Matchmaker series: Men’s UFC Bantamweight

UFC Bantamweight Dominick Cruz
LAS VEGAS, NV - DECEMBER 29: UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz (L) stares down Cody Garbrandt during the UFC 207 weigh-in at T-Mobile Arena on December 29, 2016 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

UFC 249 is the UFC’s return card and features only one bantamweight fight – between Ray Borg and Marlon Vera. This is on the preliminary card not on the main card. Since Dana White announced consecutive cards in the upcoming weeks,  we take a look at the possible fights in the UFC bantamweight division.

Henry Cejudo v Dominick Cruz

At the top of the UFC bantamweight division is Henry Cejudo. The champ has been out due to injury for a while now. Prior to that Cejudo was on a meteoric rise. This was a result of the synergy between his undeniable prowess inside the octagon along with his extravagant mannerisms outside of it.

At UFC 227, Cejudo ended Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson’s flyweight title reign. Cejudo picked up the win through a razor-thin decision. The bout would turn out to be Mighty Mouse’s last fight in the UFC (for now). Cejudo would then proceed to defeat TJ Dillashaw in 32 seconds and defend the flyweight title. Soon after, he would move up a weight class and defeat Marlon Moraes at UFC 238 to become the fourth double champ in UFC history.

Cejudo’s gimmicks have helped him develop his own brand. They have kept him in the spotlight despite injury. Cejudo is currently slated to face Jose Aldo but should that not materialise due to the travel restrictions placed in the wake of the Coronavirus, Cejudo has said he will be willing to face Dominick Cruz. It will be an interesting match as both fighters are coming back to action after extensive injuries.

When it comes to injuries, perhaps no one in the UFC has suffered more than Cruz. At one time, Cruz was the undisputed king in the bantamweight division with laurels going as far back as the WEC. During his peak, many fans considered him to be in contention for the coveted greatest of all time status. Unfortunately, we have seen Cruz more behind the commentary desk than in action. If he does make it back, then an immediate title shot may raise questions from some fans, but there is no doubt that Cruz has the CV to merit one.

Petr Yan v Aljamain Sterling

Cejudo’s callouts have annoyed a few. Perhaps none more than Petr Yan and Aljamain Sterling. Both bantamweights have put together a series of impressive wins.

Yan held gold in, Absolute Championship Berkut, a regional promotion in Russia before joining the UFC. He has yet to taste defeat in the UFC. Most recently, Yan defeated veteran Urijah Faber with an impressive headkick at UFC 245.

Sterling too has held gold before joining the UFC, in Cage Fury Fighting Championships, where he defended his title three times. Upon entering the UFC, Sterling has beaten the likes of Renan Barao, Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz.

What makes this fight interesting is that it is the classic grappler versus striker match up. Both men are in their prime and both are hungry for a title shot.

Jose Aldo v Rafael Assuncao

Jose Aldo is a legend of the UFC, however, Aldo is a relative newbie in the UFC bantamweight division. While Aldo has spent the majority of his career at featherweight, having held the title for a record length of time until his loss to Conor McGregor. When he decided to make the move down to bantamweight, fans worried about it. A few unflattering pictures surfaced just before his debut in the division.

However, Aldo made weight with relative ease. He then proceeded to face Marlon Moraes in an extremely close bout where he lost the decision. Nonetheless, champion Cejudo felt that Aldo deserved a title shot. The champ has a point. Aldo showed he could make weight and he also looked good in the octagon.

But with travel restrictions in place, it becomes a question of who does Aldo face next. The best fit is Rafael Assuncao. Assuncao has a long career. Not many know that he has fought at three different weights. He even holds a victory over Jorge Masvidal at lightweight. Assuncao has even edged one out against the now surging Sterling.

Both Aldo and Assuncao are veterans. Both are coming off two consecutive losses and yet both have undeniable potential.

Sean O’Malley v John Dodson

The newest rising star in the UFC is Sean O’Malley. The sugar show recently made his return after a long layoff. He came back and scored an emphatic win against Jose Quinonez.  The young bantamweight has been giving a nod to Tony Ferguson in his videos too. As the UFC looks to build the young star, they would need a suitable rival.

John Dodson fits that bill perfectly. Dodson was once a title contender. He was one of Mighty Mouse’s biggest rivals. Despite a long career, Dodson has never been stopped in the cage. O’Malley, on the other hand, is making a title claim on the strength of his striking. It would be the ideal test to see if O’Malley has the skills or whether he needs more time.

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