With UFC flyweight + bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo sidelined until 2020 due to a subscapularis muscle tear in his shoulder, that means there’s a bit of time on the clock for both of the respective divisions to get sorted in terms of a #1 contender.
An interesting side effect of the Double C’s era is that fighters now have to compete for title shots against guys in different weight classes, without actually fighting them at all. When a champion in the UFC holds two belts, it means the competition below in the rankings now has to compete against another weight class for an opportunity at the strap. This problem or logjam is only intensified more when said champion is sidelined for any number of reasons.
So with that said, that means the 125 and 135-pound divisions are going to have to figure this out in the interim and given the circumstances, there’s matchmaking that will be made for two divisions attempting to get the same title shot.
1. Aljamain Sterling vs Petr Yan (Bantamweight)
Both fighters last competed at UFC 238 and won their respective fights via decision. With Sterling currently riding a 4-fight win streak and 5 for Yan inside the UFC (8 in full), it feels as if the time off for Cejudo will hurt the momentum of both fighters, should they decide to sit out and wait.
There are a number of fighters within arms reach of a title shot and given the time component. As both fighters are ranked inside of the top 5 (#2 for Sterling – #4 for Yan) and last competed on the same card, it would make sense from a timing standpoint. Since they are the only two inside of the top 5 not injured or coming off of a loss, it’s safe to say both names will eventually make sense for each other, as both fighters have given off the impression that they are not going to be ‘punching down’ anytime soon.
The one sticking point as of this writing is that Sterling has made it clear on multiple channels that he isn’t too keen on this matchup right now and over the UFC Minneapolis weekend he tweeted that he ‘wouldn’t be mad at all’ if the UFC decided to choose Joseph Benavidez next. What the actual “correct” answer for this potential situation is remains to be seen given the power structure of the UFC, but with the MMA community currently rallying around Benavidez and the chance to solidify yourself over another streaking name in Yan, I think this is a potential fight we can see in November or December.
For Yan, this is your chance to knock off your 3rd straight ranked opponent who also happens to be the highest ranked fighter in the division on a win streak. For Aljo, I believe winter gets cold fast and instead of having to play the political game, he will realize this is the cleanest way to a shot at gold and will proceed accordingly.
2. John Dodson vs Thomas Almeida (Bantamweight)
Under normal circumstances, fighters that are currently on losing streaks wouldn’t be considered ‘in the mix’ at all. But again, given these circumstances, there is time for streaks to build and come to an end.
In the middle of the pack, #13 Dodson and #15 Almeida are potential contenders with a few more wins under their belts. With fighters the likes of John Lineker, Dominick Cruz, Cody Garbrandt and others, this is just one of the potential matchups that could take place in the fall and produce a clear opponent for a potential return fight in early 2020. Both fighters are currently on a 2-fight losing streak and given their respective fighting styles, the winner would be riding a bit of a buzz and with the division resembling the Wild West at the moment, it would be just enough time for either of these fighters to insert their name into the next fight that could lead to a title shot.
With Cory Sandhagen and Raphael Assuncao currently booked for UFC 241, the next guy at 135 pounds will be decided shortly, but this could serve as a perfect action fight that would also produce a wild card name in the process. Injuries, suspensions, and bad weight cuts are just some of the factors that can change a pecking order overnight, and ESPN has many cards to fill before Cejudo is back.
3. Kai Kara France vs Tim Elliott (Flyweight)
Benavidez was able to pick up an exciting win over Jussier Formiga this past weekend at UFC Minneapolis, but when trying to forecast 6 months or so ahead, it becomes unclear if he will still be the lead candidate once Cejudo returns next year.
Competitors are passed over for title shots often and given that there isn’t a clear meritocracy in the UFC anyway, I won’t waste your time stating the concensus opinion that he deserves a chance. But that’s why this situation is so unique, because much like the lightweight division currently, multiple guys deserve their chance across multiple weight groups. But there’s one shot to go around now for twice as many fighters, and contenders are staying busy to avoid getting passed over.
Much like the previous champ, Demitrious Johnson fought guys that weren’t necessarily ready or ‘deserving’ of a title shot; just in the right place at the right time. Given the thinness of the division currently, Kai Kara France represents one of the only fresh names left to build off of while Tim Elliott can be considered the only known commodity left at 125 outside of Benavidez. This fight could take place mid September and could play out as a perfect break out moment for Kai Kara or a friendly reminder for Elliott.
Should Joseph need to take another fight between now and 2020, this is a matchup that could produce a clear opponent for him, and depending on the timing of Cejudo’s return, it could serve as either the perfect fight to leapfrog other names and become his return fight, or the one that secures your name in the rotation should Cejudo make a quick turn around after his initial defense.
Upcoming fight to watch:
#9 Cory Sandhagen vs #3 Raphael Assuncao at UFC 241.
1. Joseph Benavidez
Under normal circumstances, Benavidez would be the clear next contender at flyweight, but there are guys above him at 135 also vying for their shot. Time is the natural enemy of buzz, so for both of those reasons I believe Benavidez will have to take another fight, though at the current moment many may not feel this way.
2. Dominick Cruz
While Cruz is on injury leave from the sport and most likely not in contention for an immediate shot at Cejudo, he is someone that can reinsert his name easily and even with an extended hiatus from competition will always be one fight away from a title shot.
3. Cody Garbrandt
When I think about fighters that are on the downswing, but not completely out of the mix, Garbrandt comes to mind. When trying to forecast how this complex situation plays out, i can see a scenario where Garbrandt picks up a win over the next 6-8 months and enters spring 2020 only needing one more win to secure a shot. Again, not an immediate contender, but just another name in the bunch that can easily change his fortunes with a win or 2.
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The Scrap’s Tyreef Cash has been a Music Producer & Hip Hop Beatmaker since 2013, covering MMA since 2018. Currently studying Media Relations at the Community College of Philadelphia, Cash has also trained Shotokan Karate, Folkstyle Wrestling, and Brazilian Jiu Jitsu. Follow Tyreef (@nixon_speaks) on Twitter.