All About the Featherweights – UFC 240 Preview

UFC 240 is happening this Saturday when the organization returns to the province of Alberta, at the Rogers Place in Edmonton. The late-July card is decent, but may be a let-down to some fans at least as a pay-per-view, especially given the thrill that was the card earlier this month on July 6th. Notable match-ups include Arman Tsarukyan versus Olivier Aubin-Mercier, and Deiveson Figueiredo facing off against Alexandre Pantoja in the quite possibly saved flyweight division, but the three fights that I find myself invested in will all be taking place in the UFC’s featherweight divisions.

In the prelims, the Calgary-based “Mean” Hakeem Dawodu (9-1-1) is making his return, albeit on relatively short notice against Yoshinori Horie (8-1.) Admittedly, my interest in this match-up is entirely personal, as Dawodu is currently the only fighter from Calgary currently on the roster. Regardless of my own bias, this is an interesting fight. Both men currently possess one loss each, and are stylistically enthralling strikers. Horie is a veteran of Pancrase, making his UFC debut in hostile territory. All five of his total stoppage wins come via way of strikes. Dawodu is a Muay Thai specialist who has competed in both the UFC and the now-defunct WSOF, where he picked up a win over TUF and UFC veteran Steven Siler. He currently has a 2-1 record within the UFC after making his successful debut early last year. The fight does not have massive divisional stakes, but for both men, a win means climbing the daunting rankings of the UFC’s impressive 145 lbs division.

Jumping way forward to the co-main event of the evening, and to the opposite sex is a probable number one contender bout between former Strikeforce, Invicta and UFC featherweight champion Cris Justino, typically known by her legendary nickname “Cyborg”, against fellow former Invicta featherweight champion Felicia “Feenom” Spencer, who made her UFC debut earlier this year against another former Invicta featherweight champion Megan Anderson, where she tapped Anderson out at UFC Ottawa. 

Unlike the men’s featherweight division, the women’s featherweight division is lacking in both talent and numbers. Simply put, there are too few women competing at the weight class to make it all that interesting. This, along with the division’s rocky past, has made it the subject of speculation that it will be ended by the UFC within a reasonable amount of time. The inaugural championship fight was fought between Germaine de Randamie and Holly Holm at UFC 208 back in January of 2017, and while it wasn’t a bad fight, it was highly controversial. For a start, the shadow of Cyborg already loomed over the fight; the winner of the fight, and first champion was expected to make their first title defense against Cyborg. As it so happened, the winner of the belt, de Randamie, adamantly refused to fight her, citing past drug test results as a reason to not defend her belt against the consensus number one featherweight woman in the world. The result itself was also controversial, as de Randamie landed several late blows in between rounds to her opponent, leading many to think that the referee should have taken points away from her. At the end of the day, Cyborg would win the vacant belt against Tonya Evinger at UFC 214 half a year later, defend it twice against Holm and Yana Kunitskaya, before losing it to Amanda Nunes at UFC 232, who remains champion of the division to this day. Here is where the problem lies; de Randamie, Evinger, Holm, Kunitskaya and even the current champion Nunes most recently competed at bantamweight, all the women who have been involved in the title picture of the division in the past aside from Cyborg aren’t even fighting in the weight class.

The expectation for the fight between Cyborg and the Canadian Spencer is that Cyborg is going to do what Cyborg does to almost everyone, and if this passes, we’re back to square one. At the very least, a very improbable win by Spencer would mean that the division would have a genuine brand new contender that could raise some interest in it, but a fight with Nunes is absolutely an up-hill battle. On the other hand, if Cyborg meets expectations and dismantles Spencer as if it’s just another day at the office, that sets up a rematch between Nunes and Cyborg. In all likelihood, outside of Valentina Shevchenko, Cyborg probably possesses the best chance at beating the double champ. This fight between Cyborg and Spencer is just about the only fight you can make at this point, and as far as fights go, it’s not a horrible one. It’s just that even though this has the most stakes for the division as any other possible pairing, the consequences of the fight may be limited on the sheer basis of the division of which this fight is taking place in, and this doesn’t even bring into account the recent tensions between Cyborg and Dana White. There’s a good chance that Cyborg wins the fight, thus setting up a rematch between herself and Nunes, only for her to leave the organization, bringing the division back to square zero with little competition and no definitive contender for the strap.

