The Bantamweight division of the UFC might be the most confusing of the nine weight classes in the promotion. It doesn't have as many fighters as lightweight or welterweight, and it doesn't have the name recognition of light heavyweight or middleweight. But it has an array of top guys that have already fought each other and if that's not confusing enough, there are still two champions.
Renan Barao will be the first UFC fighter ever to defend an interim title twice when he takes on ex-WEC champ Eddie Wineland at UFC 161. But Dominick Cruz is still on the sidelines. Dana White has made it clear he won't be stripped of the title and he'll fight the current interim champ when he returns, but Cruz refuses to speculate on a possible return time. So when Cruz is set to come back we know what to expect on top. But what about the rest of the weight class?
With that in mind, here are eight fights I'd book in the bantamweight division over the summer/fall of 2013, assuming Cruz gets the winner of Barao/Wineland sometime late this year.
Note - the numbers in brackets indicate their current official UFC ranking.
Urijah Faber (2) vs. Brad Pickett (5) - Faber is clearly the top non-champion in the division, and he's taken out four of the current top 10 contenders already. It really comes down to Faber either fighting McDonald or Pickett, and I just think Pickett makes for a better fit right now. That bout is a sure-fire main event for a small card or co-main for a bigger card.
Michael McDonald (3) vs. Ivan Menjivar (10) - I like the idea of McDonald rebounding from his title loss against a crafty veteran like Menjivar. It's just dangerous enough to mean something for Mayday, and it gives Menjivar one last chance to hold onto his top 10 ranking.
Raphael Assuncao (6)/Vaughan Lee winner vs. Barao/Wineland loser - The loser of the title bout is going to be out of contention for a little while with Cruz returning, and a good return bout would be against what would likely be Assuncao. If it's Lee it might change things, but we'll see.
Scott Jorgensen (7) vs. Bryan Caraway - Jorgensen did the UFC a big favor by taking the TUF Finale fight with Faber, and he'll continue to get good fights in the division for his efforts. Caraway might not seem like a great opponent at first, but the similar skill sets would make for an interesting, tactical fight. And like him or not, Caraway earned a name opponent by submitting Beford on short notice at UFC 159.
Brian Bowles (8)/George Roop winner vs. T.J. Dillashaw - Bowles hasn't fought in about seven years so it's hard to see where he stands right now. His eight ranking isn't really meaningful at the moment. But the winner of that bout should meet one of the rising stars in the division in Dillashaw. The Team Alpha Male fighter has one four in a row (the last three via finish), and is knocking on the door of the elite at 135. Roop or Bowles would present a formidable challenge to him on his way up there.
Mike Easton (9) vs. Johnny Bedford - Two losses in a row have sent Easton to the back of the line a bit at 135 and he needs to regain some momentum. A fight with Bedford would an exciting FX fight on the undercard of a PPV.
Takeya Mizugaki vs. Dustin Kimura - Mizugaki has two wins in a row for the first time in his Zuffa career, and is still a very tough out. Kimura is a young guy with just one UFC win and missed weight for that bout, but he'd be a good challenge for the veteran Japanese fighter.
Erik Perez vs. Francisco Rivera - Perez was set to meet Bedford at UFC 159 until he had to bow out late with an injury. Goyito is arguably the division's best prospect and he will get a tough opponent when he comes back. Caraway would be a natural fit since he beat Perez's original opponent, but a bout with Rivera would be a much better fit in my eyes.