Recently the UFC’s 145 lb. division has risen towards the top of the promotion in terms of talent level. And it has done so with a relative air of sneakiness, to the point where it jumps out to me as arguably the hottest division in all of MMA. Several great fighters are the reason for the rise. Let’s take a look at how UFC featherweights have taken the MMA landscape by storm over the past year.

Obviously the rise begins at the top with dominant champion Jose Aldo. ‘Junior’ was maligned early on in his UFC career for losing some of the flash that made him such an instant star as champion in the WEC. He won a couple of lackluster decisions over Kenny Florian and Mark Hominick (lackluster for him at least), and the talk began that the WEC was an easier shooting range for Aldo.

But then he knocked Chad Mendes out with a highlight reel spinning knee, ran into the Brazilian crowd to celebrate with his countrymen, and the doubters were silenced. He went through a veritable soap opera of ups-and-downs during the summer of last year, eventually having his scheduled opponent Erik Koch withdraw only to find himself with a much more high-profile bout in the form of a February tilt against Frankie Edgar. He beat the former lightweight champ in a close bout, signaling his reign was here to stay.

Aldo is no doubt one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the face of the earth today. But his division is now full of top-flight combatants as well. Mendes is on a tear since his one-sided loss to Aldo in early 2012, knocking opponents out left and right while seemingly hell bent on regaining a title shot. The Team Alpha Male product will face off with former lightweight standout Clay Guida at UFC 164. ‘The Carpenter’ recently decided to make his foray into the 145 lb. arena, further bolstering the roster and adding more unpredictability.

Erik Koch will fight Dustin Poirier on that same card, and while those two have seen a bit of a slide as of late, losing to Ricardo Lamas and Cub Swanson respectively, they are still two very young, talented, and dangerous fighters. Swanson, on the other hand, has gained a ton of ground and momentum. He of course has already lost to Aldo via an 8-second flying knee KO, so we never really got to see what he could actually offer the champ. We may get another chance soon, as Swanson has reeled off five consecutive victories within the octagon including four finishes.

Swanson’s only loss in the UFC brings us to the man who may present the stiffest test for the dominant champion, Ricardo Lamas. Lamas was set to face off with current title challenger Chan Sung Jung at UFC 162, but found himself without an opponent when Anthony Pettis went down with a knee injury, prompting KZ to replace him. Lamas was last seen destroying Koch with some vicious elbows last January, and it will be exciting to see where he lands next. A rematch with Swanson may or may not happen, or perhaps a bout against Edgar could be a great fight.

What it all boils down to is that featherweight has quickly become one of the most exciting divisions in MMA. From a super-exciting champion to a top ten littered with extreme talent, the UFC has done a great job at packing 145 with great fights and fighters. It may not be the most discussed division right now, but rest assured it is gaining ground. We will see the title defended at UFC 163 when The Korean Zombie makes his return against Aldo. What are some other featherweight bouts you’d like to see in the near future?