With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
Earlier this month, the UFC announced that UFC Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz would be coaching on the upcoming Ultimate Fighter season 15 alongside former Featherweight kingpin Urijah Faber. As always, the show will culminate in a battle between the coaches, with Cruz defending his title for the third time. It's a good move for the UFC, as the Bantamweight division is still developing and is short on challengers at the moment. Putting these two in the spotlight, while also putting the belt on the sidelines to let other names develop can only help the division increase its profile.
While Cruz and Faber get ready for their time on TUF (set to begin on March 9), let's take a look at the rest of the 135 pounders and see where things stand.
Next in Line:
The date isn't set yet, but it will be Cruz vs. Faber part 3, probably sometime next summer. They're 1-1 so far, with Faber successfully defending his WEC Featherweight belt against Cruz in 2007, and Cruz getting even with a successful UFC Bantamweight title defense last summer at UFC 132. That 2nd fight was a good back and forth, and one of the overlooked fight of the year candidates. Faber has since defeated Brian Bowles, and is now ranked as the #2 Bantamweight in the world behind Cruz. I expect part 3 should be another good one.
Key Match Ups:
Somewhat slim pickings here, with only a few Bantamweight fights scheduled in the coming months, and not that many of note for future challengers. Still, a couple good fights to watch for:
- Johnny Bedford vs. Eddie Wineland (UFC on Fox 2) - Admittedly, this isn't a massive fight, but it's a big opportunity for Bedford. He came out of The Ultimate Fighter with a nice win on the live Finale, and thanks to his time on the show, he has a higher profile than many other Bantamweights. Wineland is a good test for him, and if Bedford can take the win, and look good, he'll be in a good position moving forward.
- #5 Scott Jorgensen vs. #7 Renan Barao (UFC 143) - Barao made a huge impression with his win over Brad Pickett at UFC 138. He's now in a good position for setting up a future title shot, but he has a tough challenge here in former #1 contender Jorgensen. Barao is a dynamic fighter, and if he can get a big win here it would be great for him and the division, while a Jorgensen win would be, in some ways, another step backwards as the division develops.
- #11 Takeya Mizugaki vs. Chris Cariaso (UFC 144) - Cariaso is only 3-2 in the UFC and WEC, but those 2 loses both come against impressive names in Michael McDonald and Renan Barao. He has potential, but will need to show that he can get wins against more upper ranked opponents, and this is a good opportunity to prove it. Mizugaki comes in off an impressive win over Cole Escovedo - he's been a solid staple of the division since his WEC debut against Miguel Torres in 2009.
In The Mix:
There are a handful of other Bantamweight fighters who don't have any fights set up at the moment, but could find themselves in the title picture soon:
- #4 Brian Bowles - The last man to hold the belt before Cruz, Bowles was one fight away from a rematch when he lost to Faber at UFC 139. Those are the only two loses on Bowles's record, but his real challenge may be dealing with recurring injuries that have caused him troubles since losing to Cruz. He's an excellent all around fighter who could easily get back to a title shot soon.
- #9 Brad Pickett - The loss to Barao was a decided setback, but Pickett has a strong resume, including a win over the last challenger, Demetrious Johnson. He's a seven year veteran with a lot of high level experience. I would love to see him against Bowles in the future.
- #12 Michael McDonald - A sort of quiet sleeper in the division, McDonald has put together a 14-1 record, going 4-0 in the WEC and UFC. He's coming off a 1 minute knockout of the night over Alex Soto at UFC 139, and deserves a bigger shot next time out.
- Ivan Menjivar - The veteran is finally fighting at a good weight class for him after spending his earlier career at much higher weights. He's fought all kinds of major names, including Georges St. Pierre, Urijah Faber, Matt Serra, and more. He's won his last 2 in the UFC, including the nasty elbow KO of Charlie Valencia at UFC 129. He's only 29 years old, but is an 11 year veteran, so he may not have too much longer to make a run.
- John Dodson - The TUF Bantamweight winner is only 1-0 in the UFC and 12-5 overall, so I'm sure many will balk at the idea that he is already in the title mix. But like Bedford, in this shallow of a division, his TUF credentials give him a huge leg up. A few big wins and he will be right there.
Others to Consider:
And finally, a pair of names that may not find themselves in the title picture right now, but should be mentioned:
- Darren Uyenoyama - He made his UFC debut at the Fox show, defeating Kid Yamamoto and extending his overall record to 7-3. He has good experience in Strikeforce and Japan, and even though he is new to the UFC, I think he has a bright future ahead of him.
- T.J. Dillashaw - Once more, TUF experience + shallow division = good position for the future.