Wednesday October 8th, 2014

The UFC has two bantamweight champions.

No, I’m not counting Ronda Rousey. If we include the icily supreme queen of 135-pound women, we’re talking three champs. But I’m dealing with just the men here.

The man who wears the shiny brass-and-leather belt is T.J. Dillashaw, who won it back in May from Renan Barão, who won it in … um … well, he was handed it in January. Before that, Barão had been interim champ, a faux designation created in the interminable absence of injured champion Dominick Cruz.

Earlier this year, with Cruz apparently healed and Barão having established himself as seemingly indomitable, the two were finally set to tug-of-war for the real strap. But before they could, “The Dominator” suffered another injury. The promotion, so patient for so long, finally stripped Cruz of his belt, boxed it up, and sent it to Brazil.

So Dominick Cruz had his title taken away not by a UFC fighter but by the UFC itself. He lost it, not inside the octagon, but in some boardroom where bean counters decided that they could wait no longer to promote a fight for the bantam belt.

A reasonable decision.

And so was the UFC’s call late two Saturdays ago, in the wake of a stirring UFC 178 fight card in Las Vegas, to award Cruz the opportunity to be a part of the next fight for the bantam belt.

Cruz earned his spot. After not having competed in just three days shy of three years, Dominick was an exploding cigar in the astonished face of then-No. 7 ranked Takeya Mizugaki. It took him just 61 seconds to get the TKO -- and at the same time demonstrate that, shockingly, the longer-than-long layoff hadn’t put his relentless movement out of rhythm, and that he’d actually returned to the game as a more explosive fighter.

The old Cruz was the best bantamweight on the planet. The new and improved Cruz? He’s No. 1.

That’s right: We’re slotting the ex-champ ahead of the reigning belt holder in the bantamweight rankings.

Unorthodox, perhaps, but unusual circumstances call for outside-the-box thinking. Then again, go ahead and keep your consciousness inside the box, and look around in there for a couple of resumes. Let’s compare: Cruz is 20-1, winner of 11 straight, including four defenses of the WEC/UFC bantamweight belt. Dillashaw is 11-2 with three wins in a row, the last one his lone defense. T.J. owns the win over Barão but has lost to his only two other opponents ranked in the Top 10 at 135 or 125 pounds. Dominick’s lone loss was to Urijah Faber, but he avenged that and also owns wins over flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson as well as several ranked foes.

Paper comparisons are flimsy, but the eye test also tells me Cruz is the man at 135. Still the man, that is. It’s only a matter of time before he reacquires the leather to show it.

On to the rankings…


1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)

2. Junior dos Santos (16-3)

3. Fabricio Werdum (18-5-1)

4. Stipe Miocic (12-1)

5. Travis Browne (16-2-1)

6. Mark Hunt (10-8-1)

7. Josh Barnett (33-7)

8. Andrei Arlovski (23-10, 1 NC)

9. Antonio Silva (18-6, 1 NC)

10. Roy Nelson (20-10)

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This division is really a Top 5 and an Other 5. Well, maybe an even better hierarchical breakdown would be to call it a Top 1 -- Velasquez is that far ahead of the field. But even down near the bottom of the list, a guy is still relevant, and that’s something worth fighting for. Last month’s Nos. 8, 9 and 10 all lost, but the only one who’s gone away is Alistair Overeem. Silva moves down a spot to make room for his conqueror, Arlovski. And Nelson remains 10th ranked despite having lot three of his last four bouts (all to fighters ranked ahead of him, though). He’s some good, hefty ballast.

Light Heavyweight

1. Jon Jones (20-1)

2. Alexander Gustafsson (16-2)

3. Daniel Cormier (15-0)

4. Rashad Evans (21-3-1)

5. Glover Teixeira (22-3)

6. Anthony Johnson (18-4)

7. Phil Davis (12-2, 1 NC)

8. Ryan Bader (18-4)

9. Emanuel Newton (24-7-1)

10. Dan Henderson (30-12)

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Not much happening right now in this division, as everyone awaits Jones vs. Cormier... which doesn’t happen until January. The one rumbling comes from the life of Johnson, who was suspended indefinitely by the UFC a couple of weeks ago after allegations of domestic violence surfaced. These days the spotlight is shining hot and bright on that issue, as well it should. We’re leaving “Rumble” where he is for now, even though he’s not eligible to fight until the promotion addresses his situation. We’ll be keeping a close look.


1. Chris Weidman (12-0)

2. Anderson Silva (33-6)

3. Vitor Belfort (23-10)

4. Ronaldo Souza (20-3, 1 NC)

5. Lyoto Machida (21-5)

6. Luke Rockhold (12-2)

7. Tim Kennedy (18-5)

8. Michael Bisping (24-6)

9. Yushin Okami (30-8)

10. Yoel Romero (9-1)

Souza was impressive in dismantling Gegard Mousasi, but there’s not much upward mobility possible for “Jacare” with the Top 3 packed so tightly. So he stays put. I’m inclined to do the same with Romero and Kennedy, despite the fact that the lower-ranked Yoel got the third-round TKO in their UFC 178 free-for-all. If you watched, you know the Cuban was lucky to even be in a third round, after being knocked senseless at the end of the second and then getting extra recovery time thanks to some chicanery by his corner. If anything, I’d like to downgrade Kennedy, but he owns a win over Bisping. So let’s just wait for the rematch -- there’s got to be one, right? -- and sort things out after that.


