Bleacher Report’s official December’s MMA rankings are in, and in this section we’ll be examining the the top 10 145-pound featherweight fighters in the sport.
The UFC has added additional attention to the smaller weight classes in 2011, but perhaps nothing has done more for them than what they did this season on The Ultimate Fighter. The featherweight and bantamweight divisions were highlighted for the first time in the show's history, with Diego Brandao eventually being crowned the first 145-pound TUF winner.
Brandao and the other cast-mates on the show might not crack these inaugural rankings, but they have given a significant talent surge to the divisions as a whole.
So who are the top 10 in the featherweight division, you ask? Let’s take a look...
These rankings are the combined effort of some of Bleacher Report MMA's best writers, as we continue to try and provide you with the best content on the web.
MMA Record: 36-14
Most recent fight: Defeated Tyson Griffin at UFC 137
After a solid 4-3 run in the WEC, Bart Palaszewski finally made his first appearance in the Octagon at UFC 137 when he knocked out Tyson Griffin.
It was a long layoff for Palaszewski who hadn’t fought since December 2010 prior to his October fight at 137. He was originally set to fight at UFC 130, but an injury knocked him out of the fight with Gleison Tibau.
Going back to his WEC days, Palaszewski has now won five of his past six fights, including a tightly contested decision over Anthony “Showtime” Pettis at WEC 45.
MMA Record: 16-4
Most recent fight: Defeated Marlon Sandro at Bellator 48
Pat Curran has truly begun establishing himself as likely the best 145-pound fighter in the world who is not currently under contract with the UFC. The 24-year old has already competed in 20 professional MMA fights and has already been crowned a Bellator season champion twice after he won the 155-pound tournament in Season 2.
Curran should get his shot at Bellator featherweight champion Joe Warren some time in 2012.
MMA Record: 16-2
Most recent fight: Lost to Kenny Florian at UFC 131
A teammate of UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo’s, Diego Nunes has also established himself as one of the 145-pounders in the sport today.
With victories over Raphael Assuncao and former WEC champion Mike Brown, Nunes was on his way into potential title contention against his friend, but was derailed by Kenny Florian at UFC 131.
A loss to Florian is nothing to be ashamed off, but it did bump Nunes down a few pegs in the pecking order. He will attempt to get back on the winning path at UFC 141 when he fights former The Ultimate Fighter winner Manny Gamburyan.
MMA Record: 13-1
Most recent fight: Defeated Jonathan Brookins at UFC Fight Night: Shields vs. Ellenberger
The UFC must be happy to believe that the best may be yet to come from 23-year-old Erik Koch.
Back-to-back victories over Raphael Assuncao and Jonathan Brookins highlighted a dominant 2011 for the youngster. Going back to his days in the WEC, he has put together an impressive 5-1 record with victories over some tough competition.
Koch’s only loss came over current UFC featherweight No. 1 contender Chad Mendes, who grinded him to a decision at WEC 47 back in March 2010.
MMA Record: 11-1
Most recent fight: Defeated Pablo Garza at UFC on FOX 1
Like Erik Koch before him, Dustin Poirier has already begun establishing himself as one of the best featherweights in the world at an incredibly young age. At only 22 years old, he was the winner of three fights in the UFC in 2011, including a huge victory over perceived No. 1 contender Josh Grispi in his debut for the promotion at UFC 125.
Poirier and Koch are expected to meet in Feb. 2012 at UFC 143 in what could be the battle of the best up-and-comers in the division and potentially could even determine the next No. 1 contender at the UFC featherweight championship.
MMA Record: 20-9
Most recent fight: Lost to Jose Aldo at UFC 129
After successfully competing as a lightweight twice for the UFC early in his career, Mark Hominick made his the WEC where he could compete in his natural 145-pound division in June 2007. Things didn’t start off so hot for Hominick who dropped each of his first two fights for the promotion, but the Canadian got things going after that, reeling off an impressive three-fight win streak before he made his way back to the UFC.