Finally Getting Holloway-Edgar

Finally, the main event of the card is a fight that has been scheduled several times before, including at UFC 218 and UFC 222, between the reigning, and defending UFC featherweight champion and #6 pound-for-pound fighter in the world, Max Holloway, and former UFC lightweight champion and #4 ranked featherweight in the world Frankie Edgar. Popular opinion seems to be either against this fight, or just dismissive of it all together, and frankly, I disagree. While Alexander Volkanovski is the more worthy contender, it’s very likely he gets his shot at the belt anyways, with him likely facing the winner of Saturday’s main event on the upcoming UFC 243 card in Australia. Even if the UFC gave Volkanovski the shot instead of Edgar, it is unlikely he would have made it to Edmonton to fight given his sudden blood infection following his victory over Jose Aldo. In addition, as was aforementioned, this fight has been scheduled on multiple occasions yet has never gotten the chance to come to fruition for a multitude of reasons, and people seem to yet again forget just how good Frankie Edgar is. Edgar, since dropping to 145 in 2013 has only lost to Jose Aldo (twice) and to Brian Ortega, while getting wins over Charles Olivera, Cub Swanson (twice), Urijah Faber, Chad Mendes, Jeremy Stephens, and Yair Rodriguez, and that does not even include his resume at lightweight, where he was champion from 2010 to 2012. At this weight class he has only lost to one of the greatest fighters of all time and the most recent challenger to Holloway’s title, and to deny him this one final shot at reclaiming gold within the organization (he is 37, after all) would both deny him a chance at legacy and keep the division and champion unnecessarily stalled.

For the reasons outlined above, I also think that this fight is more competitive than some fans give it credit for. Holloway, the champion, is understandably and rightfully the favourite leading to the championship fight, but some oddsmakers have Holloway as high as a -400 favourite. In addition, as of writing this, fans on Tapology favour Holloway by 91%, compared to just 9% for Edgar, and if there has been one defining theme of Frankie Edgar’s career, it has been him pulling through when no one believes he can do it. Obviously, the odds don’t actually change how the fight will go, and Max Holloway doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy to let all of the praise get to his head, but this is absolutely his fight to lose.

As for what this fight means for the champion, he is unique among the other divisional kings and queens in that he is coming off of a loss to Dustin Poirier, albeit, the loss was at lightweight, a division of which Holloway was competing in for the first time in his stint in the UFC. The decision in the Fight of the Night-winning main event was not controversial, but Holloway remained competitive throughout the bout. The fact that the fight was at a heavier weight class, was thoroughly exciting and competitive, and that Holloway took the loss with humility is why the loss carries very little weight in how people perceive Holloway. Practically speaking, the only change for Holloway was him being bumped from #4 pound-for-pound to #6. A loss to an older Frankie Edgar means loss of his title, the ultimate achievement in the sport, but who’s to say that he wouldn’t climb back if he were to lose? Max Holloway is just 27 years of age, has great physical attributes for his weight class, and is exceptionally skilled, though still learning and improving. A loss would be a setback that he could absolutely overcome.

This fight may play out as another day in the office for Max Holloway; he may win every round easily, but he cannot go into this fight thinking like that. At the end of the day, I do think that this fight is more about Edgar than it is about Holloway. Edgar is nearing the end of the road of his career, and after multiple wars, knockdowns and brutalized noses, Edgar suffered his first ever loss via finish to Brian Ortega last March. His time left at the very least at top in MMA is ever shortening, and this is his final shot to climb the mountain. A loss for Holloway does not mark the end for his career, but for Edgar, a loss could very well be the final nail in the coffin.

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