Dominick Cruz is right, the UFC bantamweight division is stacked right now

BY foxsports • June 9, 2016

Fresh off his UFC 199 title defense against three-time foe Urijah Faber, bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz knew that he would be facing a 135-pound division completely different than the one he stared down during his first title run in 2011.

"Look, these fight are hard, all these fights are difficult. This fight tonight, it was difficult," Cruz said at the UFC 199 post-fight press conference. "I did well, I won, thank God. I really thank God for it. But I want to be humble in defeat and when I win, to an extent. He's talking, so I'm talking back, that's how it goes. But the truth is, this division's on fire. It's my job to come in here and be the champion. Now everybody's talking about 135 pounds. It's stacked right now, there's tons of guys that look amazing ... it fires me up, and I think the division is fired up for me coming back after a four-year layoff."

And Cruz is right, the 135-pound division is stacked right now, and he needs it as much as it needs him.

When Cruz first won the UFC bantamweight title in 2011, he was widely considered the best 135-pounder in the world by a pretty wide margin.

He'd just won his ninth straight fight, including a victory over the fighter many thought would give him the most problems in the Octagon, Urijah Faber. The tables were set for the trilogy with "The California Kid," but outside of that, challengers to his crown were thin.

And then Cruz got hurt and was robbed of nearly three years of his fighting career.

During his time away, Brazilian fighter Renan Barao and Faber's former training partner TJ Dillashaw managed to get their hands on the belt. But neither could leave their mark on the division the way Cruz had after his years of dominance in the WEC.

When "The Dominator" returned in 2014, the division was beginning its transformation, and now that he has the belt again, he's in position to defend his title against potentially the best bantamweight division ever.

At the time of his 2011 injury the top 10 featured names like Brian Bowles, Miguel Torres, Brad Pickett, Faber, Joseph Benavidez and Demetrious Johnson.

Now, only one of those names, Faber, has stood the test of time in the division's top 10 while others have moved on to retirement, other promotions or different weight classes.

The division's top 10 now features gritty UFC veterans Faber, Raphael Assuncao, Bryan Caraway and former flyweight title contender John Dodson. And with dynamic young fighters like Michael McDonald, Aljamain Sterling, Cody Garbrandt, John Lineker and Thomas Almeida, the bantamweight division is the UFC's most potential-laden weight class.

Age is probably the most interesting dynamic in the division right now.

Outside of Cruz and the 37-year-old Faber, who revealed he was contemplating a move to featherweight, the average age of a UFC bantamweight ranked in top 10 is 27. By comparison, the average top 10 flyweight is 30 years old while featherweights in the top 10 have an average age of 29. Heavyweights take the cake with an average top 10 age of 36.

The two-to-three-year gap between bantamweight and featherweight top-10 fighters may not seem significant, but keep in mind that Garbrandt (24), Almeida (24), McDonald (25), Lineker (25) and Sterling (26) are all under the age of 26. That means none of them has reached his potential and with a combined record of 86-12, all figure to reach the mountain top eventually.

And in conjunction with being young, these bantamweights can flat out fight. Of those 86 wins, the aforementioned quintet has finished 66 of them, and combined, they've taken home 13 performance-based bonuses.

Young talent in the UFC bantamweight division means two things for Cruz. While he is currently in his athletic prime, he'll have to fight off young fighters who are continuously getting better and have been training to compete in mixed martial arts their entire careers instead of specific disciplines.

It also means that if Cruz can keep his belt for the next three years or so, against such a talented pool of fighters nipping at his heels, his legacy as the greatest bantamweight ever will truly be tried and true. 



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