Five Fights To Make For Resurgent Bantamweight Division

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The dust has now settled on UFC Fight Night 81 which went down last Sunday (January 17, 2016) night from the TD Garden in Boston, Massachusetts presented live on FOX Sports 1.

The main event featured a long awaited and highly anticipated bantamweight title fight between TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. In a very close fought split-decision, “The Dominator” was able to reclaim the title he had never technically lost.

With Cruz now back at the helm, one of mixed martial arts’ (MMA) previously most lacking divisions has all of a sudden become resurgent with intriguing and exciting possibilities.

With the possibility of trilogy bouts, rematches, and the emergence of multiple rising contenders, let’s take a look at five potential fights for the new and improved 135-pound division:

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Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber

Let’s start with the champion here.

This bout is a no brainer to me, as it seemed all but confirmed that former WEC champion Urijah “The California Kid” Faber was in line to meet the winner of Dillashaw vs. Cruz.

Now that “The Dominator” has come out on top, the UFC should look to book a trilogy bout between two bitter rivals years in the making.

The two men met for the very the first time back in 2007 at WEC 26. Faber would be able to sink in his signature guillotine choke in the very first round, handing Cruz the only loss of his professional career.

The reigning champion would get his revenge on Faber in the rematch, scoring a unanimous decision victory back at UFC 132 in 2011.

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Cruz and Faber would then go on to coach opposite each other on season 15 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), scheduled to fight for a third time after the reality television show. However, “The Dominator” would be forced out of the bout due to the first of a long line of injuries that would keep him out of action for years to come.

With Cruz now back and seemingly healthy, there is no better time than to have him and Faber settle the score for 135-pound gold.

Urijah Faber - TJ Dillashaw

TJ Dillashaw vs. Urijah Faber

Like mentioned earlier, it had seemed as if Urijah Faber was being primed to face the winner of UFC Fight Night 81’s main event, and the UFC would win big no matter who walked away with the title.

If Cruz won, which he did, the UFC would have Cruz vs. Faber III, and if Dillashaw had won, the UFC would have a big time fight between former teammates who have now fallen on rough times.

As the story goes, “The California Kid” had recruited Dillashaw out of high school, and “The Viper” would spend the majority of his career training at Faber’s Team Alpha Male in Sacramento, California.

That is until a few months ago, however, when “Killashaw” left California to join Team Elevation and Duane Ludwig in Denver, Colorado.

After the departure of Dillashaw, Faber made it quite clear that he would have no problem fighting his ex-teammate, and although it would make more sense if it were for the belt, it could still be a possibility.

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If for some reason neither is awarded a title shot, Dillashaw vs. Faber would mark a big pay day for both fighters, as well as an extremely exciting fight for the fans.

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TJ Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao

If the UFC indeed books Cruz vs. Faber which I see them doing, a bout with No. 4-ranked Brazilian Raphael Assuncao would make the most sense for the now ex-champ TJ Dillashaw.

After suffering a loss on season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter (TUF), “The Viper” has only lost twice in his UFC tenure. Those losses came to Cruz most recently and Assuncao via a split decision at UFC Fight Night 29 in 2013.

Assuncao has won a super impressive seven straight and has established himself as a true contender in the bantamweight division. However, he has since been out of action due to injury since October 2014 when he scored a decision victory over Bryan Caraway.

If the Brazilian can indeed get himself healthy, the bout would be quite ideal for both fighters.

Dillashaw would get a chance to bounce back and revenge a loss while Assuncao would be given the chance to truly earn a title shot.

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Aljamain Sterling vs. Michael McDonald

No. 5-ranked Aljamain “The Funk Master” Sterling is one of the 135-pound division’s brightest prospects. At age 26, the New York native is currently undefeated at 12-0 in his professional fighting career, and is riding the waves of a four fight UFC win streak that includes three impressive finishes.

If we were to rewind a few years back, No. 6-ranked Michael “Mayday” McDonald was being billed as the future of the division. McDonald would challenge interim champion Renan Barao in 2013, coming up short in an attempt to secure divisional gold.

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He would then bounce back with a win over Brad Picket, before losing to Urijah Faber and taking a near two and a half year hiatus from the sport of mixed martial arts.

Still only 25 years old, “Mayday” recently returned to action, picking up an impressive come from behind submission victory over Masanori Kanehara at January 2’s UFC 195.

Sterling is currently a free agent, but if he indeed resigns with the UFC, a bout between he and McDonald makes perfect sense.

Both men are at similar points in their respective careers, and a clash between the two would spark the emergence of the next young and hungry title challenger.

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Thomas Almeida vs. Bryan Caraway

Aside from Sterling, Brazilian phenom Thomas Almeida also sticks out as a rising prospect in the bantamweight division.

A ruthless striker, Almeida stands at a perfect 20-0 in his fighting career with 16 finishes. Currently 4-0 inside of the Octagon, “Thominhas” has scored three straight knockout victories, most recently beating Anthony Birchak last November.

Almeida had expressed interest in facing off with No. 8-ranked Bryan Caraway in November, but “Kid Lightning” wasn’t able to fight at the time.

That being said, the matchup still makes sense, and the promotion should look to book these two young contenders.

The 31-year-old Caraway has won three out of his last four bouts, and is one of the best submission artists in the division. With 17 of his 20 career victories coming by way of submission, Caraway would provide a tough test for the 24 year old Almeida.

What fight are you looking towards most?