Fighters weigh in on messy UFC lightweight and featherweight landscapes

Elias Cepeda

The UFC's lightweight and featherweight divisions are, at once, both exciting and frustrating right now. In the featherweight division, we have dominant, long-reigning champion Jose Aldo who is eager to move up a class and seek a new challenge at lightweight.

Underneath Aldo are a slew of excellent contenders led by Ricardo Lamas, Chad Mendes and Cub Swanson. At lightweight, the UFC has a charismatic new champion who combines flash with well-rounded skills and an eagerness for super fights that matches Aldo's.

Aldo wants to fight Pettis, Pettis wants to fight Aldo, UFC president Dana White loves the fight. Great news all around.

“Of course I want that fight,” Pettis told USA TODAY's Ben Folwkes in a recent interview.

“Why wouldn’t I?”

The frustration comes in when we realize that the chronically injured Pettis is out for at least the next six months so we'd have to wait at least that long to see him and Aldo fight. The fans' frustration will not even begin to match that of all the contenders underneath the champions, either.

Now that both fighters have verbally committed to the fight taking place at lightweight, one could easily imagine a situation where Aldo chooses not to fight again until he can challenge for Pettis' belt.

And, even though (or perhaps precisely because) Dana White said Saturday night at the UFC 169 post-event press conference that Aldo would necessarily have to vacate his belt in order to move up to lightweight and challenge Pettis, it's also easy to imagine that Aldo will string along the entire featherweight division without giving up his belt until he's certain he'll get his shot at "Showtime" at 155 pounds.

That leaves the likes of Mendes, Swanson, Lamas, Cole Miller and the rest of top featherweights on win streaks fighting for pride, money but not a whole lot of clarity in terms of who will get the next shot at Aldo's belt. Perhaps the next featherweight championship title fight won't even include "Scarface" at all if Aldo does indeed vacate the spot to pursue lightweight gold.

The Aldo/Pettis super fight, seems like a perfect solution for the confused lightweight division, however. Pettis has already beaten former champion Benson Henderson twice.

TJ Grant was next in line for a shot but he was forced out of a title shot with a concussion and is still suffering from that damage, uncertain of when he'll be able to fight again.

Henderson has an official "W" over Josh Thomson - who was supposed to get a title shot if he was able to beat "Bendo" - but that was just a case of the judges getting it very wrong. The UFC isn't even in a position where they could still reward the rightful winner of that fight with a title shot, either, because Thomson injured himself against Henderson.

“Who else is there?” Pettis said.

“Benson Henderson just beat Thomson, who was supposed to be the top contender. Gilbert Melendez already had his title shot. Why not [Aldo]?”

Though his comments were certainly arrogant and dismissive of his peers, Pettis may be right. In terms of a marketable, intriguing lightweight title fight - Pettis versus Aldo is the only one that makes sense. You also can't argue that the long time champion Aldo hasn't earned the ability to leapfrog mere contenders for a title shot at lightweight.

You can't really blame Aldo if he decides to move up to lightweight and leave all those featherweights wanting a piece of him hanging, either. After all, he's already beaten all of the top contenders in the division.

Aldo turned Swanson and Mendes into highlight-reel material with knee KO wins over them in 2009 and 2012, respectively. Of course, Aldo also beat Lamas via unanimous decision this past weekend.

Both Mendes and Swanson have certainly done enough to warrant rematches, however.

“Obviously I wanted to be the one to dethrone Aldo,” Swanson told Fowlkes.

“It would have been huge for my career and a feeling of redemption, [but] I do think it makes sense for Aldo to move up because as fighters we always want to challenge ourselves.”

Back up at lightweight, Benson Henderson was not nearly as philosophical and diplomatic as Swanson when he sent a bitter tweet out to followers this weekend. Responding to the news that White, Pettis and Aldo were all in agreement that the super fight should be next, Henderson called the situation "horse manure," and also tweeted, "U gotta be kidding me?!."

Henderson's tweet was not only shocking for how close the choir boy got to actually using a swear word, but also for how little perspective it seemed to contain. You can't blame Henderson for wanting to get the lightweight title back but from where we're watching, he should be happy enough for awhile that the UFC on Fox 10 judges got it so very wrong and awarded him the decision over Thomson.

In reality, there's really only one guy in the lightweight division who has gotten a truly raw deal due to circumstance and that's TJ Grant. Sure, Thomson was screwed by the decision but at least he got to fight and get paid something for his time.

Grant is still sitting on the sidelines, recovering and presumably pinching pennies to make ends meet.

"I'm goin on my honeymoon to forget about this horse manure," Henderson tweeted.

Of course, we hope Henderson enjoys his honeymoon. He's incredibly hard working and has always seemed to be a grateful human being.

Hopefully, at some point soon he'll even reflect a bit about how blessed he is to be on a vacation with a win bonus in his bank account while a guy like Grant is at home, dealing with a bad headache and continuing to miss pay days.

Follow Elias on Twitter @EliasCepeda & @YahooCagewriter

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