Less than a month ago, Henry Cejudo (16-2) stopped Dominick Cruz (22-3) in the second round at UFC 249 to retain his bantamweight title. To the surprise of pretty much everyone, “Triple C” announced in the Octagon that he was leaving the sport following the Cruz victory. Cejudo said he felt like there was nothing left for him to accomplish and hinted that he wasn’t getting paid enough to stick around for any additional fights. With Cejudo out of the mix, the bantamweight division is wide open. While we do have some clarity in the title picture, the rest of the division is wide open with a lot of intriguing possibilities.
Yan vs. Aldo for the Title
UFC President, Dana White, came out last week and announced that Patr Yan (14-1) and former featherweight champion, Jose Aldo (28-6) would be fighting sometime this summer for the vacant bantamweight title. It was a fight that personally left me a little surprised. Jose Aldo is coming off of a loss in his divisional debut to Marlon Moraes (23-6) back at UFC 245 although many people including myself believe that Aldo won the fight. Aldo was called out by the former champion despite losing the fight on the scorecards. Because Cejudo wanted to fight him, Aldo was granted the title shot. With Cejudo out of the picture, I figured the UFC would pivot to someone at least coming off of a win. However, the UFC is still giving the former featherweight king the shot. Yan is the one guy in the equation who you cannot deny deserves the shot. He should have been in line ahead of Aldo in the first place. Yan is 5-0 since joining the UFC and has looked spectacular in every outing. He’s coming off an incredible win where he demolished UFC Hall of Famer, Urijah Faber. With Cejudo gone, Yan is the #1 guy in that division if you ask me. It will be a very interesting fight when he and Aldo square off given their skillsets. If you would have asked me a few years ago who would win, I would lean towards Aldo. However, if you ask me tonight as I’m writing this, I would lean towards the Russian, Yan. It will be a fun fight that fight fans should be looking forward to at some point this summer.
UFC 250 Has Big Implications
The rest of the division is completely wide open. There are two fights scheduled for UFC 250 which should help narrow down the contenders a bit, but it’s still not easy figuring out who would be next in line after the Yan/Aldo fight. Using the UFC’s rankings, #2 Aljamain Sterling (18-3), and #4 Cory Sandhagen (12-1) will be squaring off next Saturday in a fight that on paper would likely indicate the challenger for the winner of the Yan/Aldo fight. Sterling has rattled off four consecutive wins and Sandhagen is unbeaten since joining the UFC. A lot of people believed that Sterling should have been given the title shot over Aldo. The same night of the Sterling/Sandhagan fight we have former bantamweight champion, #9 Cody Garbrandt (11-3), and #5 Raphael Assuncao squaring off. Garbrandt was on the fast track to stardom after he dethroned Dominick Cruz for the title back in December of 2016. “No Love” was a knockout artist who looked like he could lead the division for the long haul. Garbrandt’s career has completely been derailed since that victory over Cruz. Garbrandt has dealt with numerous injuries and has been knocked out in three consecutive fights. This is a fight that could get him going back in the right direction. Assuncao, who is 11-3 in his last 14 fights, has been on the cusp of a title shot numerous times. Right before he’d get the shot someone would beat him. Back at UFC 200, it was TJ Dillashaw, then at UFC Fight Night 144 it was Marlon Moraes. Both guys were previously defeated by Assuncao, but he would fall to them both when a title shot was on the line. A win over Garbrandt could once again get Assuncao close to a title shot.
