What Next For The Bantamweights

Referee Jason Herzog peels Moraes off a defeated Assuncao (Photo Credit: Jason Silva-USA TODAY Sports)

The UFC Bantamweight division is in a state of somewhat turmoil this week after it’s foundations were rattled Wednesday morning.

T.J. Dillashaw voluntarily relinquished the championship in the early hours of Wednesday after he was flagged by anti-doping agency USADA. Stemming back to his January 19th. Flyweight title fight with Henry Cejudo, Dillashaw spoke of an “adverse finding” in a drug test and how he would be giving up the gold whilst the investigation proceeded. The Barclays Centre in Brooklyn was the venue that January night and the New York State Athletic Commission has since slapped a one year suspension on Dillashaw, along with a $10,000 fine. The Bang Muay Thai trainee was unsuccessful that night in his quest for ‘champ champ’ status with Cejudo landing a knockout inside the opening minute, and the California native’s quest for a rematch with ‘The Messenger’ has certainly hit the skids after yesterday’s findings. So with Dillashaw out of the 135lbs picture for the foreseeable future, where does the division go from here?

A vacant title clash is widely expected in the coming months and there are a handful on names which garner conversation of a title quarrel. Brazilian pair Pedro Munhoz and Marlon Moraes, the latter in particular are at the front of the line for a tilt, while Serra-Longo stand out Aljamain Sterling has made an immense recovery from a devastating stoppage to the aforementioned Moraes to earn himself a possible rematch with ‘Magic’ Marlon. Another possible challenger is Flyweight champ Cejudo. The original plan was all but set in stone, the Olympic gold medalist was expected to try his own luck at becoming just the fourth simultaneous champion in Octagon history against Dillashaw, so why not drop his name into the hat.

Marlon Moraes should be the obvious shoe in to fill either the red or blue corner whenever the title eventually goes up for grabs, and a clash with Henry seems the most probable move forward for the division. Moraes avenged his razor thin promotional debut loss to Raphael Assuncao last time out with a guillotine from mount, subsequently extending his win streak to four. Two highlight reel head kick and knee finishes over Jimmie Rivera and Aljamain Sterling respectively, highlighted the former WSOF kingpin as a real threat to the throne no matter who would be reigning supreme. A black belt in both Muay Thai and Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, the Ricardo Almeida product would be fancied against any of the previously mentioned contenders in my opinion. Henry Cejudo looked incredible in his rematch with now ONE FC Flyweight Demetrious Johnson, grabbing the title over five rounds with an expert wrestling display, and landed a a huge overhand right on Dillashaw to drop him before finishing with ground and pound after an initial scramble. Cejudo’s wrestling pedigree is hugely favorable in most cases but against someone of Marlon’s grappling prowess it must be used cautiously.

If Aljo Sterling fails to get the call after his three fight tear, somewhat of a title eliminator between ‘The Funk Master’ and Pedro Munhoz should  unquestionably be booked. Paired with former champion Cody Garbrandt at UFC 235, the grappling orientated Munhoz finished Team Alpha Male’s Garbrandt in the final seconds of the opening round with strikes,to almost everyone’s shock. Cody certainly hurt Sao Paulo born Munhoz midway through the round but the fight IQ, or lack there of, returned as he found himself embroiled in a slug-fest with Pedro who displayed a granite chin to hand ‘No Love’ his third straight knockout defeat. Both Sterling and Munhoz are seasoned grapplers with the Serra-Longo Fight Team and the American Top Team stars holding seventeen separate submissions combined. Sterling’s NCAA Division III wrestling background could play a factor in this one, but similarly to the possible Moraes and Cejudo clash, wrestling should be attempted with severe caution.

Cejudo’s potential move to Bantamweight spells more peril for the many contenders at Flyweight unfortunately. Jussier Formiga, the division’s #1 contender, meets fellow Brazilian Deiveson Figeuriedo in some what of a title eliminator tomorrow night at UFC Fight Night Nashville, while two time title challenger Joseph Benavidez is hot on the heels of the pair as he looks to beat Cejudo again, this time for all the marbles.

Many in the MMA community have had their own views on T.J.’s situation including Conor McGregor and former foe Garbrandt. Taking to Twitter, The Notorious’ reminded fans of the clash the pair had whilst filming TUF; @TheNotoriousMMA “I called that little snake way back. I am the new St. Patrick.” Interestingly, if memory serves us right Cody Garbrandt hinted at some suspicious substance abuse, by his former teammate way back before their premier Octagon clash at UFC 217. 

Sitting Ringside

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