With the bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo retiring and vacating his title after defeating Dominick Cruz at UFC 249, the division was opened up. In April of last year, champion TJ Dillashaw vacated his title due to a USADA suspension and the division felt like it was ready to explode; unfortunately this didn’t quite happen in the way we hoped.
Following Henry Cejudo’s incredible win over Marlon Moraes for the vacant title, things were really heating up though what we thought might be an explosion was more of a slow burn. In the year of Cejudo’s reign as champion, several things happened that have only added fuel to the fire at 135 pounds.
From three top contenders stepping up to the plate in Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen, to former featherweight champion Jose Aldo moving down a weight class and of course the return of ‘the sugar show’. Though many have been frustrated at the lack of movement at 135 pounds considering the talent, it all paid off on Saturday night at UFC 250.
This card featured not just one, but three big moments for the division in a post-Cejudo era. Three men grabbed hold of these moments and the torch that was needed to set the division alight.
Kicking off the main card, ‘Sugar’ Sean O’Malley put on his best performance to date in his biggest test in the octagon, firmly planting the hype train on the right tracks. O’Malley finished octagon veteran and former WEC champion Eddie Wineland in just under one round with a stunning one punch walk-off KO. Not only did he cement his status as a legitimate threat at bantamweight, but he also solidified his place as the future star of this division.
Up next at 135 pounds was what many were calling the people’s main event, essentially a number one contender’s match between Aljimain Sterling and Cory Sandhagen with the winner getting to fight the victor of Yan vs Aldo. Aljamain Sterling had a lot of promise when he first came into the division and on Saturday night, he got his big moment when he submitted Sandhagen in one minute and 28 seconds. Somewhat under the radar, Sterling has proved himself as the here and now of the division and no longer a prospect.
Finally, in the co-main event the former champion Cody Garbrandt would return to the cage for the first time since March of last year. The return of Cody ‘No Love’ threw gasoline onto an already burning fire, throwing himself right back into the top five of the division following a great performance; capped off by a highlight reel one-punch KO of longtime contender Raphael Assuncao. Coming off of three consecutive KO losses, Garbrandt reminded everyone in the division who the former champion is.
The division couldn’t be more red hot than it currently is with what is seemingly a race to prove who is the very best 135 pounds has to offer. Who’s your pick for bantamweights best? Let us know and get involved.