Don't sleep on the UFC Bantamweight Division. Ever since TJ Dillashaw lost his title to Dominick Cruz back at UFC Fight Night 81, the division has opened up to a number of contenders boasting some of the best fights in recent UFC history.
UFC Fight Night Vegas was a big day for the men's bantamweight division. A weight class at times overlooked for the larger, more powerful hitters as seen in the ones above, saw some incredible bouts at the Mandalay Bay Events Center between fighters who proved they too can put on one hell of a show.
With both Cody Garbrandt and Bryan Caraway scoring major victories over the higher ranked Thomas Almeida and Aljamain Sterling, the men's bantamweight proved they ain't no joke. It also meant some big changes for the UFC official rankings...
Prior to UFC Vegas, Garbrandt wasn't even ranked in the division. Coming in off the back of a hype train that slowly but surely is starting to gather more pace, the undefeated fighter put on a devastating performance in his first-round TKO over the higher ranked Almeida. Following the win, the inevitable talk of a title shot has already began. Something that Garbrandt has also went on record to say is his destiny.
That destiny seems to be an inevitable result, as "No Love" Garbrandt shot up to seventh in the UFC rankings. At UFC 199 his friend and mentor, Urijah Faber, lost to current champ Dominick Cruz in what spelt some bad news for the Team Alpha Male boss, but in reality good news for Garbrandt.
The unbeaten bantamweight made no qualms that he wouldn't be looking for a title shot against the "California Kid" if he was victorious. Rather, he'd bide his time and support his friend. Now with Faber out of the picture, Garbrandt can continue on his journey to capture UFC gold. A prospect that many fans hope will see the highly anticipated bout against Caraway along the way.
Speaking of Caraway, UFC Fight Night 88 was also a big night for "Kid Lightning." Winning a split decision over Aljamain Sterling saw Caraway cement himself as a real contender in the bantamweight division. Garbrandt has already called out Caraway on The MMAHour for a proposed fight in Cleveland on the UFC 203 card, but Caraway already has his eyes firmly fixed on Cruz and that championship belt.
A title shot does look likely as the next fight in Caraway's career. Handing the first defeat of his career to the extremely talented Aljamain Sterling, Caraway believes that he's done enough to prove he's worthy of a title shot or at least a No. 1 contender match. Sterling just came off the back of a five-fight win streak before losing, and with Garbrandt previously unranked in the division it's hard to disagree with Caraway's intentions.
Of course, the division still has the insanely talented former champ Dillashaw lurking in its midst for a shot of redemption at what he views as his title. Losing to Cruz back at Fight Night 81 spelled a dream-like scenario for Cruz, coming back from injuries that had sidelined him and hampered his career for an accumulative four years. That dream like scenario was more of a nightmare one for Dillashaw however, as the 30-year-old was visibly dejected at losing his belt. Following his loss, things turned ugly between himself and his former friend/teammate Urijah Faber in a war of words.
However, it's not long until TJ can prove that he's still the only fighter in the division worthy of the next title shot. Looking to get back to winning ways, Dillashaw will take on the third ranked bantamweight in the division, Raphael Assuncao, on the mammoth UFC 200 card.
Previously a top-five ranked featherweight Assuncao is coming into this fight off the back of an impressive seven-fight win streak. Having previously beaten Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 23 and Bryan Caraway in his last fight, the Brazilian has the disadvantage of not having fought since 2014. Although ring rust may prove his downfall, Assuncao has already accomplished enough in his career to not be overlooked. The Brazilian is still a dangerous opponent and one who if underestimated would spell disaster for Dillashaw.
Arguably, the best thing to happen to the men's bantamweight division in the UFC was Cruz regaining the title. The weight class has been blown wide open with contenders seemingly appearing at every event. With Garbrandt on the war path, Caraway stating his claim for a title shot, Dillashaw looking for revenge and Assuncao wanting to remind the roster not to overlook him, make sure you keep an eye on this stacked division.
(Images via MMAWeekly.com)