UFC: Three Bantamweights To Watch in 2017

UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt

UFC Bantamweight Champion Cody Garbrandt: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

The UFC bantamweight division was dominated for a long time by Dominick Cruz. That is until he ran into Cody Garbrandt, who out-Cruzed Cruz… if that makes sense.

The changing of the guard has blown the division wide open and we can look forward to some great fights in 2017 at 135-pounds.

So who is next for Cody Garbrandt? A Dominick Cruz rematch isn’t beyond imagination since he was this is the first time he’s lost the title in a fight since becoming the WEC champion back in 2010. TJ Dillashaw really is due for another shot at the belt with wins over Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker.

The likely fight will be the Dillashaw match up. The story line is too good and it’ll be easier to promote than most think. Dillashaw is the one who Conor McGregor called “a snake in the grass” during The Ultimate Fighter: Team McGregor vs. Team Faber.

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Turns out McGregor was right as Dillashaw shortly left Team Alpha Male to follow head coach Duane ‘Bang’ Ludwig to Colorado. Garbrandt can represent TAM against Dillashaw who turned his back on the team.

Or the rematch against Cruz using the storyline that Cruz was injured, or sick, or whatever reason they can come up with to promote the rematch.

Whatever they end up doing, there will be three men in particular that will be ready to spoil plans for the bantamweight title picture.

Here are three bantamweights to keep an eye on in 2017.

UFC Bantamweight Aljamain Sterling

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Aljamain Sterling

One of the smoothest cats in the bantamweight division trains out of the Serra-Longo Fight Team in New York. He’s got great wrestling that he worked on in college, becoming a two-time NCAA Division III All-American. He’s a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu under Matt Serra, and his striking has improved under Ray Longo.

Sterling is creative in his fighting as far as the techniques he attempts and his ability to execute those moves as if he’s been doing them for years.

In his UFC debut, Sterling took on Cody Gibson and came out firing with kicks that most other fighters won’t try. The fact that his wrestling is strong is what allows him to attempt such techniques.

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After getting back up from a Gibson takedown Sterling achieved a takedown of his own and went right to work with the jiu-jitsu from the top.

In the second round, Gibson dominated the ground game but the third belonged to Sterling. Sterling got an early takedown on Gibson and never let him up.

Sterling has done nothing but improve from then with three victories over Hugo Viana, Takeya Mizugaki, and Johnny Eduardo.

He did hit a speed bump against Bryan Caraway who dominated Sterling after the first round on the way to a decision win but the loss should push ‘Funk Master’ to improve every aspect of his game.

At 27-years-old the time is now for Sterling to make his mark. Keep an eye out because 2017 belongs to the ‘Funk Master.’

UFC Bantamweight Jimmie Rivera

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Jimmie Rivera

4-0 in the UFC is a big deal against the names Jimmie Rivera has defeated. Wins over Marcus Brimage, Pedro Munhoz, Iuri Alcantara, and Urijah Faber have Rivera on the short list of contenders in 2017.

Rivera hasn’t lost since 2008 putting together a 19-fight win streak coming into 2017. It’s the quietest win streak in terms that not many seem to be talking about ‘El Terror’ as one of the top bantamweights in the UFC.

His fight against Faber at UFC 203 served as Rivera’s coming out party, as most fans expected him to be dominated by ‘The California Kid’.

Early in the fight Rivers stayed patient and landed shots on Faber without taking too many risks. As usual, Faber used his striking to set up a takedown but was stuffed by Rivera repeatedly. Faber couldn’t get him to the ground easily, so he stood in front of Rivera and ate some massive shots.

When ‘El Terror’ throws strikes, he swings for the fences. Where he lands, he leaves a dent.

He was supposed to face Bryan Caraway in the UFC’s return to Phoenix, Arizona, but Caraway withdrew due to injury. When the UFC brought in Marlon Vera as a replacement Rivera turned the fight down saying he wasn’t a ‘bully’.

Rivera sports that win streak and should end up fighting for the title late 2017 or early 2018 if he stays on track.

Possible fights for Rivera include the winner of Assuncao-Sterling, John Lineker, or Bryan Caraway.

UFC Bantamweight Thomas Almeida

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Thomas Almeida

As one of the more exciting fighters at bantamweight, Thomas Almeida brings the action into every fight.

As cliche as that sounds, it’s absolutely true. He has an aggressive fight style that has him going to the finish in every single fight.

Against Brad Pickett at UFC 189, Almeida overcame adversity after Pickett hurt him badly and broke his nose. Even with the injury and Pickett continuing to cause damage, Almeida came back to land a massive knee and put Pickett away in the second round.

It’s that quickness in his striking and his ability to withstand punishment that makes Almedia one of the most feared in the division. His ground game is ever evolving and he’ll be a complete fighter before we see him fight for the title.

The fight against Cody Garbrandt was one of the more anticipated fights at 135-pounds in a long time. The pair headlined UFC Fight Night 88 in May 2016 in what ended up being a very exciting KO finish for Gabrandt.

Even with that loss, Almeida is still one of the hottest names in the UFC with his only loss being to the current bantamweight champion.

In his comeback fight against Albert Morales, he was able to overwhelm Morales in the second round and finish him via TKO. Almeida hasn’t lost the willingness to trade with anybody and that will help him continue his career on his way to the title.

His resume includes names like Anthony Birchak, Brad Pickett, Yves Jabouin, Tim Gorman, and his only loss is to Gabrandt. That’s a very solid resume for a 25-year-old young man with plenty of fight left in him.

Possible fights for Almeida include Jimmie Rivera, Bryan Caraway, Aljamain Sterling, or John Lineker.

So who will we see rise at 135-pounds in 2017? There will be others but keep an eye on these three as they continue their careers searching for UFC gold.

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