The UFC’s bantamweight division has long been not only one of the promotion’s most talented but one of its most intriguing as well.
Recently, however, the division’s future has become a bit unclear due primarily to champion Henry Cejudo and the fact that there is a crop of worthy contenders gunning for a title shot.
Originally, Cejudo was scheduled to defend his title against Jose Aldo at UFC 250 in June. Despite Cejudo wanting to fight Aldo, the fight never made much sense given that Aldo, although a legendary former featherweight champion, has lost two straight and is technically 0-1 as a bantamweight.
With the recent outbreak of COVID-19, however, the fight never came to fruition, as Aldo was unable to get into America. Because of that, Cejudo put his title on the line against former titleholder Dominick Cruz on May 9 at UFC 249. While Cruz didn’t make much sense as the next title contender either, the bout was a bit more reasonable given the circumstances.
Ultimately, Cejudo defeated Cruz by way of a second-round stoppage. Following the victory, however, Cejudo revealed to UFC commentator Joe Rogan that he was retiring at just 33 years old, which was rather shocking, to say the least. Interestingly enough, many haven’t bought Cejudo’s retirement claims and the future of the division likely depends on the former Olympic gold medalist’s fighting future.
As of now, for example, it seems as if the only thing set in stone regarding the upper echelon of the 135-pound division is that top contenders Aljamain Sterling and Corey Sandhagen will be fighting at UFC 250 on June 6.
A fight between the two was previously rumored for the spring prior to the coronavirus pandemic and with the UFC now back to putting on live events, Sterling has stated multiple times on social media that he’ll be competing on June 6. In fact, Sterling once again took to social media today to reveal a signed contact for June 6.
A winner of four straight, it would seem to make sense that the “Funkmaster” takes on Sandhagen, who has won seven-straight including five-straight in the UFC.
After a potential bout between Sterling and Sandhagen, however, is where things get interesting at bantamweight. If Cejudo does indeed elect to vacate his belt and retire, for example, the winner of Sterling vs. Sandhagen should undoubtedly go on to face Petr Yan for the vacant title.
Yan, a 27-year-old Russian, has risen through the ranks, winning six-straight UFC bouts including a stoppage victory over Urijah Faber this past December. Certainly deserving of a title shot, Dana White even said following Cejudo’s announcement that if the title was vacated, a title fight between “Petr Yan and somebody” would be booked.
Given that statement from White, it would make complete sense for Yan to take on either Sterling or Sandhagen in a title bout. And if Cejudo doesn’t retire, he could next defend his title against Yan and the winner of that bout would have a challenger waiting in line.
As far as Aldo goes, it never quite made sense that he was receiving a title shot. Perhaps a bout between him and Cruz would make sense next. Stylistically, the matchup would be fascinating and it makes sense coming from a rankings standpoint given that both men are former champions coming off of losses.
In the end, however, the future of the division seems to lie to in the hands of the man known as “Triple C” and whether or not his retirement is permanent.