Everyone always comments on how strong the UFC’s lightweight and welterweight divisions are but a division going under the radar is the UFC bantamweight division. The champion, Henry Cejudo is not only the champion at bantamweight but also at flyweight. With obligations to defend both belts, Cejudo must juggle his time between both divisions.
Focussing on the UFC bantamweight division, there are a number of top contenders, two legends in the mix as well as a number of hot prospects. There are also a number of fights booked that could certainly have title implications. We break down some of the top contenders, those further down the rankings, fighters at 135lbs we can’t forget about and future prospects that could make some noise at bantamweight.
Top UFC Bantamweight Contenders
As it stands, there are four main front-runners that could challenge Cejudo for his crown. These are Petr Yan, Cory Sandhagen, Aljamain Sterling and Marlon Moraes.
Since joining the UFC roster in 2018, Yan has been on a tear. Becoming one of the most feared men in the division, Yan has torn through five opponents in under a year. With two finishes and three decisions, Yan has looked almost flawless in his UFC career. Having only lost once in his career overall (which he went on to avenge), Yan is a problem for everyone at 135lbs. In his most recent bout, he came close to finishing the highly regarded Jimmie Riveria. Ranked #4, the hard-hitting Russian is set to face Urijah Faber at UFC 245. With a win here, Yan would progress to a six-fight winning streak in the UFC and it would be hard to deny him a title shot.
One of the most well-rounded fighters at 135lbs, Cory Sandhagen is certainly a difficult puzzle to work out. Sitting pretty at 5-0 in his UFC career, Sandhagen has been impressive thus far. With finishes coming via three different ways and wins over notable names, Sandhagen has raced to #3 in the rankings. Standing at 5’11, Sandhagen will have a reach advantage over most of his opponents at 135lbs. Sandhagen has strong boxing, which he utilised with great effectivity against Raphael Assuncao last time out. ‘The Sandman’ is scheduled to welcome former 155lbs champion Frankie Edgar to the division at UFC on ESPN+ 24.
One of the most likeable guys on the roster, Aljamain Sterling is a problem at 135lbs. #2 Sterling, is a five year veteran of the UFC’s bantamweight division, going 10-3 during his tenure. Previously 12-0, Sterling is an impressive 6-1 in his last seven fights. His only loss coming at the hands of former title challenger Marlon Moraes. This loss was a brutal knockout as a result of a knee, which knocked Sterling out cold. With solid stand-up, and holding a black belt in BJJ from Matt Serra, Sterling is strong wherever the fight goes. He is one of the few top contenders without a fight booked. This is due to him recently having wrist surgery to fix a problem he has been suffering with for a number of years. Without a fight booked, Sterling can sit back, improve and wait to see how the division plays out.
Let’s not forget about Marlon Moraes. Although he fell short at the hands of Cejudo in his title attempt back in June, he had been tearing up the division prior to that bout. With three performance of the night bonuses in a row, Moraes became the front runner for a title shot. Moraes did well early on against the current champion. The former WSOF champion ultimately gassed out and was finished late on in the third round. Still ranked #1 at 135lbs, Moraes hopes to get back to title contention at UFC 245. It appears from his Instagram that Moraes is now partaking in some training at American Top Team in order to progress. In Vegas, he welcomes long time featherweight champion Jose Aldo to a new division.
Further down the rankings
There are also many contenders further down in the rankings that could potentially break into the top five with a few wins. These include former champion, Cody Garbrandt and Raphael Assuncao.
The ever-exciting, former UFC bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt is still a contender at 135lbs. Putting on an almost flawless performance to wrestle the belt away from Dominick Cruz in December 2016, Garbrandt hasn’t notched a win since. Losing twice to bitter rival TJ Dillashaw and also to Pedro Munhoz earlier this year, there has to be a change if Garbrandt is to compete at the top again.
With some of the slickest boxing in the division, Garbrandt holds a lot of power in his hands. He is guilty of ‘staying in the pocket’ too long and suffering for it. This was the case when he faced Pedro Munhoz. With his personality, star power and selling ability, he can still be a major player at 135lbs. If Garbrandt can fix these problems, gain one or two more wins he will likely catapult back into the title picture.
Although Assuncao is on a two-loss streak, he’s only faced the best. At 27-7, he’s certainly experienced and at bantamweight, he holds an impressive record of 11-3. Included in his 14 fight bantamweight career he’s faced Sandhagem, Moraes (twice, going 1-1), Sterling, Dillashaw (twice, going 1-1), Munhoz and Bryan Caraway, amongst others. Notably, he also holds a win over current ‘BMF’ title holder, Jorge Masvidal.
Assuncao has faced the absolute best the division has to offer and still causes problems for anyone he faces. Similar to Garbrandt, with a win or two, Assuncao could break back into the title picture. Currently ranked #5 at 135lbs, Assuncao is not booked in a fight as it stands. At 37, his time is certainly limited, will there be one last run at the title left in his tank?
We Can’t Forget about the Legends
The UFC bantamweight division contains some guaranteed Hall of Famers. Urijah Faber, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo and Frankie Edgar are all now fighting at 135lbs. All of these men hold a wealth of experience with an insane combined record of 107-24, with 28 victories in title fights. Three have held a UFC belt and one a WEC belt. With title fight experience, any one of these men could cause problems at 135lbs.
Each of Faber, Aldo and Edgar all have a fight booked. Faber and Aldo are both booked to compete at UFC 245 and Edgar booked in early January. All three of these men are facing top contenders in Yan, Moraes and Sandhagen. A win for any of these legends could catapult them straight into the title picture.
Will Faber be able to keep his comeback on track against the hard-hitting Yan? How will Aldo and Edgar look in their new division? This is certainly an exciting time for any fan of the lower weight classes.
Up and Comers
Although there are established top contenders at 135lbs, as well as legends attempting to make their mark on the division, we must remember there are also exciting prospects.
- Song Yadong – 15-4, riding a seven-fight winning streak. #13 Yadong faces #9 Cody Stamann at UFC on ESPN 7.
- Nathaniel Wood – 16-3, former CageWarriors bantamweight champion. Undefeated in eight bouts, three of which have been in the UFC.
- Sean O’Malley – 10-0, DWTNCS alumni. O’Malley has been out of action since UFC 222 as a result of injury and suspension.
- Jack Shore – 12-0, former CageWarriors champion Shore is only 1-0 in the UFC but has a 12-0 amateur record. ‘Tank’, along with Wood is certainly one to keep an eye on, especially for British MMA fans.
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