Another day, another strange and exciting UFC title fight announcement.

On Tuesday, the UFC announced that featherweight champion Jose Aldo would once again face a migrating lightweight for his 145-pound belt, with the challenge coming this time in the form of dangerous striker Anthony Pettis. According to reports, Pettis contacted UFC President Dana White after watching Aldo’s victory over Frankie Edgar (another former lightweight) on Saturday and asked for the bout with Aldo. Pettis was originally slated to face the winner of the Benson Henderson/Gilbert Melendez lightweight title-unification fight taking place in April, but opted for the match-up with Aldo because of the shorter timeline, according to the USA Today piece.

This marks the third time in four fights that Aldo will defend his belt against a fighter with little or no experience as a featherweight. First, he faced Kenny Florian after Florian had a grand total of one featherweight victory. After dispatching natural 145er Chad Mendes in the first round, he put his belt on the line against Edgar, who made his featherweight debut in Saturday’s title fight. Now, Aldo will take on Pettis, a guy who, like Edgar, has never fought at 145 before his title shot.

For some, particularly among the MMA purists out there, the Aldo/Pettis announcement probably comes with a dose of disappointment. After all, it would appear that the matchmaking choices in the last year-plus have rendered the featherweight rankings moot. Mendes, for example, is currently ranked second in The MMA Corner’s featherweight rankings and since his loss to Aldo has racked up two first-round knockout victories. Instead of another title shot, though, he’ll face the unranked Manny Gamburyan (1-3 in his last four fights) later this month. Beneath Mendes in the rankings is a list of other world-class featherweights that some would argue are probably more deserving of a title shot than Anthony Pettis. It would make more sense, the argument goes, to feed Aldo fighters from that group rather than trying to make superfights between him and fighters from outside the usual 145-pound rankings.

But let’s take a closer look at the fighters on that list and assess whether a match-up between one of them and Jose Aldo is better than the Aldo/Pettis fight we’ve been given.

Immediately below Mendes on The MMA Corner’s list is Pat Curran. While few doubt that the 18-4 veteran could provide Aldo with a bit of a challenge, he’s currently under contract with Bellator, so the likelihood of a fight with the UFC champion is low.

After Curran on our list is Ricardo Lamas. Perhaps more than any other person in The MMA Corner’s featherweight rankings, Lamas could present a strong argument for a title shot. He has won all four of his UFC fights, including three by stoppage. He defeated Cub Swanson, Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch, three guys who either are or have recently been part of the featherweight top 10. He finished Koch in impressive fashion in his most recent bout. Sure, a victory over Mendes would seal the deal for Lamas, but he’s certainly paid his dues to where he should at least be considered for a championship opportunity.

Other than Mendes and Lamas, though, the prospect list gets a little thin. Immediate below Lamas lies Chan-Sung Jung, who owns a nice little three-fight winning streak of his own. “The Korean Zombie” submitted fellow top-10 featherweight Dustin Poirier in his most recent fight, and he also recorded stoppage victories over former title contender Mark Hominick and the always-fun-to-watch Leonard Garcia. Jung would be an attractive title pick, if not for the presence of Lamas and Mendes in his way. He likely needs a win over one of those two to be seriously considered for a championship fight. The rest of the rankings are rounded out by fighters who either aren’t in the UFC or have been defeated by someone ranked above them, so really the only legitimate title challengers from within the featherweight division would be Mendes (who Aldo already defeated) or Lamas (who would at best be considered a fortunate contender if he was chosen to face Aldo next).

Rankings aside, one must also consider the other major factor Dana White and his partners take into account when choosing who will fight whom: marketability.

Anthony Pettis is a wrecking machine of a striker who is already ranked near the top of another division. Thirteen of his 16 wins have come by way of stoppage and he has only lost twice, both times by decision. The UFC can basically run the clips of his “Showtime Kick” against Benson Henderson and his nasty liver kick on Donald Cerrone on a loop along with Aldo’s various flying strike finishes in all of its promotional material. It has the potential to be one of the most explosive title fights in the history of the sport. The thing pretty much sells itself, and it certainly sounds much more attractive than Aldo/Mendes 2.

Some might still balk at the prospect of Aldo fighting yet another non-featherweight for the belt, but those people would do well to remember the sorts of questionably deserving opponents that Anderson Silva was forced to fight when the UFC decided to stick strictly to the rankings system. No one wants a repeat of Silva/Leites, least of all the folks in charge of the biggest promotion in MMA, so sometimes propriety must be sacrificed in the name of entertainment.

Photo: Jose Aldo (L) pushes off the fence to throw a punch (Esther Lin/MMA Fighting)

About The Author

Eric Reinert
Staff Writer

Eric Reinert has been writing about mixed martial arts since 2010. Outside the world of caged combat, Eric has spent time as a news reporter, speechwriter, campaign strategist, tech support manager, landscaper and janitor. He lives in Madison, Wis.