After defeating George Roop in Jan. 2011 at UFC Fight for the Troops 2, Hominick got his shot at long-time champion Jose Aldo at UFC 129 in his home province of Ontario, Canada. Hominick showed tremendous heart as he battled to a five-round decision with Aldo with a giant hematoma on his forehead, but was unable to win over the judges in the end.
Weeks later, Hominick and his wife welcomed their first child and he has enjoyed his time as a new father since that date while preparing for his upcoming UFC 140 fight against Chan Sung Jung.
MMA Record: 14-6
Most recent fight: Lost to Jose Aldo at UFC 136
“So close, yet so far away” has been the story of Kenny Florian’s life since coming to the UFC as a cast-mate on The Ultimate Fighter 1. Remarkably, Florian actually competed as a middleweight, even notching a victory over future top 185-pound contender Chris Leben, before losing in the finals of the show to Diego Sanchez.
Florian would then make his move down to the welterweight division before dropping all the way to the freshly-created lightweight division where he would lose in each of his two championship opportunities against Sean Sherk and BJ Penn.
“Ken-Flo” finally opted to drop even further down to the featherweight division where he earned a victory over Diego Nunes before getting a title shot at Jose Aldo at UFC 136 which he—again—lost.
Florian has since announced that he will be moving back up to 155 pounds in the future, but no fight nor official return date has been announced.
For those wondering, Florian remains on our rankings as a featherweight until he officially makes his move back up to the lightweight division by actually competing there again.
MMA Record: 25-4-2
Most recent fight: Defeated George Roop at UFC 137
The most recent newcomer to the UFC featherweight division, Hatsu Hioki may also be ready to stake his claim as the best 145-pounder in all of MMA.
His unbelievable 13-1-1 record in his most recent 15 fights stemming back to 2007 includes victories over Ronnie Mann, Takeshi Inoue and Marlon Sandro while his only loss during that span came in a tightly-contested split decision loss to Michihiro Omigawa.
After dominating in Japan, Hioki took his talents overseas to compete with the best of the best in the UFC. He got things started successfully against a very tough opponent in George Roop at UFC 137, winning a split judges’ decision that night.
Hioki is now expected to fight Bart Palaszewski at UFC 144 in a fight where a victory may very well earn him a shot at the UFC featherweight title.
MMA Record: 11-0
Most recent fight: Defeated Rani Yahya at UFC 133
The current UFC featherweight No. 1 contender is 26-year-old Chad “Money” Mendes, who is set to get his shot at Jose Aldo in January 2012 at UFC 142.
A highly skilled former two-time NCAA All-American wrestler at California Polytechnic State University, Mendes has adapted his wrestling game to the sport of mixed martial arts in a way that very few have been able to do. His grinding style is very similar to that of some of the other top wrestlers in the sport like Jon Fitch and Phil Davis, but he is also capable of having very exciting fights and his stand-up is also always improving.
Mendes is a member of Team Alpha Male and trains with the likes of Urijah Faber, Joseph Benavidez and The Ultimate Fighter 14 runner-up TJ Dillashaw among other top featherweights and bantamweights. This constant pressure in the gym has helped Mendes rise to the top of the sport at a young age and he is the only fighter on the featherweight list who is undefeated as a professional so far.
MMA Record: 20-1
Most recent fight: Defeated Kenny Florian at UFC 136
The unquestioned king of the featherweight division, Jose Aldo has been making his claim as one of the top pound-for-pound fighters in the world ever since he violently crushed Mike Brown to become the WEC featherweight champion in Nov. 2009 at WEC 44.
Aldo’s striking is on par with anyone in the division and although he is not known for having the pedigree of some of the other top wrestlers in the division, his takedown defense has grown leaps and bounds in recent years. In addition to that, we recently learned that Aldo would be seeking help from one of the best wrestlers in all of MMA, Gray Maynard, in preparation for his upcoming bout against Chad Mendes at UFC 142.
Oh, and he’s also a Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt. Needless to say, this 145-pounder is the total package and it’s no wonder that he was a unanimous selection as the top featherweight in the sport among our panel at Bleacher Report MMA.
View all Bleacher Report MMA Rankings for December 2011