Featherweight has, in recent years, become one of MMA’s premier divisions. Before 2010, the UFC did not include the 145-pound division, leaving the early stars to make their names in promotions like Shooto and WEC before the world’s biggest MMA stage allowed men like Jose Aldo, Conor McGregor and Max Holloway to become worldwide combat stars.
But who is the best featherweight of all time? The CBS Sports experts sat down, debated and voted to determine the top 10 145-pound fighters in the history of the sport with the intention of asking that very questions.
Let’s take a look at the results of those votes — cast by Brent Brookhouse, Brian Campbell, Jack Crosby and Brandon Wise — and stay tuned in the coming weeks as we work our way through every weight class to determine who are the best fighters of all time.
10. Alexandre Franca “Pequeno” Nogueira: For several years, Pequeno was widely considered the sport’s premier fighter at featherweight. He won the Shooto lightweight title — which had a weight limit of 143 pounds — in his third professional fight in September 1999. He would retain that title through six title defenses, losing the occasional non-title fight along the way. In June 2008, after his career had started to decline, Pequeno fought his lone fight in the United States, losing to Jose Aldo at WEC 34 and failing a drug test after the bout.
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9. Hatsu Hioki: Nicknamed “The Child of Shooto,” Hioki made his pro debut with the promotion at the age of 19 in 2002 and quickly established himself as a featherweight legend in the making. The Japanese star went on to claim world titles with Shooto, Sengoku and TKO while also competing in Pride. Hioki built his record to 24-4-2 ahead of his 2011 UFC debut and finished 3-5 inside the Octagon after winning his first two.
8. Chad Mendes: When you look at Mendes’ 18-5 record, it’s clear he put together a high-level career at featherweight. But a closer look at the five losses show that he has only lost to truly elite fighters. Mendes lost to Jose Aldo (twice), Conor McGregor and Alexander Volkanovski — three fighters who ranked ahead of him as all-time greats. He also has a loss to Frankie Edgar, who came close to cracking the top 10 featherweight list and will absolutely be on our list of top 10 lightweights of all time.
7. Alexander Volkanovski: Having just captured the UFC title in December by disarming Max Holloway, the Australian remains very much active in authoring his eventual place on this list. Among his eight wins inside the Octagon, however, the trio he authored over the span of 12 months — retiring Mendes via TKO, flustering Jose Aldo via wide decision and his upset of Holloway — speak for themselves. Volkanovski’s cerebral qualities alone suggest he will remain among the elite for years to come.
6. Patricio “Pitbull” Freire: Pitbull holds the spot as the top featherweight to never have fought in the UFC’s Octagon. He has two featherweight tournament wins in Bellator — and is in the middle of another run. Pitbull is a two-time (and current) featherweight champion for the promotion with five successful title defenses in his career. While it doesn’t factor into his featherweight ranking, he is also the current lightweight champion in Bellator and holds wins over almost everyone of note to have ever fought at 145 for the promotion.
5: Mike Thomas Brown: His evolution to becoming one of the sport’s most respected coaches with American Top Team has somewhat overshadowed just how great the tough-as-nails “MTB” truly was in his prime. Despite going just 2-3 in the UFC until his 2013 retirement, Brown was among the best 145-pound fighters in the world during a five-year stretch from 2004-09 in which he went 13-1. A pair of WEC title wins over Urijah Faber at the peak of his stardom certainly stand out, as did wins over Yves Edwards, Jeff Curran and Leonard Garcia.
4. Urijah Faber: Faber was, for years, the face of the featherweight division. After winning the WEC championship in March 2006, he successfully defended the belt five times while establishing himself as the promotion’s biggest star. Even after losing the title to Brown, Faber would continue to operate as an elite featherweight while being unable to win back the belt in a rematch with Brown and a shot at then-champ Jose Aldo before moving to bantamweight. Faber was the man who helped shape the perspective of lighter weight classes in America, and that gave him a slight edge over Brown.
3. Conor McGregor: The biggest star in UFC history fought just seven times as a featherweight over a three-year span that began with his 2013 debut. The carnage he left behind him, however, and the manner in which he boldly predicted each victory while establishing his “Mystic Mac” persona gives him a legitimate case for the top spot on this list. Don’t agree? Revisit his one-punch knockout of Jose Aldo in 13 seconds that sent shockwaves across the sport. Wins over Mendes, Dustin Poirier and Holloway only added to his legend as a 145-pound destroyer.
2. Max Holloway: While the UFC tried to push Holloway as “the consensus greatest featherweight of all-time” during his title run, he came up just short in our rankings. Holloway carried a 14-fight win streak at featherweight that included winning the interim and undisputed titles at 145 pounds. Holloway does hold two wins over Aldo, though those came after “Peak Aldo” and lost to McGregor early in the Octagon careers of both men. But his overall resume remains strong enough to put him ahead of the Irish superstar, though not quite strong enough to overtake the Brazilian.
1. Jose Aldo: Every great era must come to an end and, yes, it is true Aldo dropped consecutive title bouts to Holloway, the man ranked directly below him on this list, to pass the 145-pound torch in 2017. The truth still remains that the Brazilian icon is the greatest featherweight to ever grace this sport. A truly complete fighter, Aldo’s consistency was only equaled by his toughness. Not only did UFC dissolve WEC and formally create the division largely because of him, Aldo went nearly a full decade without losing. His 18-bout win streak from 2005 to 2015 is the stuff of legend, which included nine title defenses and wins over Nogueira, Cub Swanson, Brown, Faber, Kenny Florian, Mendes (twice), “The Korean Zombie” Chan Sung Jung and Frankie Edgar (twice).