By Adam Martin
One of the best fights this entire weekend, and one of the most important in regards to the featherweight title picture, is the TUF 22 Finale main event between Chad Mendes and Frankie Edgar. They meet in an epic clash of two of the best in the world at 145 pounds, a fight that fans have been asking and waiting for ever since Edgar decided to make the move down to featherweight three years ago.
The former UFC Lightweight Champion Edgar lost a razor-thin decision to divisional kingpin Jose Aldo in his featherweight debut, and ever since then he’s been trying to get a rematch. Since losing to Aldo, Edgar has gone 4-0 in the Octagon, with wins over Charles Oliveira, BJ Penn, Cub Swanson, and Urijah Faber. He’s into his mid-30s now, but he might be the best fighter he has ever been, and if it wasn’t for a certain someone named Conor McGregor, Edgar may very well have received his second 145-pound title shot already.
Unlike Edgar, who has had only one chance to win the featherweight title, Mendes has actually had – count ‘em – three title fights at 145 lbs. In his first title fight at UFC 142 he was brutally knocked out by Aldo. But at that time Mendes was just a wrestler, and the loss to Aldo taught him he needed to learn how to strike, and with Duane Ludwig’s help, Mendes improved his striking and reeled off five straight wins in order to earn a rematch with Aldo at UFC 179.
While Mendes made the rematch with Aldo close, he ultimately lost a decision. But with a bounce-back KO win over Ricardo Lamas, Mendes was the first guy the UFC called to fight McGregor for the interim title when Aldo was pulled from UFC 189. Taking the fight on two weeks’ notice, Mendes did not have the gas to go all the way with McGregor, and after a quick start to the fight he was TKO’d in brutal fashion for his third loss in three UFC title fights.
All of that is in the past now, though. It’s a different landscape at the moment, and both fighters – despite losing in their bids to become the UFC Featherweight Champion in the past – have a good chance now to get another shot at it, the second for Edgar, and the fourth for Mendes.
With a win at the TUF 22 Finale, Edgar is expected to fight the winner of Aldo vs. McGregor, and if Mendes wins, he’ll at least be right there in the title talks. Of course, what happens in the main event of UFC 194 matters – a lot. If Aldo wins, then the winner of Edgar vs. Mendes is almost assuredly going to get a title shot. But if McGregor wins, that makes it more interesting, because then the UFC might feel obliged to give the long-reigning champ Aldo a rematch, meaning Edgar or Mendes might have to win yet another fight to get another crack at the belt. Ultimately, though, it really depends on exactly how those fights go down.
Both Edgar and Mendes are championship-level fighters, and a win by one over the other should put the victor right into the title mix against the Aldo vs. McGregor winner. Edgar has been waiting a long time for another shot at the belt, Mendes not so long, but both deserve to fight for the title, so we’ll have to wait and see how the weekend shakes out to see what the next title fight at 145 lbs is. But regardless of what happens, when you have Aldo, McGregor, Mendes and Edgar in a mini-tournament for the featherweight title, it doesn’t really get more exciting for fans.
TUF 22 Finale
• Frankie Edgar vs. Chad Mendes
UFC Fight Night 80 might not have the big names of UFC 194, but it’s still a very solid card on paper and one well worth watching if you are looking for future UFC title prospects. I’m expecting big performances from these talented youngsters, but also some stinkers, making this Thursday-night fight card an intriguing watch even if it’s not getting much love from the general MMA fanbase.
The Ultimate Fighter 22 Finale: Edgar vs. Mendes takes place on December 11, 2015 at Chelsea at The Cosmopolitan in Las Vegas, Nevada.