The featherweight division, as defined by the unified rules of MMA via the Association of Boxing Commissions, constitutes of fighters who are between 135 and 145 pounds.
In Japan, organizations like Shooto were among the first to form a weight class for 145 pounders in the 1990s, which they classified as lightweight. The division not only gave a platform to smaller Japanese fighters but also featured international crossovers that helped build the names of Brazilians like Alexandre Franca Nogueira.
In North America, organizations like the WEC and King of the Cage were doing their part to help pioneer these lighter divisions in the early 2000s – though KOTC technically classified their featherweights as bantamweights due to their division structures.
The WEC, in particular, found some real success with its featherweight division thanks in large part to poster boy Urijah Faber, who would go on to be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame.
This is still one of the best MMA promos ever.
Urijah Faber vs. Jens Pulver 1 at WEC 34: pic.twitter.com/AuRIUMMtYu
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) July 4, 2023
Aside from being a great face for the California-based promotion, Faber ended up putting on memorable performances with fighters like Jens Pulver and Mike Brown that helped build the division to what we see today in the UFC (who, of course, absorbed the WEC’s featherweight fighters back in 2010).
Limiting myself to five “great” featherweight fights is too general of a category for an already impossible ask, so I’m instead focusing on top five featherweight WARS.
Whether we’re talking about two-way technical affairs or barnyard brawls, only competitive, back-and-forth fights are eligible here. As usual, these lists reflect my personal tastes and biases and are not meant to serve as some ultimate authority. That said, I feel very strongly about not only my list but also my honorable mentions at the end.
So, without further ado …
Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice at UFC 157 (Feb. 23, 2013)
Dennis Bermudez vs. Matt Grice at UFC 157 pic.twitter.com/LEWhmHzAKe
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) July 3, 2023
Bermudez, who came out with the fury (though not necessarily the form) of a prime Roberto Duran, was still in the process of putting his wrestle-boxing stylings together under Keith Trimble and company.
Grice, on the other hand, was a deceptively strong and skilled featherweight who was clearly hitting a new level and coming into his own in this fight.
The contest ended in a split decision that rightfully went to Bermudez, but it was unfortunately the last time we would see Grice, whose MMA career – spookily akin to his college wrestling career – sadly got cut short due to a devastating car accident.
Dustin Poirier vs. Chan Sung Jung at UFC on Fuel TV 3 (May 15, 2012)
Good Night gift…
The Korean Zombie VS. Dustin Poirierpic.twitter.com/UZNKdQcFjb
— Sal (@BuSeloh) May 29, 2023
Poirier, who closed as a sizeable favorite over Jung, was coming off some big wins that included a stoppage over Max Holloway and a hype-train derailment of Josh Grispi.
Jung, however, had already shown glimpses of improvement since coming over from the WEC and was ready for war in every phase.
Poirier may not be near his final form at this stage of his career, but his all-action style made him the perfect dance partner for the opportunistic counters of “The Korean Zombie.”
If you somehow still haven’t seen this fight, please remedy that.
Chan Sung Jung vs. Leonard Garcia 1 at WEC 48 (April 24, 2010)
Speaking of Chan Sung Jung, there’s no way that his first fight with Leonard Garcia wasn’t going to make this list.
It may not be the most technical affair in the world, but this is the kind of fight that can bring casual and hardcore fans together or stop the action that’s taking place in a room.
In fact, I remember watching this fight live at a poker party where, initially, it was only me and a fellow fight fan in front of a TV watching the first round. However, by Round 3, all table games had stopped as everyone eventually just gravitated toward the insane action that Jung and Garcia provided.
Leonard Garcia defeated Chan Sung Jung via split decision (29-28, 28-29, 29-28) in one of the best fights in WEC history, 10 years ago today.
— JReal (@BloodyCanvasJon) April 24, 2020
Despite many (including myself) believing that the decision should’ve gone to Jung, “The Korean Zombie” would end up getting his revenge at UFC Fight Night 24.
Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin at WEC 49 (June 20, 2010)
This was quite the all-Canadian affair between Mark Hominick and Yves Jabouin.
Just two months after a successful featherweight show-out at WEC 48, the famed California promotion took its show up north to Canada and delivered an incredible fight that was eight years in the making.
Jabouin, who trained out of famed Tristar gym in Montreal, was a diverse striker who was as explosive as he was skilled.
Unfortunately for the Haitian-Canadian, Ontario’s Hominick was also a skilled kickboxer who trained under the late, great Shawn Tompkins and seemed to have a knack for besting skilled strikers named Yves.
Fight Vault Flashback: Mark Hominick vs. Yves Jabouin
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) March 23, 2020
From a sweet “Final Countdown” walkout to back-and-forth counters and liver shots, this fight has it all.
Jose Aldo vs. Chad Mendes 2 at UFC 179 (Oct. 25, 2014)
As stated in my rankings of Aldo’s UFC and WEC fights, this meeting between Mendes and the Brazilian legend should be atop any list it finds itself on.
UFC 179, October 25th 2014
Aldo Mendes 2
Arguably the best UFC Featherweight title fight and one of the best fights of all time.
— Ocelot MMA (@Ocelot_MMA) December 2, 2021
Although this is a top-tier technical affair that saw Aldo forced to adjust to Mendes’ heat-seeking left hook, it’s also a fantastic five-round war that ages like fine wine in a division that only continues to deliver.
This contest also carries one of my all-time favorite MMA commentary moments from Brian Stann.
And the best Brian Stann line: “This is the danger when you wanna make the champ work; this is how he works.” pic.twitter.com/LX3DsLwYI3
— Dan Tom (@DanTomMMA) June 7, 2023
Aldo might lose some steam in featherweight GOAT arguments due to his head-to-head losses to Max Holloway and Alexander Volkanovski, but it’s crazy to look through this article to see that the legendary Brazilian owns victories over a decent portion of the names mentioned – including fighters like Nogueira, who date back to the 90s.
Regardless of what your list looks like, there’s no arguing that the future of featherweight continues to look bright.
Shane Burgos vs. Josh Emmett at UFC on ESPN 11; Cub Swanson vs. Doo Ho Choi at UFC 206; Charles Oliveira vs. Nik Lentz 2 at Ultimate Fight Night 67; Doo Ho Choi vs. Shoji Maruyama at DEEP: Cage Impact 2; Salman Zhamaldaev vs. Marat Balaev at ACA 93; and anything involving the love triangle in Bellator between Patricio Freire, Daniel Straus and Pat Curran.