The Bantamweight Division

Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports


At a time when the stock of the bantamweight division is trending to be the highest it’s ever been, Henry Cejudo is bowing out of competition. The rumblings and the rumors are that the reasoning behind the retirement is a money issue, and if that’s the case, fair enough. As embarrassing and as ill-advised as the “King of Cringe” gimmick is, one thing Cejudo has proved without a reasonable doubt is that he is one of the greatest bantamweights on the planet. It’s a shame that he is dipping out at a time when the stage and spotlight is on the verge of becoming bigger than ever.

The spotlight getting brighter is not because of the effort gone into phony pro wrestling gimmick’s or the social media nonsense, none of those things have produced a useful result. It certainly hasn’t commanded any more fanfare,attention or money. If anything, it’s overshadowed the specialness of Cejudo as a fighter. It’s the emergence of multiple elite talents all hitting their stride at the same time that has the popularity of the bantamweight weight class on the rise.

If you ask the hardcore fans, they’ll tell you the lower weight classes were always the most entertaining fights with the best talent. But what the division’s lacked was the big names and intriguing match-ups to get the casual fans truly excited. If the latest developments are any indication, that narrative will soon be a dated one.

Sean O’Malley is coming into his own and demonstrating remarkable patience and composure as of late. Those attributes coupled with his extremely large frame and the rare ability to utilize it exceedingly well is something that’s rightfully getting him a lot of attention. O’Malley has made a steady progression in the level of talent he is taking on as he moves up the rankings and all performances along the way have been impressive. It also helps that he is one of the most likable characters in the sport, his marketability is well above that of the average fighter.  There is no question he still has a lot of development to undergo as an athlete, but if he can look as good against the next tier of competition as he did against Eddie Wineland, there is no telling how big O’Malley could become.

You also have former champion Cody Garbrant out there looking as good as ever, scoring a knockout of the year candidate win over Raphael Assuncao in his latest outing. The buzzer-beating bomb was picture perfect and was preceded by a very focused and sharp Garbrandt, on his game and seemingly in a great place mentally . The result of his fight with Assuncao was so spectacular that he is just one more impressive performance away from being thrust right back into that title picture.

But according to Dana White, it’s Aljamain Sterling who has earned the number one contender position. Sterling’s most recent fight might be the most impressive out of the lot just based on the fashion in which it unfolded,  and that fact that it was over the highly touted prospect,  Cory Sandhagen. Sterling is looking in top form after quickly snatching the back and securing the rear-naked choke just over a minute into the fight again the ultra dangerous Sandhagen. How he  aggressively pursued the finish right from the start, and succeed in doing so secured him the number one contender position.

That’s three serious threats to the crown right there and that’s without mentioning that this whole thing is capped off with Jose Aldo and Petr Yan being on deck to contest for the vacant championship title. Despite coming off a loss, Aldo looks better than he has in years after his debut in the division. According to training partners and those close to him, for the first time in his career, he is taking his diet seriously and looking more motivated than ever. A motivated and in shape Aldo being put in the cage with the Yan is guaranteed fireworks. There is a lot that can be said about The Russian, but  to sum it up, he is quite possibly the scariest person on the UFC roster right now. The results speak for themselves, there is good reason there wasn’t a steady influx of call out’s from other bantamweights after Yan’s last high profile victory over Urijah Faber.

Not to mention guys like Merab Dvalishvili who is looking like he would be a nightmare matchup for many of the previously mentioned contenders, and Dominick Cruz looking to rebound from his return fight to make a statement. Between all of these fighters, there is a plethora of incredible contests to be made. All of which have the potential to really shake things up and earn these guys some serious notoriety.

It’s too bad that in a division that is on the verge of something big, the man who was at the top of that mountain has abandoned the position.  Cejudo would have been an awesome addition to the fold, and to see how it all comes out of the wash between these fighters would have been spectacular. But ultimately, Cejudo’s absence doesn’t impact or interfere with the fact that the Bantamweight division has suddenly become the most exciting weight class in the sport.

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