Bantamweight is one of the deepest divisions in the sport at this current time. The UFC features several current worthy challengers to vie for the title. However, it didn’t build up a decent amount of depth until about the midway point of the decade. As for the kingpin of the division, bantamweight presents two candidates with reasonable arguments for the top spot of the 2010’s. At one point or another, Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw reigned supreme for two separate periods of time, building credible resumes to be the kingpin at 135. There are also viable arguments against them. Rather than dilly dally about what those might be, how about I just jump into the rankings?
1. Dominick Cruz: Regardless of how anyone feels about Cruz jumping the line to challenge Henry Cejudo, no one can deny the dominance of the Dominator when he was healthy. Putting together an 8-1 record, the weakest opponent on the list would appear to be Takeya Mizugaki… a hell of a technician when he was at his peak. He gets my top spot due to his narrow victory over Dillashaw. The bullets in his resume are the lack of fights and finishes, Mizugaki and a Brian Bowles broken hand being the only stoppages he pulled out. Nonetheless, Cruz’s style has never been replicated… and probably never will, further adding to his mystique.
2. TJ Dillashaw: I get there are some who would just assume leave Dillashaw off the list entirely given his bust for blood doping. However, I believe it’s only fair to penalize him for what he was caught for… the same as it is for those who haven’t ever been caught. We all know there are plenty out there who haven’t been caught. Fortunately for the two-time champion, it was a flyweight contest he was busted in. Prior to his being obliterated by Henry Cejudo, it could be argued Dillashaw won 14 in a row as his losses to Cruz and Raphael Assuncao were razor thin. He destroyed the career of Barao and may have done the same to Cody Garbrandt as Garbrandt hasn’t won a fight since facing Dillashaw. Throw in finishes in all five of his title fight wins with his 16 overall wins for the decade – twice that of Cruz – and it’s a fair argument Dillashaw is the dominant 135er of the 2010’s.
3. Renan Barao: For those of you who only know the post-Dillashaw version of Barao, you missed out on one hell of a whirling dervish. Barao lost his debut fight in 2005, only to whip off 32 wins in a row, including 10 to begin the 2010’s. Barao inspired a fear neither Cruz nor Dillashaw were able to replicate, his spinning back-kick to the face of Eddie Wineland being a prime example of the destruction the Brazilian was once capable off. He lost all his confidence following his losses to Dillashaw, bringing a sad end to what once upon a time looked like one of the most dominant runs in the history of the sport.
4. Urijah Faber: During his time in the UFC, Faber has been a bridesmaid several times, but never the bride. However, besides his rubber match with Cruz, it’s hard to say Faber didn’t deserve each of those title shots as he had a 10-fight winning streak at bantamweight in non-title fights. A bit of a mouthful, but it means Faber was taking down everyone except the absolute best for the majority of the decade. It could be argued he had the best stretch of his career during 2013, securing four wins with three finishes for the year. And to think most believed Faber was already past his prime when the decade started….
5. Raphael Assuncao: It pisses me off the younger of the Assuncao brothers never got an opportunity to fight for the title. Following a loss at featherweight to Erik Koch in 2011, Assuncao went on a stretch where he won 11 of 12 contests, wins over Dillashaw and Marlon Moraes included in there. Unfortunately for the Brazilian, his lack of fireworks in the cage prompted the promotion to pass him over several times. Now 37, Assuncao’s time near the top has passed. With the bulk of his legacy now written, he’ll go down as one of the more underrated talents in the history of the sport. One of the most overlooked too….
6. Marlon Moraes: The former WSOF kingpin is often overlooked in all-time rankings due to his long stint fighting less-than stellar competition. However, his UFC run has been nothing short of magic, putting together a 5-2 record against some of the best competition in the division. Even more impressive, he had a stretch of three fights where he finished his opposition in less than five minutes… combined. It’s possible we haven’t seen the best out of Moraes yet.
7. Cody Garbrandt: There’s a possibility Garbrandt could prove to be a flash in the pan. If that’s the case, it was one hell of a flash! Less than two years after making his UFC debut – and just one day after the four-year anniversary of his professional debut – Garbrandt handed Cruz his first career loss at bantamweight, taking the crown from the bantamweight legend. Along the road to his coronation, Garbrandt delivered several highlight reel KO’s. Unfortunately, the youngster has now been KO’d in three consecutive fights. At 28, he could still turn things around, but the odds are against him climbing the mountain once again.
8. Aljamain Sterling: Sterling’s last two wins – over Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz – pushed him onto the list as the talented Serra-Longo product had some rough patches before solidifying himself as a legit title contender this past year. If Sterling continues to improve at his current rate for another year or two, he could very easily end up higher on this list for the list of the 2020’s greatest bantamweights… provided he ever gets a title shot.
9. Eduardo Dantas: Over the course of the decade, Bellator had six different bantamweight champions. Only one had multiple title defenses and only one had two different reigns. Dantas can claim to be both of those people. DuDu seemed to fall short every time he was about to break through as a truly elite bantamweight – he was heavily favored in his losses to Tyson Nam and Joe Warren – but his body of work was nonetheless impressive and one of the best for the decade. Still, it’s hard to believe Dantas wasn’t capable of more.
10. Petr Yan: The smart money for who will top this list next decade is on Yan. The Russian only made his UFC debut in 2018 and has already bulldozed through six opponents, four of them longtime mainstays with winning records in the promotion, including Rivera and Faber. Had he debuted before 2013, Yan almost surely would have been higher on this list as his blend of violence and discipline is currently unmatched. It’s only a matter of time before he gets a crack at bantamweight gold.
Honorable Mentions: Jimmie Rivera, Henry Cejudo, Kyoji Horiguchi, John Lineker, Darrion Caldwell, Michael McDonald, Bibiano Fernandes.
Rivera had a 20-fight win streak, all but three in the decade. Unfortunately, most were against less-than-impressive competition. Cejudo spent the bulk of his career at flyweight. Horiguchi and Lineker didn’t, but they also hurt themselves spending a good chunk at 125. Caldwell couldn’t get past Horiguchi. McDonald was haunted by injuries. Fernandes is listed as a bantamweight with ONE, but their bantamweight is technically featherweight.