-naked choke and a pair of kimuras.
With his most recent wins coming against notables Sergej Grecicho and Johnny Frachey, Niinimaki is beginning to open eyes outside of eastern Europe.
No. 8: Takeshi Inoue
Inoue (21-5) had long been considered a top featherweight on the Japanese mixed martial arts scene, before back to back decision losses to Hatsu Hioki and Kazuyuki Miyata knocked his hype train off the tracks.
Inoue took six months off following the Miyata decision, coming back in April at Shooto Tradition 2011, taking Taiki Tsuchiya out by way of TKO in the second round.
Continuing the assault, Inoue went on to TKO Koichiro Matsumoto in the first round at Dream: Fight for Japan! before knocking out Japanese legend Caol Uno with a brutal first round head kick to earn his third straight victory, all by form of (T)KO.
No. 7: Marlon Sandro
Once one of the most feared featherweights in the world, Sandro (19-3) came into the 2011 Bellator Summer Series with a noticeable drop in momentum. Following a highly controversial split decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa, Sandro won three straight by way of first round knockout, before dropping a unanimous decision to Hatsu Hioki.
While many stateside fans anticipated the heavy-handed BJJ black belt's dynamic arrival onto the Bellator scene, Sandro had hard-fought battles with Genair da Silva and Nazareno Malegarie, earning a split decision and unanimous decision to punch his ticket into the finals against Pat Curran.
A thunderous second round head kick ended Sandro's time in the tournament, as the follow-up punches were unnecessary at the four minute mark.
No. 6: Hiroyuki Takaya
Takaya (16-9) is widely known as both the DREAM featherweight champion and as the two-time WEC veteran, including a fight of the night performance with Cub Swanson at WEC 37.
With a free-swinging style that endears fans from all over the world, Takaya has gathered a legion of followers as he looks to reign over the DREAM featherweight division for a long time coming.
Wins over Kazuyuki Miyata, Bibiano Fernandez, Chase Beebe, Joachim Hansen, Hideo Tokoro, Yoshihiro Maeda and Hatsu Hioki have fans clamoring for a matchup with Tatsuya Kawajiri at the next DREAM event.
No. 5: Jeremy Spoon
The Big Dog Promotions Featherweight and King of the Cage Bantamweight champion, Spoon (11-0) has been making quite a name for himself on the United States regional scene.
The former high school Oklahoma state wrestling champion has used his grappling prowess to outmaneuver opponents on the ground, earning eight of his 11 wins by way of submission, two by way of strikes.
While holding belts, at two different weight classes, in two different promotions, seems like a big load to handle, the apex Brazilian jiu-jitsu product has taken it all in stride, and looks poised to join Zuffa as soon as they open their eyes and notice him.
Despite a win on the undercard of Bellator 37 over Jerrod Sanders, Spoon has not been booked for any upcoming tournaments for the promotion.
No. 4: Patricio Freire
Patricio (17-1), the smaller of the two "Pitbull" brothers, has long been terrorizing the Brazilian MMA scene, building up a 12-0 record before receiving the call to join the Bellator Season 2 Featherweight tournament.
Wins over William Romero and Wilson Reis led to Freire meeting Joe Warren in the finals to determine the first ever Bellator featherweight champion.
In what was a close fight and even a closer decision, Freire dropped the split decision in what turned out to be a heart-breaking defeat for the Team Nogueira BJJ black belt.
Freire was granted automatic access into the Season 4 Featherweight tournament, securing knockout wins over Georgi Karakhanyan and Wilson Reis, before earning a hard fought unanimous decision over Daniel Straus in the finals to pave the way for a rematch with Warren.
No. 3: Joe Warren
Warren (7-2) exploded onto the MMA scene as one of the best Greco-Roman wrestlers to ever make the transition to MMA, with gold medal outings at the 2006 Pan American Championships, the 2006 World Championships, and the 2007 World Cup.
He debuted in the Dream 2009 Featherweight grand prix, quickly making a name for himself by earning wins over Chase Beebe and Norifumi Yamamoto, before falling to Bibiano Fernandez in the finals.
Warren came back to the states and joined Bellator following the loss, instantly being inserted in the Season 2 Featherweight tournament. Wins over Eric Marriott, Georgi Karakhanyan and Patricio Freire secured him the title shot he coveted against Joe Soto.
In what can only be described as an astonishing comeback, Warren took the belt from Soto with a beautiful TKO by way of knees and punches after being severely beaten in the first round.
Warren would go on to earn a controversial unanimous decision victory over Marcos Galvao, before entering the Bellator Season 5 Bantamweight tournament, where he was quickly knocked out by little-known true flyweight Alexis Vila.
Challengers are lined up for Warren's title, as both Patricio Freire and Pat Curran have earned title shots through Bellator's famed tournament format.
No. 2: Pat Curran
Pat Curran (16-4), cousin of lightweight pioneer Jeff Curran, has quickly made a name for himself under the Bellator banner.
After winning the Season 2 Lightweight tournament, Curran dropped to featherweight following his loss to Eddie Alvarez and won the 2011 Summer Series Featherweight tournament, becoming the only man in Bellator history to win tournaments at two different weight classes.
The Curran Martial Arts Academy product is looking forward to a title shot, with Joe Warren, after Warren recovers from his recent knockout loss to Alexis Vila.
Wins over Marlon Sandro, Ronnie Mann, Toby Imada, Roger Huerta and Daniel Straus anchor Curran's resume.
No. 1: Tatsuya Kawajiri
Kawajiri (29-7-2) is a legend in the land of the rising sun, being a top fighter for Japanese promotions Dream, Pride and Shooto over the course of his career.
His only stateside fight came under the Strikeforce banner, a title shot in which he was quickly bulldozed by Gilbert Melendez.
Kawajiri's only losses over the past seven years of come at the hands of top 10 lightweights Gilbert Melendez, Shinya Aoki, Eddie Alvarez and a prime Takanori Gomi.
His vicious striking attack has led to 12 of his 29 victories coming by way of (T)KO, and have made him a fan favorite in his home country.
Kawajiri has earned wins over Joachim Hansen, Drew Fickett, Josh Thomson, Gesias Cavalcante, Luiz Azeredo, Charles Bennett, Vitor Ribeiro and Yves Edwards over his illustrious career.
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