When the UFC adopted WEC's featherweights, the division lacked depth and lore. I'd shrug at the mention of the smaller weight classes.
Featherweight fighters were regarded as cute novelties. In suit, the Zuffa featherweight roster was considered shallow, dull, and extraneous by many UFC fanatics.
They were wrong.
Less then two years after the merger, UFC featherweights are creating a huge splash that defies their little bodies. They've sparkled under the UFC's prevailing banner.
The UFC featherweight journey began in cinematic fashion: Jose Aldo and Mark Hominick put on a wild show; one of the year's best fights. Yet the "Fight of the Year" candidate didn't suspend doubts about the division's future. The featherweight landscape would remain desolate for months.
UFC casuals saw the featherweights as alien midgets, among them only a few recognizable names. I remember some “fans”even contested the entertainment value of fun-sized warriors to the point of refusing to watch them.
Unknowns bred doubt. Questions swirled around the future of the newborn weight class.
Good thing it wasn't aborted.
Time passed. Rightful contenders arose from the proving grounds. Upon proper exposure, several of the original featherweights plucked from the WEC gained hordes of fans and enough popularity to headline shows. Meanwhile, Dana White's hunt for free agents didn't cease, as guys like Hatsu Hioki have kept the division fresh.
The WEC merger needed incubation time. Indeed, a healthy product has hatched. Let's bask in the triumph of the UFC's featherweight division:
Aldo has proven himself an exciting and marketable champion. His reign over 145 is long and oppressive - casual fans remember his name. He's etching out a shining star while directing attention towards featherweight MMA that only a dominant champ could demand. "Scarface" has been instrumental to the division's appeal.
Another important cog: “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung-Jung has bloomed into a fan favorite. The undead Korean brawls with no regard for life, so he's garnered a legion of Zombie fanatics. His stardom has helped unlock international markets and lure attention to the Octagon and to featherweight MMA.
The list of gems winds on: There's Jimy Hettes, unbeaten submission wizard; Ricardo Lamas, imposing grappler and striker; Erik Koch, strike-first youngster with wrestling credentials; Chad Mendes, wrestler whose work ethic sparkles; Charles Oliveira, daring finisher whose guard could choke a mule; Cub Swanson, evolving and resurgent veteran; Dustin Poirier, cagey and polished in all areas; Dennis Siver, formidable kick boxer; and Hatsu Hioki, Japanese champ with UFC gold in sight. There's plenty more worthy of mention, but you get it. A thick crop of talent is ripening.
Another perk of the featherweight division: Small lightweights have found comfort in dropping down—ask Charles Oliveira and Dennis Siver. They were dwarfed by larger lightweights. Remember how each was rendered a mere plaything by Donald Cerrone? Now they've found sanctuary at 145.
Since the lightweight division is teeming with impatient beasts, we'll keep seeing lightweights use the featherweight division as a restart button for their careers. I salivate at the buffet of cross-divisional fights within reason (I'm waiting for you, Frankie Edgar).
These are the formative years of 145. Aldo's reign is clear, but the pecking order is a murky tangle beneath him. Time will clear it up—the division is still an infant. There are countless match ups yet to unfold between these dynamos; match ups I wish I didn't have to wait for.
Here's to you, featherweights. Despite your stubby legs, you've come a long way in little time.