“The Answer” Drops Down
Last week there was another big announcement for the UFC’s bantamweight division in that former lightweight champion, Frankie Edgar (23-8) would be dropping down to 135 to make his debut against #7 Pedro Munhoz (18-4). The last time we saw “The Answer” he was certainly not at his best. Edgar took a short notice fight against Chan Sung Jung and was taken out early in the first round. That loss came on the heels of his title loss to former featherweight champ, Max Holloway. Edgar hasn’t held UFC gold since 2011 and this drop to 135 is looked at as his last chance to win a title. Edgar had a solid run at featherweight but went 0-3 in his title opportunities. Now, Edgar is moving to the weight class he probably should have been in for a long time. Pedro Munhoz will be standing across from Edgar after a year layoff following a loss to Aljamain Sterling back at UFC 238. Going into the Sterling fight, Munhoz was riding a three-fight win streak which included a knockout of former champion, Cody Garbrandt. Munhoz is an extremely tough customer for Edgar’s first fight in the bantamweight division, but you wouldn’t expect anything less for Edgar. With his history, an impressive win over Munhoz on July 11th could vault Edgar right into title contention. I would like to see him get a couple of wins at 135 before getting a shot, but with the UFC, you never know.
What About GOATs?
With no disrespect to Henry Cejudo, the two greatest bantamweights of all time are Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw. Yes, Cejudo did beat both, but he beat an older Dominick Cruz who hadn’t fought in three years and he beat a very depleted TJ Dillashaw at flyweight. When it comes to the body of work and longevity, the two best ever at 135 are Cruz and Dillashaw. So where do they fit into all of this? TJ Dillashaw popped for EPO back in January of 2019 after his loss to Henry Cejudo. Dillashaw had never failed a drug test before, but admitted he used it to assist him in having the energy to get himself down to 125 pounds. Dillashaw was suspended for two years, but that suspension will be up in January. Dillashaw thinks that he could warrant a title shot once he returns, but I’m not convinced the UFC will go in that direction.
Then you have Dominick Cruz. Cruz looked a step off in his fight against Cejudo at UFC 249. It was his first fight since the Garbrandt loss back at UFC 207 and he did not appear to be very sharp. In his time away from the sport due to injuries, Cruz continued to perfect the craft of being a commentator appearing on many of the UFC’s events over the last few years. Cruz is primed for a career at the booth once his career is over, but I’m not convinced he’s done just yet. He hinted that he might have retired if he would have won the belt from Cejudo, but I can’t see Cruz going out after that loss especially ending the way it did. So if Cruz isn’t going to retire and Dillashaw doesn’t get the title shot, what do you do with both of them? You can probably see where I’m going in suggesting you have them headline a card in January. I don’t see Cruz taking a fight against just anybody in the division and he might want to give himself a long training camp before his next fight. Dillashaw is going to need a big name for his return, and the two have a history with Cruz edging out Dillashaw for the title back in 2016. A fight between these two makes a ton of sense to me and I would not be shocked to see this fight announced in the fall.
Where’s the Magic?
I feel like someone is missing from all these potential matchups. Well, how about the UFC’s #1 ranked Bantamweight Marlon Moraes. I’ve mentioned Moraes a few times, but I haven’t talked about who he’s fighting next. Well, that’s because there’s no fight currently scheduled for him. Moraes, according to Dana White, was going to fight Yan in June, but that fight has been scrapped in favor of the title fight mentioned above. At this point, there’s not anyone for Moraes to fight that wouldn’t be a big step down in competition with most of the top ten already booked. At this point, I guess the UFC will likely pair Moraes up with one of the winners from UFC 250. You honestly have to feel for Moraes who holds wins over Aldo, Sterling, and Assuncao yet seems to be without a dance partner. If I had to take a guess, if Aljamain Sterling wins at UFC 250, he will likely get the next shot at the title. That would mean that the UFC will likely pair Moraes up with either Assuncao for the third time or he will fight former champion Cody Garbandt in his next fight. Of course, that is all speculative at this point.
Stacked Division, Stacked Fights
The UFC’s bantamweight division is incredibly stacked as we’ve laid out in this article. I didn’t even mention guys like Sugar Sean O’Malley, Jimmie Rivera, Urijah Faber, John Dodson, Song Yadong, and Marlon Vera in this article. With no champion, this talented weight class has entered chaos in the best possible way. There are so many fun matchups that are already scheduled and there are so many fun matchups to day-dream about. This division will become a lot more clear over the next six weeks, but until then, let the chaos commence.