With Bellator getting its sixth season underway, and Pat Curran beating Joe Warren to become the promotion's featherweight champion, take a minute to consider just how much Curran's profile has risen in the mixed martial arts world since he signed with Bellator two years ago.
Curran originally entered the promotion for its Season 2 lightweight tournament, and at the time he was a little-known fighter whom people figured was just a throw-in for a tournament that was expected to anoint Roger Huerta as the No. 1 contender for champion Eddie Alvarez. Instead, Curran beat Huerta on the way to winning the tournament.
Although Curran lost his title fight against Alvarez, he then moved down to featherweight for last summer's Bellator tournament, and he was even more impressive at 145 pounds. His brutal knockouts of Marlon Sandro and Joe Warren in his last two fights have been extraordinary, and he has now firmly established himself as one of the truly elite featherweights in MMA.
So where does he rank? Find out below.
Top 10 Featherweights in Mixed Martial Arts
(Number in parentheses is the fighter's previous ranking.)
1. Jose Aldo (1): The champion is so far ahead of the pack that the UFC isn't quite sure what to do with him: UFC President Dana White wanted Frankie Edgar to move down to featherweight and challenge Aldo, but Edgar didn't want to do it. It's still not clear who Aldo will face next, but it is clear that he'll be heavily favored.
2. Hatsu Hioki (2): Hioki left Japan as Sengoku's champion and has now improved to 2-0 in the UFC. He's the most likely challenger for Aldo, although the UFC's hesitance to put that fight together suggests they question whether Hioki is ready.
3. Pat Curran (4): One of the many reasons to love Curran is that he is still only 24 years old -- younger than Aldo. He's only going to get better, and he may some day be the best featherweight in the world, period.
4. Chad Mendes (3): Mendes suffered a tough loss to Aldo in January, but with his wrestling prowess he can take down and control almost anyone else at 145 pounds. I could see him winning a whole lot of decisions and becoming the Jon Fitch of the featherweight division.
6. Dustin Poirier (8): Poirier's May 15 main event against Chan Sung Jung could give the UFC its next featherweight title contender. Poirier is now 4-0 since moving into the UFC featherweight division and coming off a great submission win over Max Holloway in February.
7. Chan Sung Jung (9): The Korean Zombie has a huge opportunity against Poirier. He's already beloved by hard-core fans but fighting in a main event will give him a big chance to get the UFC's promotional muscle behind him, and a chance to earn a shot against Aldo.
8. Tatsuya Kawajiri (7): Kawajiri earned his 30th pro win on New Year's Eve and has now earned two very impressive wins since dropping down to featherweight. The only problem is the Japanese MMA scene has dried up to such an extent that there aren't many good opponents for him.
10. Charles Oliveira (NR): Dropping down to featherweight was a great move for Oliveira. His calf slicer submission of Eric Wisely was one of the best submissions of the year so far, and with his height and at age 22 he has a great future in the featherweight division.