It’s no secret that the lighter weight classes (read: WEC weight classes) haven’t taken off in popularity like the UFC planned. But that might change when UFC 176 goes live.

That’s because the two men headlining the card are not only two of the best featherweights in the world, but also represent two of the best fighters from their collective gyms. UFC featherweight champion Jose Aldo fights out of the Nova Uniao camp, and his opponent, Chad Mendes, is coming out of Team Alpha Male. The two have met once before, but that fight was marred by controversy, as Aldo got away with a blatant cage grab before finishing the fight in dramatic fashion. So, why should fans expect anything different with these two facing off again?

Well, for one, Mendes is a far more dangerous challenger now than he was in their previous meeting. Since the loss to Aldo, which marked the first defeat of Mendes’ professional career, the Team Alpha Male fighter has been on an absolute tear. Mendes has strung together five consecutive wins, with four of those coming by knockout or TKO. In their first fight, Mendes was a fairly one-dimensional fighter. Now, with a striking game to back up his already potent grappling attack, Mendes is without question the best featherweight in the world outside of Aldo.

But fans won’t just buy into this upcoming title fight because Mendes has looked better. They’ll buy into it because, for perhaps the first time in Aldo’s UFC career, the champion’s next fight is something similar to a grudge match. It started with Team Alpha Male putting Renan Barao’s name on a clipboard of people signing up for a Duane Ludwig seminar. Aldo didn’t take kindly to it, and Mendes responded by letting the Brazilian know he wasn’t just showing up for a paycheck at UFC 176.

Fans have had little to care about in the smaller weight classes, outside of what the fighters bring once the cage door closes. For some, that’s more than enough. But for the newer casual fans tuning in from time to time, it’s not enough of a sell to say Aldo is one of the most technical fighters in the world. They need an emotional reason to be invested in paying to watch him fight. Having Mendes and Aldo trade verbal jabs is a great way to finally get some buzz going in the lighter weight classes.

It also helps that the fighters are representing two of the best gyms that have smaller-weight fighters under their roof. Aldo and Barao headline the Nova Uniao side, while Mendes and newly crowned UFC bantamweight champ T.J. Dillashaw head up the Alpha Male side. With all four fighters either just entering their prime or still in the middle of it, this has the makings to be a great extended rivalry. Fans of yesteryear can reminisce about the great battles between Chute Boxe and Brazilian Top Team from the Pride days as evidence that both fighters and fans love a good gym-vs.-gym battle.

Dillashaw shaking up the bantamweight division was a nice start, but Aldo and Mendes can maintain that momentum by finally giving the fight some personality. Even if it it’s all just for show and everyone will have a “bro-hug” after the fight, at least they would’ve likely gained more eyeballs than the smaller guys previously pulled in.

About The Author

Kyle Symes
Staff Writer

Kyle is a recent graduate of Aurora University, where he obtained a Bachelor's in Communications. Kyle resides in Illinois, just outside of Chicago. He played baseball and football in both high school and college, but is now focusing on an amateur MMA career.