“A few years ago, I wrote a series called “Under the Microscope,” where I analyzed the Greatest of All-Time arguments for fighters across several weight classes. I only did this for the five legacy divisions — lightweight through heavyweight — since the sub-lightweight weight classes were too young; there simply weren’t enough fighters who could be legitimately defended as the G.O.A.T. Every weight class had its own distinct gray areas and there were definitely fighters that were harder to make a case for than others, but there were at least enough contenders for the crown.
I debated doing a shortened version for featherweight but ultimately didn’t because there was really only one option: Jose Aldo. He was the only Ultimate Fighting Championship featherweight titleholder at the time, and he had dominated two of the three previous World Extreme Cagefighting champions along the way. I could have made half-hearted cases for Urijah Faber and Mike Thomas Brown — and an even less-convincing one for Norifumi Yamamoto — but those would have been tremendous stretches. There was Aldo, an unfathomably wide gulf, then everybody else.
That was 2015, though. In the post-UFC 218 world, the discussion surrounding the greatest featherweight of all-time is now a lot more interesting. Following Max Holloway’s 12th straight win and second consecutive TKO victory over Aldo on Saturday in Detroit, the G-Word was floated around the 26 year-old. “Blessed” himself declined the G.O.A.T. mantle, chiefly citing a lack of title defenses compared to the all-time great he had just thoroughly smashed for the second time in six months. If anything, Holloway has made his case for the humblest featherweight G.O.A.T. contender.
There is, however, a case to be made for Holloway, as there continues to be one for Aldo. Of course, there is also a case to be made for Conor McGregor. It’s worth inspecting these cases, as they provide different looks at the criteria we use for assessing greatness and the various ways in which a fighter can be great…”