1. Johny Hendricks (16-2)

2. Rory MacDonald (18-2)

3. Robbie Lawler (24-10, 1 NC)

4. Tyron Woodley (14-3)

5. Carlos Condit (29-8)

6. Hector Lombard (34-4-1, 1 NC)

7. Matt Brown (19-12)

8. Ben Askren (14-0)

9. Jake Shields (29-7-1, 1 NC)

10. Demian Maia (19-6)

And now he waits. But at least he has something to wait for, something solid. Or semi-solid. MacDonald’s victory last weekend over Tarec Saffiedine was as meticulous and efficient as all of his wins are, but this one also had the explosiveness that seems to come and go with the stone-faced Canadian. His third-round finish materialized suddenly, when he dropped Saffiedine with a left hand and swarmed him on the canvas for the TKO. It put him in position to challenge the winner of the December title fight rematch between Hendricks and Lawler. In the meantime, MacDonald gets to sit and wait for a call.


1. Anthony Pettis (17-2)

2. Gilbert Melendez (22-3)

3. Khabib Nurmagomedov (22-0)

4. Rafael dos Anjos (22-7)

5. Donald Cerrone (25-6, 1 NC)

6. Benson Henderson (21-4)

7. Bobby Green (23-5)

8. Josh Thomson (20-6, 1 NC)

9. Nate Diaz (17-9)

7. Eddie Alvarez (25-4)

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Giddy up. Cerrone’s unrelenting beatdown of Alvarez during UFC 178’s hit parade undercard boosted “The Cowboy” up one notch on this list. But what’s above forms presents a formidable obstacle between him and a shot at the belt. Melendez gets his go at Pettis in December, and Nurmagomedov would seem to be next in line. But you never know what UFC matchmakers are thinking. Dos Anjos gets his chance to impress when he welcomes Diaz back to the octagon a week after the title bout.


1. José Aldo (24-1)

2. Chad Mendes (16-1)

3. Frankie Edgar (17-4-1)

4. Ricardo Lamas (14-3)

5. Cub Swanson (21-5)

6. Conor McGregor (16-2)

7. Chan Sung Jung (13-4)

8. Patricio Freire (22-2)

9. Dennis Bermudez (14-3)

10. Dustin Poirier (16-4)

Watching McGregor perform at UFC 178 got me humming along to the impish Dan Bern song “Jerusalem,” in which the narrator reveals himself: “I am the Messiah / I was gonna wait till next year / Build up the suspense a little / Make it a really big surprise / But I could not resist.” Resistance is futile in the case of the loquacious Irishman, who demonstrated in his fight with Poirier that his gifts go beyond gab. Will he get the next title shot (after Aldo vs. Mendes), as UFC president Dana White has suggested? The Edgar vs. Swanson winner will have earned it, but McGregor has shown himself to be a force to be reckoned with, and his day cannot come soon enough for the promotion. When and if he rises, he will bring the sport with him.


1. Dominick Cruz (20-1)

2. T.J. Dillashaw (11-2)

3. Renan Barão (32-2, 1 NC)

4. Urijah Faber (30-7)

5. Raphael Assunção (23-4)

6. Michael McDonald (16-3)

7. Iuri Alcantara (31-5, 1 NC)

8. Eduardo Dantas (16-3)

9. Bibianio Fernandes (16-3)

10. Takeya Mizugaki (20-7-2)

There it is. “The Dominator” dominates. No disrespect intended against Dillashaw -- though it would be understandable for him to take it that way -- but Cruz is simply the best at this weight class. Which is suddenly stacked, by the way. While Dominick and T.J. are tussling, maybe Barão can start his climb back to the top by facing Assunção. And Faber can wait in the wings -- or just take a fight, any fight -- to see how it all shakes out. He might have one more run at the elusive belt left in him.


1. Demetrious Johnson (20-2-1)

2. Joseph Benavidez (20-4)

3. John Dodson (16-6)

4. Ian McCall (13-4-1)

5. Jussier da Silva (17-3)

6. John Moraga (14-3)

7. Ali Bagautinov (13-3)

8. John Lineker (24-7)

9. Brad Pickett (24-9)

10. Tim Elliott (10-5-1)

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C’mon, Mr. Dodson. Heal that ACL and get in there with “Mighty Mouse.” Truth is, the one guy who’s given the champion anything resembling a fight is out till next year. And Johnson has to fight someone. Maybe it will be the winner of the November fight between McCall and Lineker. Ian did get a draw with Demetrious when they competed in the first round of the flyweight tournament. And John’s toughest opponent yet has been the scale;l he’s missed weight three times, and in February he needed extra time to cut to the limit, then lost a decision to Bagautinov.


1. Ronda Rousey (10-0)

2. Cristiane Justino (12-1, 1 NC)

3. Cat Zingano (8-0)

4. Sara McMann (8-1)

5. Miesha Tate (14-5)

6. Alexis Davis (16-6)

7. Jessica Eye (10-2, 1 NC)

8. Sarah Kaufman (16-2, 1 NC)

9. Liz Carmouche (9-5)

10. Bethe Correia (9-0)

Finally, Zingano will get what she’s been waiting for. Her stoppage of Amanda Nunes at UFC 178 was a long time coming, as she’d been out for nearly a year and a half because of knee surgery and the death of her husband. Prior to that setback, she had been designated as next in line to challenge Rousey. But that all went away, and Cat took out for frustration on Nunes. Afterward, she got her title shot back. “Be careful what you wish for” and all that, but if you’re a fighter this is what you’ve got to wish for.

Pound for pound

1. Jon Jones

2. José Aldo

3. Cain Velasquez

4. Chris Weidman

5. Ronda Rousey

6. Demetrious Johnson

7. Anthony Pettis

8. Anderson Silva

9. Johny Hendricks

10. Dominick Cruz

A small step for “The Dominator,” but it’s a start. He didn’t look like his old self against Mizugaki. He looked better. Look out above.

Questions? Coments? To reach Jeff Wagenheim or contribute to the MMA mailbag, click on the E-mail link at the top of the page.

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