What’s Next for the UFC’s Bantamweight Division?

FRESNO, CA - DECEMBER 09: (L-R) Marlon Moraes of Brazil punches Aljamain Sterling in their bantamweight bout during the UFC Fight Night event inside Save Mart Center on December 9, 2017 in Fresno, California. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

Kicking off the UFC‘s new era on ESPN, Henry Cejudo put his flyweight title on the line against bantamweight champion, TJ Dillashaw. Cejudo made a statement that night as he finished the two-time bantamweight champion with strikes in just over thirty seconds. Dillashaw made it clear immediately after the fight that he wanted another shot at Cejudo. A rematch between the two has yet to be announced, but it seems Dillashaw won’t give up on it.

What’s Next for the UFC’s Bantamweight Division?

That being said, the top of Dillashaw’s division developed a clog. Clear number one contender, Marlon Moraes, should be next in line for the title, but will he wait for the rematch to be over with? That could take until the end of the year or even into early next year. So what does that mean for Moraes? What does it mean for the remainder of the top guys in the division?

Marlon Moraes vs. Aljamain Sterling 2 for the Interim UFC Bantamweight Title

While the interim title seems to be overused by the UFC, the bantamweight division may need one in this situation. Moraes could opt to sit out and wait for Dillashaw, however that seems like it could be too long of a layoff. Instead of sitting, Moraes should continue to stay active and take an interim title fight against Aljamain Sterling.

Moraes defeated Sterling in their first meeting at UFC Fight Night 123 with a brutal knee in the first round that knocked Sterling out cold. Sterling has rebounded very well from that loss as he has put together a three-fight winning streak. The most recent win of his came at UFC on ESPN 1 as he defeated Jimmie Rivera by unanimous decision to put him at #3 in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings. The other two wins came against Brett Johns and Cody Stamann. Since his win against Rivera, Sterling has spoken out on wanting another shot at Moraes while Dillashaw continues to eye the flyweight champion:

Including the win over Sterling, Moraes has won his last four straight fights. The most recent of those came at UFC Fight Night 144. He headlined the card against Raphael Assuncao in a rematch of Moraes’ UFC debut. Moraes made sure to not let the fight reach the judges this time around as he finished Assuncao in the first round with a guillotine. The other fighters he beat during his four-fight win streak are Jimmie Rivera and John Dodson.

If the fight is booked, it should be done sometime this summer. That would place the fight on either UFC 238 in June or UFC 239 during International Fight Week. This way, the winner will be ready to go by the end of this year or early next year to face whomever the champion may be.

Pedro Munhoz vs. Petr Yan

Pedro Munhoz made a statement at UFC 235 when he took on former bantamweight champion, Cody Garbrandt. The two put on a one round slug-fest that saw Munhoz come out on top as he finished Garbrandt with strikes. He made it clear he wanted a title shot after the fight. However, he’s not in that position just yet. After the fight, Munhoz was called out by the fast-rising prospect, Petr Yan.

I want to fight @PedroMunhozMMA next. Who want to watch it?” Yan tweeted out following Munhoz’s win over Garbrandt.

Munhoz was asked about the call out soon after his fight in an interview with TSN‘s Aaron Bronsteter, where he responded by saying, “Tell him to suck my balls,”.

Yan was quick to respond as he called Munhoz a “filthy animal” for a response like that.

Prior to the fight with Garbrandt, Munhoz put together a two-fight winning streak. He fought Brett Johns to a unanimous decision victory at UFC 227 and then went on to finish Bryan Caraway at the TUF 28 Finale.

Yan made his debut in June of last year and finished Teruto Ishihara in the first round of their fight. He would then go on to win his next two as he defeated Jin Soo Son and Douglas Silva de Andrade. Riding a three-fight win streak, he would get a match-up with former flyweight title challenger, John Dodson at UFC Fight Night 145. The pair fought the entire three rounds with the judges giving the unanimous decision win to Yan.

With the two on respective win streaks of their own, taking each other on next makes sense. If the fight is booked, the winner could be just one more fight away from a title shot.

Raphael Assuncao vs. John Lineker

Raphael Assuncao has been at the towards the top of the bantamweight ladder for a long time. However, when he gets close to a title shot, he seems to lose his next outing. Assuncao was recently able to put together a four-fight win streak with notable wins over Marlon Moraes and Aljamain Sterling. However, he would end up losing to Moraes in their rematch. The fight was billed to put the winner in prime position for a title shot. Coming off the loss, a win over a notable fighter like John Lineker would put him right back in line for a title shot.

Lineker has been a big name in the UFC’s bantamweight division for a while as he is known for his one-punch knockout power. At one point, Lineker was able to put together a six-fight win streak. The win streak included names like John Dodson, Michael McDonald, and Ian McCall. The win streak would grant him a fight with former bantamweight champion at the time, TJ Dillashaw, at UFC 207. Dillashaw dominated the fight, showing he was still a championship caliber fighter. Dillashaw would win the fight by unanimous decision and would set up a championship fight with the soon-to-be-champion, Cody Garbrandt.

Since the loss to Dillashaw, Lineker has gone on to win two straight with wins over Marlon Vera and Brian Kelleher. He currently has a fight booked against Cory Sandhagen for UFC on ESPN 3 in April. If he can get by him, a fight with Assuncao should be put together. A win for either fighter would put them in a good position to try and fight for the bantamweight title. The fight would also most likely be an entertaining showing as Lineker always seems to bring excitement to his fights.

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