Photo credit: Tracy Lee/Yahoo! Sports
The UFC’s bantamweight division is a healthy mix of known names and up-and-coming fighters, as two sit atop the class.
Dominick Cruz, who has worn the UFC’s 135-pound title since the weight class debuted in the promotion, is currently on the sidelines recovering from a second knee operation.
That caused UFC officials to put together an interim title match between Renan Barao and Urijah Faber, which Barao won. The Brazilian is set to defend his title next Saturday against Michael McDonald, another of the fresh faces, in London.
So, with the UFC’s first official rankings having been released recently, let’s take a look at some of the top names in the bantamweight division right now.
Dominick Cruz (UFC bantamweight champion)
Despite being sidelined since late in 2011, “The Dominator” is still the UFC bantamweight champion.
Two knee operations have many questioning what kind of fighter Cruz will be once he returns, but being just 27 years old, we should still expect to see that always-moving super-athlete.
Cruz has not lost since a 2007 submission defeat to Urijah Faber, winning each of his last 10 bouts. He’s defeated the likes of Demetrious Johnson, Faber, Scott Jorgensen and Joseph Benavidez – twice – during his streak.
Photo credit: MMAFighting
Renan Barao (interim UFC bantamweight champion)
As impressive of win streak as Dominick Cruz has, Barao can top it, as the Brazilian has not lost since his debut fight in 2005.
Barao is unbeaten in 30 professional fights, including UFC wins over Faber, Jorgensen and Brad Pickett.
Of his 29 career wins, 13 have come by submission and another six are of the knockout variety.
Barao will face Michael McDonald next Saturday in defense of his title from London.
McDonald will be chasing history when he faces Barao for the interim title, as the 22-year-old can become the youngest UFC champion with a win.
Since debuting in the UFC in 2011, the fighter has reeled off four wins, including back-to-back first round knockouts over Miguel Torres and Alex Soto.
The only flaw on McDonald’s resume is a 2009 TKO defeat at the hands of Cole Escovedo, to which he avenged a year later with a second round knockout win.
Faber is the poster child for the UFC’s lighter weights, as “The California Kid” has helped open many doors for bantamweights, featherweights and flyweights.
Faber, a former WEC champion, has fallen twice in UFC title matches, but he remains a key fighter in the division. He has fought the who’s who, including Cruz, Baro, Jose Aldo and Mike Brown.
While he is just 2-2 since the UFC-WEC merger, Faber sports a career record of 26-6 and was a coach on the first live season of The Ultimate Fighter with Cruz.
Photo credit Combat Lifestyle
Wineland appears on the cusp of competing for the UFC title following a pair of wins over Brad Pickett and Jorgensen after opening his UFC career with losses to Faber and Joseph Benavidez.
The former WEC champion, though, packs quite the punch as evident by his 10 career KO wins. If you try and take it to the ground, Wineland has five submission wins, as well.
Photo credit: Combat Lifestyle
With three straight wins to his credit, Assuncao has proven his rough 2010-11 run was nothing to be overly concerned about.
The Brazilian defeated Mike Easton late in 2012, serving notice that he wants another top contender in the division this year.
Eight submission wins in 18 career victories fill Assuncao’s resume, along with three knockout triumphs.
Photo credit: Combat Lifestyle
Jorgensen’s been able to compete – and defeat – just about anybody he enters the cage with. But, it’s those higher-profile fighters that give the former Boise State University standout trouble.
Since 2009, his only losses have come at the hands of Cruz, Barao and Wineland – all former or current champions in either the UFC or WEC.
A submission win over John Albert to conclude 2012 snapped a two-fight losing skid for “Young Guns,” and likely earned him another fight with the UFC.
Bowles, the Mark Wahlberg lookalike from “Boogie Nights,” hasn’t been seen since late in 2011.
But, with a 10-2 record – the losses coming against Faber and Cruz – he is a definite contender in the division.
Bowles has earned himself six submission victories, with all of them coming via form of choke. Of course, his most recent loss came by the same hold he has perfected, as Faber locked in a guillotine back in 2011.
Menjivar has a chance to make a giant leap up the rankings this month, as he faces Faber in a key battle.
After a loss to Easton snapped a three-fight win streak, he rebounded to submit Azamat Gashimov in the first round.
Nineteen of Menjivar’s 25 career wins have been stoppage victories, including 10 via submission.