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State of the UFC Featherweights

November is a month without any title fights, which makes it a good time to take a long view of the future title picture in each weight class. Today we look at the featherweight division.

The best fighter making the transition from World Extreme Cagefighting into the UFC will be Jose Aldo, the featherweight champion who belongs in the debate about the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. Getting Aldo bigger in front of a bigger audience will be a big step forward for American MMA.

Next title fight:
The first featherweight title fight in UFC history will take place on January 1, 2011, when Aldo defends his belt against Josh Grispi. Grispi is 14-1, his only loss was four years ago, and he's been absolutely destroying people lately, finishing his last seven fights in an average of 1 minute, 27 seconds. He's a great young fighter, but Aldo is a huge step up in quality of competition.

Key fights to watch:
1. Chad Mendes vs. Javier Vazquez, WEC 52, November 11: The undefeated Mendes would be a natural choice as the next UFC No. 1 featherweight contender to take on the Aldo-Grispi winner. But first he'll have to get past Vazquez, who's very dangerous on the ground and has a 15-4 record, with all four losses coming in close decisions.

2. Erik Koch vs. Francisco Rivera, WEC 52, November 11: Koch is a 22-year-old up-and-comer with a very good ground game, while Rivera is a little-known featherweight who's gone 5-0 while fighting on smaller shows and will make his WEC debut against Koch. I don't see either one of them as being next in line for Aldo or Grispi, but the winner could be in the mix a year from now.

Others in the title mix:
Mark Hominick was rumored to be in contention to fight Aldo before Grispi got the nod, so it would make sense for Hominick to get the first crack at the Aldo-Grispi winner. Hominick was choked out by Grispi in the first round of their 2008 fight, but he's on a four-fight winning streak since then.

After Hominick and the winners of the fights mentioned above, the new UFC featherweight division won't have many fighters who could be sold as credible threats to Aldo, since he's already thoroughly dominated the likes of Manny Gamburyan and Mike Brown.

Potential breakout fighter: More than any other weight class, featherweight is where the UFC could benefit from an infusion of talent from other promotions. My first choice would be Sengoku's Marlon Sandro, but he and Aldo are teammates who won't fight each other, so it probably doesn't make sense for the UFC to go after him.

An interesting candidate for some big UFC fights in 2011 would be Hatsu Hioki, whose height and reach and well-rounded style would make him a tough match-up for anyone at 145 pounds. Other candidates for future WEC featherweight title fights include Dream's Bibiano Fernandes, Hiroyuki Takaya and Michihiro Omigawa or, perhaps down the road, Bellator's Joe Warren.

And finally, some 155-pounders from the UFC will move down to 145 now that there's no less exposure at featherweight, and we'll get to see if any establish themselves as stars of the lower weight. Mark Bocek, Mac Danzig, Clay Guida, Jim Miller, Cole Miller and Joe Stevenson are all probably capable of dropping 10 pounds, and all of them could add some excitement to the 145-pound division. For that matter, if lightweight champion Frank Edgar loses his belt to Gray Maynard, I wouldn't be surprised if Edgar moves down as well.

Predicted champion at end of 2011: Jose Aldo

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