The landscape of the UFC is ever changing, with contenders constantly jostling at the top of the rankings, and prospects always looking to crack into the top 15 in every division. We’re going to be taking an in depth look at the current state of each division and letting you know who to keep an eye out for over the next 12 months. Previously we looked at the flyweight division, one of the weakest groups in the UFC. This time around we’ll be assessing the bantamweight division, diving into the rankings and assessing the current top contenders.
The bantamweight division is currently one of the hottest weight classes in the UFC, this is mostly down to the meteoric rise of former champion Cody Garbrandt, and the resurgence current champion TJ Dillashaw. The two set the world of MMA abuzz ahead of their long anticipated clash at UFC 217, the story of the friends turned enemies almost too good to be true. The bout itself was extremely entertaining with both fighters looking for the knockout early, giving a great account for both themselves and their division.
A rematch is set to take place between TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt at UFC 227 in August. This fight will obviously have big implications for the division. If Garbrandt is to come out on top, it’s highly likely we would see a third fight between the pair, holding up the remainder of the division and leaving them to scrap over contender places (perhaps an interim belt, we know how slap happy the UFC seems to be with them these days). If Dillashaw retains his title he will be able to move on from Garbrandt, and “No-Love” will have to head to the back of the line, unlikely to receive another title shot while his nemesis rules the division.
The top five
Another former champion, Dominick Cruz, is currently the number two ranked contender in the division. His career has been ravaged by injuries, and it is currently unknown when he will be returning to the octagon after a slated fight against Jimmie Rivera in December was pulled after Cruz broke his arm. At 33 a point could be made that Cruz is slowly passing his peak years, and even if he is to make a return to the octagon, may not be the same fighter we saw reign over the division in recent years.
- Cody Garbrandt
- Dominick Cruz
- Raphael Assuncao
- Marlon Moraes
- Jimmie Rivera
Number three ranked contender Raphael Assuncao is one of the hottest fighters in the division currently, and would almost certainly be next in line for a title shot should he beat Rob Font next month, and Garbrandt was to lose his rematch. Assuncao comes into his fight against Rob Font at UFC 226 with 10 wins in his last 11 fights, with his only loss coming to current champion TJ Dillashaw – something he would most certainly want to avenge.
Marlon Moraes is also building his case for a title fight, winning his last three fights, making him 3-1 since entering the UFC. Unfortunately that one loss came in his first UFC fight, against Raphael Assuncao which makes it very unlikely he would receive the next title opportunity. Moraes does hold a win over a fellow top five contender however, after he managed to put an end to the five fight winning streak of Jimmie Rivera earlier in June.
A rising star?
Alejandro Perez is a fighter on the rise, at 28 years old he is just entering his prime and is riding a 6 fight unbeaten streak heading into a fight with perennial contender Eddie Wineland. Holding a record of 7-1 in the UFC, including winning “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America”, a win over Wineland could propel the Mexican boxer into the top 10. From here he will have to prove his worth against the top contenders in the division, a make a break point in his career. Perez is certainly a fighter to keep your eye on over the next few months.
The talking points
The biggest talking point in the bantamweight division currently is the upcoming rematch between former teammates Dillashaw and Garbrandt. Will No-Love approach the second fight differently after letting his emotions get the better of him first time around? We already know that Dillashaw can defend a title, something he has already done a number of times in the UFC. But the biggest question hovering over the division at the moment, is are we going to see a superfight between the bantamweight champion and flyweight king Demetrious Johnson? Mighty Mouse is slated to fight Henry Cejudo on the same card as Dillashaw vs Garbrandt, so expect that superfight to be a hot topic in post fight interviews.
Must see fight: TJ Dillashaw vs Cody Garbrandt @ UFC 227 for the bantamweight championship
Next challenger: TJ Dillashaw (if he loses) or Raphael Assuncao
One to watch: Alejandro Perez