A Look at the Crowded UFC Featherweight Title Picture

Duane FinleyContributor IFebruary 16, 2013

It was featherweight division fury today in London as Cub Swanson and Dustin Poirier squared off in the co-main event of UFC on Fuel TV 7.

Two of the best fighters in the 145-pound weight class traded leather, kicks and knees in a "Fight of the Night" worthy battle. When the smoke cleared, Swanson's hand was raised, and the 28-year-old collected his fourth consecutive victory. By defeating Poirier, the Jackson/Winkeljohn-trained fighter now joins a crowded scene in the divisional upper-tier of the featherweight division.

It will be interesting to see how everything plays out heading into the summer as a collection of featherweight contenders set out to take their next step towards championship gold.

A Grinder's Paradise Coming to San Jose

With champion Jose Aldo set to throw down with surging lightweight-turned-featherweight Anthony Pettis in August, upcoming 145-pound tilts are going to shape the future in the divisional title race.

The first matchup to come under the spotlight will take place at UFC on Fox 7, when former number one contender Chad Mendes tangles with human live wire Clay Guida. "Money" has earned back-to-back victories since suffering a first-round knockout loss to Aldo at UFC 142—"The Carpenter" recently earned a split-decision nod over Hatsu Hioki in his featherweight debut.

Mendes was originally slated to face Manny Gamburyan at UFC 157 next weekend in Anaheim. Unfortunately for the Team Alpha Male fighter, "The Anvil" suffered an injury and was forced to withdraw from the bout. With little time to find a quality opponent for Mendes, the UFC made the decision to pull Mendes from the card and save him for a later date.

The situation may ultimately prove to be a blessing in disguise for Mendes. As game a fighter as Gamburyan has proven to be, the TUF alum is nowhere to be found in the Top 10 rankings of the division. Facing Guida, who is a former contender in the lightweight division, will draw much more attention than a bout with Gamburyan—it will also provide Mendes the stage to prove he deserves another shot at the featherweight crown.

The opportunity is equally huge for Guida. The Chicago native vacated the 155-pound fold in hopes of making traction in the featherweight division. While his performance against Hioki has drawn its fair share of criticism, a win over Mendes would catapult Guida into the title picture.

Two of the division's strongest wrestlers will collide on April 7 in San Jose with the winner staying in the hunt and the loser getting reshuffled.

One More Step for Ricardo Lamas

When the news of Aldo versus Pettis came across the MMA media headlines, Ricardo Lamas was left shaking his head. "The Bully" has been on a tear through the featherweight division as he's knocked off three of the top competitors in his weight class.

The 30-year-old's most recent performance resulted in a flat-out destruction of former number one contender Erik Koch at UFC on Fox 6. It took Lamas less than two rounds to break one of the division's most talented young fighters in what was undoubtedly his most impressive performance to date.

The victory of "New Breed" appeared to bring Lamas's hopes for a title opportunity front and center. But, after Pettis dropped down and his fight with the Brazilian phenom became a reality, Lamas was pushed aside. With the bout between Aldo and Pettis coming in the fall, waiting around is apparently not something the Chicago native is interested in.

During a recent exchange with Mendes on Twitter, Lamas stated he has a bout lined up in May. While his opponent is yet to be announced, it is clear Lamas will have to earn another victory before his long-awaited title opportunity comes to fruition.

A Journey Into the Hypothetical

Outside of Mendes versus Guida and Lamas's projected date in May, what happens next in the divisional race is anyone's guess.

Swanson's victory over Poirier tonight in London puts him in a position to get a top-ranked opponent in his next outing—with several options available, it will be interesting to see who the UFC lines up for the Palm Springs native.

Swanson doesn't appear to have any injuries following today's dustup with "The Diamond", which would likely mean he could be looking at a June/July return. That timeline would match him up perfectly with Chan Sung Jung—a dance with "The Korean Zombie" is one Swanson has been asking for since last year.

Another fighter to watch in his next turn will be Frankie Edgar. "The Answer" is coming off a loss to Aldo at UFC 156, and the former lightweight champion will be hungry to gain some traction in his new division. When Edgar dropped down to 145-pounds, he immediately became one of the best featherweights in the UFC fold. While he came up short against Aldo, Edgar's performance backed up the notion that he deserves to be in the upper-tier at 145-pounds.

There has been no talk of when the Toms River native will return to the cage. Yet, with the race for contention heating up and Edgar's desire to reclaim championship gold, the sooner would seem to be the better.

While other names are ruling the current featherweight conversation, a new entry into the mix is Nik Lentz. Since dropping down to 145-pounds, Lentz has won back-to-back fights and looked impressive in the process. "The Carny" has been criticized for less than entertaining performances in the past, but both of his outings in the lighter weight class have the 28-year-old's stock at an all-time high. The Minnesota-based fighter steam rolled Diego Nunes in his most recent showing at UFC on FX 7, and the victory should earn him a high-profile opponent in his next fight.