UFC® 132 at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on July 2, 2011 in Las Vegas, NV (Photos by Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
In the main event at UFC 132, Dominick Cruz fought Urijah Faber to a hard won decision victory, successfully defending his UFC Bantamweight title and gaining revenge for a 2007 loss. Now we look ahead and ask ourselves where the Bantamweight division goes from here.
The answer? Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber 3.
Many people are not a fan of the immediate rematch, however the UFC was given a great opportunity last night, and they need to capitalize on it. Last night's fight is receiving a lot of praise online, with many analysts calling it one of the best fights of the year. But all indications leading up to the event show that this may not be a very high selling PPV. If fans hear about a great fight that they missed, it becomes a strong selling point for the rematch. Add in the story of the two men being 1-1 and needing a tie breaker, the close nature of last night's scoring, and you have a much more marketable 3rd fight than you saw in the 2nd fight.
More importantly, the UFC and the Bantamweight division need this fight next, as they have painted themselves into a corner with the division. Ask yourself this: if Faber is not the next challenger for Cruz, who is? With wins over Joseph Benavidez, Scott Jorgensen, Brian Bowles, and now Faber, Cruz is dangerously close to cleaning out the somewhat shallow BW ranks. The only real contenders he has not yet defeated are Takeya Mizugaki (just defeated last night), Miguel Torres (recently lost), and Demetrious Johnson (not quite a title threat yet, and likely dropping down to Flyweight soon). The rightful #1 contender at this point is Bowles. But Cruz has already defeated him, his fight last night was on the Facebook prelims (and was not a thrilling, fan friendly encounter), and it seems he will once again be sidelined with a broken hand. These things make a Bowles challenge significantly less appealing.
The fact is, for right now, Dominick Cruz and Urijah Faber stand head and shoulders above the rest of the division in terms of fan recognition, based largely on the fact that they just headlined a PPV. No one else comes close, and this is a problem. Since the WEC merger, the Bantamweight division has not been featured much on UFC programming. The end result is that few Bantamweights are known to fans. A fight like Bowles vs. Mizugaki should be featured on the main card, or at least the Spike prelims, in order to begin building up the next challenger. Sadly, the next two notable Bantamweight fights, Ivan Menjivar vs. Nick Pace at UFC 133, and Joseph Benavidez vs. Eddie Windeland at UFC on Versus 5, will once again be on Facebook, leaving fans again not being exposed to possible future title challengers.
The Bantamweight division remains a work in progress. An exciting, much touted fight like last night's main event helps the division gain much needed recognition, but it is not enough. Next step for the UFC is to buy some time with Cruz vs. Faber 3, draw more fan interest in the division with that fight, and begin getting fans to care about the rest of the Bantamweights.