A look at the Bantamweight division with Dominick Cruz as the champion is almost like throwing wood into a slow burning fire. Cruz won his 13th consecutive fight at UFC 199 and defended his title for the second time in his second stint. Young stars are emerging in the division and are hungry to win the belt from one of the P4P best in the world. With young and veteran fighters alike, it’s quickly becoming one of the most exciting divisions in the UFC.
Cruz continues to run the Bantamweight division with an iron fist with another title defense at UFC 199. The trilogy fight with fan favorite Urijah Faber went the way of Cruz as he used the mastery of his movement and all-around skill level. After allowing ‘The California Kid’ to land just 21% of his Significant Strikes and 1 of his 6 takedown attempts. The longtime kingpin atop the 135-pound division has a collection of young talent awaiting their turn at a title shot.
Next In Line
Winner of TJ Dillashaw vs. Raphael Assuncao
The ‘biggest event in UFC history’ is less than a month away and includes a likely Bantamweight title eliminator when former champion TJ Dillashaw rematches Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200. The winner likely gets the next title shot, especially with a good showing. The fight being one month after the last title fight puts the time right in tune for a late summer, early fall return.
Dillashaw won the title at UFC 173 and was able to defend it twice before running into Cruz at Fight Night 81. With spectacular performances against Renan Barao (twice) and Joe Soto, along with a close fight against Cruz, has kept Dillashaw in the thick of things. A win here would likely set up a rematch fight or another big fight with either a Bryan Caraway or Cody Garbrandt.
Assuncao is a winner of seven straight, including a win over Dillashaw and Caraway. A two-year layoff has put a halt on the title train for Assuncao, but a return bout with Dillashaw puts him back on the rails. A loss here would likely kill the hopes for a title shot until another run like this one. A dominant win or finish is the only way ensure a title shot, but a win none-the-less will keep him going forward in this race.
The star power is all on girlfriend Miesha Tate at the moment, but Bryan Caraway is doing alright for himself. After a decision win over Aljamain Sterling at Fight Night 88, Caraway is looking for the stars with a title shot. His wins over Eddie Wineland and Sterling in his last two sets up the Xtreme Couture product for a big fight with title implications. A fight with anyone above him in the rankings such as a Urijah Faber fight or a fight with Cody Garnbrandt at UFC 203 (per the request of Garbrandt) will suffice in moving him forward.
A dominating win over Thomas Almeida in a headlining bout in May put the young prospect on the map. The biggest win of his career couldn’t have come at a better time with contenders dropping left and right, Garbrandt has stood strong and kept up. A fight with Urijah Faber is out of the question as they are close teammates, but fights with Caraway, John Dodson, or Aljamain Sterling could catapult the young phenom into the starlight.
The ‘Funkmaster’ resigned with the UFC to become a champion back in January. His loss to Caraway sent him back a few steps as he’ll need big wins to show he can handle the fighters at the top. With top 15 wins in Takeya Mizugaki and Johnny Eduardo, Sterling should be looking up in the rankings still. Fights with Faber or Garbrandt would be the biggest tests while the safe fights would be a Jimmie Rivera fight. A good match up for both guys would be the one people have been looking forward to with Sterling against Thomas Almeida with both coming off of losses.
The 24-year-old talented fighter needed the win over Garbrandt that would have likely put him with one fight to a title shot. The loss doesn’t set him back much but puts the time back depending on how often he fights. With one marquee win over Brad Pickett, Almeida will have to prove he can hang with the big boys. Above him in the rankings could be fights with Faber or Dodson with guys like Johhny Eduardo and Eddie Wineland below him. The fight to make is Aljamain Sterling as both are coming off of losses, but still have a huge upside for the future.
Can you believe he is just 25 years old still? McDonald has already fought for an interim title with 8 UFC fights under his belt. After returning to action in January, ‘Mayday’ seems to be back in the fight business for good after losing his passion for the sport, along with hand injuries to boot. His fight with John Lineker in July will say a lot about both guys future in the division with Cruz as champion. A win over Lineker and a top 5 victory puts McDonald back in the running for a second shot at UFC gold.
One of the brightest budding stars in the division is Jimmie Rivera. With just one career loss, he holds three straight UFC wins over Marcus Brimage, Pedro Munhoz, and Iuri Alcantara. At 14 in the division rankings, the only people he wants to be looking at is in front of him. Best fights to go forward would be like Thomas Almeida or Aljamain Sterling despite both coming off of losses.
It might be a blessing in disguise that Lineker could not make 125 for so long. In his new home of Bantamweight, Lineker has had better cardio and seems to be healthier come fight day. His two-minute war with Francisco Rivera and destruction of Rob Font are just glimpses of what this guy can likely do at 135. His fight with Michael McDonald means a lot to his title future, possibly leaving him just a few fights away from a title shot.
The oldest one in this group is more of a ‘nowhere else to put him’ kind of place. His highly successful 125 pound run was halted with two losses to the champion, prompting a move up in weight. His speed and accuracy at this weight class will cause issues for anyone, but especially for the bigger Bantamweights. His win over Manny Gamburyan is just the start and should put the rest of the division on notice. Rankings almost don’t apply as of right now, leaving any opponent open for John Dodson
As with the Middleweight division, a guy who has lost his last seven chances at winning a title should be nowhere near a title picture. With his loss to Cruz and his fight career on the back half, Faber will settle into a different role. He is still a talented fighter, and could be used to see if guys can take that next step in their career towards being a champion. Any guy in the top 15 without an opponent could be fair game for him, and a win over Urijah Faber holds some weight to it.
Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223
UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.
Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.
After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.
A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.
Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.
Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.
A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.
Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet
Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.
“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”
Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.
“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”
Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.
“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April
MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.
The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.
Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.
An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.
His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).
Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.
PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.
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