Featherweight is a division where several men can lay a claim to being the greatest to ever do it. First of all, you have the Brazilian King, Jose Aldo who utterly dominated the featherweight division since its inception. Then you have the man who took Aldo’s place as the long-reigning monarch of 145lbs, Max Holloway. The last and most recent candidate to be added to the possible GOAT list is current featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski.
This list will look at several variables such as fighting styles, standard of competition faced as well as legacies of each fighter in order to determine who can be considered the GOAT at this moment in time.
Who is the Featherweight GOAT?
Fighting Style – Jose Aldo
The King of Rio was infamous for his electric striking skills. Preferring to keep things on the feet, unlike many of his countrymen at the time, Aldo utilised a wide variety of strikes all wielded with pinpoint accuracy and to devastating effect. Time and time again Aldo delivered highlight reel knockouts, such as his finishes against Chad Mendes, Cub Swanson and Jeremy Stephens to name but a few. Few have shown as much skill and variety in their striking repertoire as the former featherweight champion. Along with having otherworldly striking abilities, Aldo possessed a seriously high level of grappling and had among the highest percentage of takedown defence during his time in the UFC. He would be more than capable of outstriking almost all his opponents on the feet and they would never be able to take him down to the mat. Essentially the perfect game plan for almost every fight he participated in.
Fighting Style – Max Holloway
If we were to describe Max Holloway in a word, that word would have to be relentless. Holloway is truly dogged in his approach to fights. A striker by nature, he differs greatly from the likes of Jose Aldo and uses a heavily boxing-orientated style.
Though Holloway’s biggest weapon is perhaps not his fists but instead his gas tank. He has the power that very few fighters have. Something that allows him to maintain a ridiculously high pace throughout the duration of the fight. While not possessing knockout power, Holloway has been successful in simply swarming his opponents.
A style that can be evidenced by his ownership of both records for most strikes landed and most significant strikes landed. In both cases significantly ahead of 2nd place. His insane cardio is further complemented by his insane durability and out of his 7 losses, not a single one has come from a KO. It would probably be reasonable to assume that Holloway is in contention for the most strikes taken record as well as landed.
Fighting Style – Alexander Volkanovski
Volkanovski is simply powerful. His stature to his striking to his grappling is all just so powerful. Primarily a striker, Volkanovski has displayed an excellent technical ability in his game and transitions beautifully between grappling and on the feet work. He’s more than capable of landing big shots in a wrestling scramble or dishing out some ground and pound.
He is equally as proficient as simply moving around the octagon and doing continuous damage with a jab. He has shown that his cardio is among the most elite in not only the division but quite possibly the entire organisation. Volkanovski is simply good at everything and his style of fighting has been hugely successful in completely nullifying his opponent’s strengths, leaving them at his mercy.
In regards to competition, all three have faced very similar problems. Perhaps the biggest difference between Aldo and the others on this list is due to the fact that Aldo was competing much earlier on in the lifespan of MMA against the pioneers of the lower weight divisions particularly in the WEC days. Yet eventually of course there was quite a considerable bit of overlap in terms of opponents faced for all three.
All of these men faced the very best of their division during their time as champion and there is not one particular individual who can be said to have taken an easy route or path to the title. Perhaps it is worth drawing attention to the early career of Max Holloway simply to commend the Hawaiian. At one point Holloway was the youngest fighter on the roster and signed to the UFC in only 5th pro fight. His early years are littered with names who would go on to become some of the biggest in the entire sport. These include Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor and Charles Oliveira.
In fact, all three individuals have fought each other. With Holloway defeating Aldo twice and Volkanovski defeating both Aldo once and Holloway thrice. This creates an interesting lineage of sorts where it appears the title of GOAT is almost getting passed down through the ages and perhaps in the next generation of fighters one may be Holloway and Volkanovski.
Certainly an interesting aspect of the GOAT conversation, legacy is subject to change dramatically after a single fight or event. The only fighter out of the three who is no longer active is Jose Aldo so his legacy is cemented right now.
An astonishing seven defences of the UFC belt as well as two of the WEC strap puts him far ahead as the longest reigning champion. An 18-fight win streak and almost a decade of being undefeated truly made him feel like an invincible fighter who has just a step ahead of everyone else in the division.
