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Editorial: 2021 New year’s fight resolutions - UFC Bantamweight edition

Bantamweight’s first resolution is simple: don’t let visa issues stop Petr Yan.

UFC 251: Yan v Aldo Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Personal opinion: of all the divisions, men’s bantamweight is the most dynamic. That doesn’t mean I think it’s the best, most talented, or most competitive. I just mean exactly that: dynamic — you have Petr Yan’s shifty power boxing. There’s Aljamain Sterling’s odd time signature-style grappling. The janky but bladed strike traffic of Cory Sandhagen. Hell even the veterans still have plenty of game at 135. It reminds me of competitive Street Fighter, with all the colorful styles, characters, and even seedy — given Sterling’s bizarre challenges — trash talk.

So what do we want to see for the bantamweight new year? If Dana White decided he’d have Yan fight Jose Aldo once month for the calendar year, I’d support it 100%. Sure, I support their good health more. But that was a brilliant fight. It’s not gonna make any top 10 lists from most media outlets. Most people will rightfully focus on Zhang Weili versus Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Or Deiveson Figueiredo vs. Brandon Moreno. Some people will talk about Dan Hooker vs. Dustin Poirier. But Yan vs. Aldo had that rare Young Wolf vs. Old Dog energy: the kind of thing we don’t see anymore. So what should we be looking for?

Somebody please...get this man...a visa...

Get it? A John Wick reference, but about Visas? I know. It’s a bad joke, made worse by the fact that new visa restrictions are in fact, not a joke at all. You can be a theoretical physicist and be asked lameduck questions like whether your computer code is ‘profitable’ or not, which can then decide your professional future. I say all that to say this: as exciting as Yan is, there’s still a lot to learn.

Yan’s last two wins are over two veterans: one functionally retired, and one not. The performances were extremely impressive, and that’s why it’s easy to believe in Yan. His striking is clean, yet creative, and he has power for days. If Yan is the last man standing, nobody would be surprised. But there’s plenty of stylistic challenges below.

Aljamain first. Then Cory. In that order.

What I love about Sterling and Sandhagen as challengers is that they truly offer Yan a unique set of obstacles. On the surface, Sterling is the greater threat if we’re thinking ‘in the aggregate’. Sterling doesn’t have more ways to win per se, but he has s more ways to threaten if he can keep the fight in his grappling wheelhouse.

Cory, on the other hand, has more ways to threaten Yan, but also less to offer. In order for Cory to gain ground, he has to play right into Yan’s game. Sandhagen’s raw height, and unique method of switching stances could prove insurmountable. Sterling’s already up on the docket, while Sandhagen has a bout with Frankie Edgar scheduled. Safe to say, these are the immediate challengers to Yan’s throne.

Aldo still has it: treat him like it (but be careful)

Like the rest of the world, Aldo is a treasure. He’s one of the few MMA fighters who doesn’t just come across as just a great fighter, but a great athlete. He moves like he was genetically engineered to kick thighs, and clench fists. But even genes run their course. To that end, Aldo is winding down. He certainly doesn’t look like he is. Aldo’s 1-3 in his last four, but that’s losses to champs across two divisions, and a questionable decision win for Marlon Moraes who had yet to dissolve into papier-mache.

Aldo looked equally sharp against Marlon Vera. Looking past the results, Aldo is still packing heat. Not for nothing, but Aldo is incredibly young for a man won the UFC belt a decade ago (!). Don’t Well, Actually me either. I’ve forgotten more WEC knowledge and images of Paulo Filho’s depression stache than you’ll ever know. While I don’t believe a second run is in the cards for him at 34 years of age, it wouldn’t be the craziest thing to happen in the sport. Bantamweight’s got it all except a proper reflection of who the best is. 2021 projects to answer that.