The bantamweight division keeps delivering new prospects and contenders as champion Dominick Cruz awaits his next challenge. Cruz took out TJ Dillashaw who was on a tear to reclaim his throne after having fought only once in the last 4 years. He then went on to defeat arch rival Urijah Faber, perhaps ending that chapter of his career.
Now that Cruz has defeated the top 2 fighters in the division, he feels the rest aren’t ready. Not only does he feel that they’re not ready skill wise, but also not for the big show. The champion is looking for big money fights and just feels that the rest of the division won’t deliver. That being said, let’s take a look at the rest of the division and the key match-ups that are coming up.
1) Cody Garbrandt vs. Takeya Mizugaki (UFC 202)
The reason I’m highlighting this match up first, is the fast rise of Team Alpha Male’s brightest star, Cody Garbrandt. The 25 year old Garbrandt is undefeated and most recently picked up the biggest win of his career when he took out fellow undefeated rising star Thomas Almeida in the first round.
It wasn’t only the win that was impressive but how Cody handled the bright lights. Garbrandt was given a main event spot at a fight night in Vegas and handled the entire process like a star. He was confident, ferocious and made a statement coming into the fight as a slight underdog.
He also made use of his mic time by demanding respect and even had a backstage altercation with the champion 1 week later when Cruz was defending his title versus his teammate, Urijah Faber. Shortly after Cruz talked about super fights, Cody chimed in by suggesting the champion was scared and ducking him. Cruz took no time in responding that he’d leave Garbrandt unconscious leaving a nice back and forth.
Well done Cody, you got the champ’s attention and should he get a win at UFC 202 in brutal fashion like he’s projected to do, we could very well be seeing Cruz vs. Garbrandt towards the end of the year.
2) John Lineker vs. John Dodson (UFC Fight Night: Portland)
This in many people’s eyes should be a number one contender fight as it pegs two exciting and experienced fighters. Lineker has been on a very underrated tear as he’s 9-2 in the UFC and on a 5 fight win streak. Dodson is a former 2 time flyweight title challenger and owns a KO over former champion TJ Dillashaw in the Ultimate Fighter Finale. Both guys are explosive knockout artists and we’re expecting fireworks in this match up.
Should one of them walk away with a statement win, they’d definitely be worthy of a shot at the title. That being said, I’m not sure these match ups will generate the attention Cruz is looking for but a post fight speech can’t harm, just ask Nate Diaz.
3) Urijah Faber vs. Jimmie Rivera (UFC 203)
While it’s highly unlikely that a Faber win would generate another title shot, it would definitely keep him in the picture. When asked about it, Faber was optimistic that it could happen in the future. After all, Faber is a superstar and if the title changes hands, anything is possible.
For Jimmie Rivera, UFC 203 is a golden opportunity. Slightly unknown by the new wave of MMA fans, the underrated Rivera is on a 18 fight win streak and is 3-0 in the UFC. He is a very well rounded and durable fighter who would be a tough fight for just about anyone in the division. He’s an aggressive and powerful striker with good wrestling and cardio. A win over Faber would be hard to deny and a win over such a big name will definitely let the world know who he is.
4) TJ Dillashaw
Dillashaw is in a weird spot. Having lost his belt in a narrow split decision to the returning Cruz, he expected a rematch. Instead, his former teammate got the shot and he was left with a chance to avenge his loss to top 5 contender Raphael Assuncao in a fight that generated little interest. Dillashaw won the fight via unanimous decision and pleaded his case for a title shot but Cruz is just not that interested.
Where does that leave Dillashaw? With all these other pivotal match-ups in the division, the winners all have the opportunity to cut a promo and grab Cruz’s attention. There just isn’t that fight or opponent that could propel Dillashaw to that title shot, unless the title changes hands.
In all fairness, he should have had his rematch right after he lost but now as time passes and new contenders are emerging, people are losing interest in a Cruz vs. Dillashaw 2. The lack of a finish versus Assuncao may have hurt his case for a rematch.
5) Bryan Caraway
Caraway is probably the most disliked fighter on the roster. I’m not sure whether it’s because he’s dating former champion Miesha Tate or because he keeps rejecting fights but not having the fans on your side doesn’t help. The always counted out Caraway, most recently took out undefeated rising star, Aljamain Sterling and also pled his case for a title shot.
According to Urijah Faber, Caraway was amongst a couple of fighters who rejected the Jimmie Rivera fight as they saw too much risk and not much reward. There is speculation that Caraway also rejected a fight versus Garbrandt as he seems keen to get his title shot. Not taking fights will definitely hurt your case so in this situation, if Dillashaw isn’t next in line perhaps book Dillashaw vs. Caraway next.
Regarding the rest of the division, the former undefeated Aljamain Sterling and Thomas Almeida could fight each other but it would perhaps be better if they both got another opportunity to rise again. They both have the potential makings of stars.
Serra/Longo’s Sterling is a charismatic and vocal character that has dabbled in some commentary and analysis, even making an appearance on the FS1 table. He brings an unorthodox fighting style with a strong grappling and submission game.
Prior to the Garbrandt loss, Almeida finished 19 of his 21 wins. He is a brutal and entertaining fighter who viciously takes out his opponents. He is young and still has time to bring Brazil a championship as his eyes remain on the prize.
The slowly rising Erik Perez could make a good opponent for either fighter as well as Eddie Wineland or Michael McDonald. If they were to be given another tough test, Raphael Assuncao is available but perhaps could be too stern of a test this early in their UFC careers.
In conclusion, there are plenty of young, talented and hungry contenders for Dominick Cruz who could take a super fight on the side but shouldn’t count the division out just yet. Keep an eye on these pivotal match ups coming up as contenders are rising fast.