During his first title reign, Aldo defended his belt against the likes of Chad Mendes, Frankie Edgar, Chan Sung Jung, Ricardo Lamas and Urijah Faber. Eventually, Aldo would famously be knocked out by trash talking Irishman Conor McGregor in just 13 seconds at UFC 194. McGregor would later leave the featherweight division and Aldo would regain the title beating Frankie Edgar at UFC 200.
It is in his first defence of his second title reign that he would lose the belt to Max Holloway. Aldo certainly would not have a bad UFC career after this, he would move down to bantamweight after failing to regain the crown at 145 lbs yet ultimately he failed to capture the magic that once made him the invincible titan during his title reign.
Holloway was seen as the man who properly dethroned Aldo. Despite the King of Rio’s loss to McGregor the quick and sudden nature of the fight led many to believe that it was just a fluke.
Many believed that if the fight had played out further Aldo would have done to McGregor what he did to all the others who had challenged before. Max Holloway was the first man to engage in a multiple-round fight with Aldo and beat him in a manner that left no room for speculation and talks of a fluke.
Even in the subsequent rematch the fight played out the exact same way. It was clear that Aldo was no longer the top of the pile at featherweight. Holloway was then seen as the unbeatable king and he laid out devastating beatdowns on his challengers.
Frankie Edgar and Brian Ortega were both completely outmatched by Holloway and he appeared to be levels ahead of the rest of the division. That was until the appearance of Alexander Volkanovski. After losing his belt, Holloway has continued to beat every single contender in the Featherweight division delivering one sided beatdowns yet he simply cannot seem to figure out how to defeat current champion Alex Volkanovski.
Volkanovski fought Aldo and former world title challenger Chad Mendes on his way to getting a title shot before finally getting his chance at the belt at UFC 245 in 2019.
Volkanovski would pick up a decision win and was the first to decisively beat Max Holloway in years. A rematch saw a much closer fight with Volkanovski still being awarded the win yet many fans and pundits alike felt the bout could have been scored in Holloways favour. A third fight was made to settle the score where Volkanovski ultimately put the rivalry to bed with a dominating display and again picked up a unanimous decision win.
Volkanovski has defended his belt against Holloway twice and also against Ortega and Jung. He is set to make another defence against high flying Mexican striker Yair Rodriguez. What’s more, Volkanovski has challenged for the lightweight title in this time frame with a fight against Islam Makhachev going against his favour in the end, yet his stock has only raised with those in the MMA community.
Conclusion: GOAT = Jose Aldo
All thee are excellent fighters with an excellent history and pedigree. Immediately though, we would have to rule one of them out of the GOAT debate. Unfortunately for Max Holloway, his reign of three defences is simply too short compared to the four possibly soon fie of Volkanovski and the seven of Jose Aldo. In a hypothetical world if Holloway had never faced Volkanovski and remained champion yet continued to have the same performances he has had against other fighters since losing the belt he would be a quite possibly the unquestionable answer for the conversation. Since losing the belt he has dominated the likes of Calvin Kattar, Yair Rodriguez and Arnold Allen. Yet the fact that these fights were not for a title does hurt his claim as the division’s greatest. As does his three losses to Volkanovski.
Which means that we are left to choose from Jose Aldo and Alexander Volkanovski.
Newer fans may not remember or even realise the force of nature that Aldo was. Dominating the featherweight division before the UFC even had one, Aldo’s nine defences of the premier featherweight belt in MMA (2 of the WEC, 7 in the UFC) is unprecedented and the manner in which he did so was simply breathtaking.
While someone who started watching in the last five years or so, may simply think of him as a solid top 5 fighter at bantamweight he truly was a generational talent. Because of the loss to McGregor and the dip in form in the later stages of his career, he is often disrespected when discussing the greatest of the Featherweight division. The sheer length of time that he reigned supreme and the manner in which he dispatched his opponents left me with no other choice than to give it to Jose Aldo.
That is not to say that Volkanovski is far behind. Boasting the distinction of beating both Jose Aldo and Max Holloway, Volkanovski will be hoping to achieve a 5th title defence at UFC 290 which will put him only two behind Aldo’s divisional record. If he continues his run of form that he’s been enjoying throughout his UFC career and particularly if he finds further success at Lightweight then there is no reason that he cannot overtake Aldo in the not so distant future.
This is a somewhat contentious topic so if you disagree and have a different ranking or even a different candidate let me know in the comments below.