Although the card has been overshadowed by the fallout from UFC 198 and the latest Conor McGregor drama, UFC Fight Night: Almeida vs. Garbrandt is full of some of the best high-level prospects in MMA. It also could determine the future of the UFC’s bantamweight division.
Aljamain Sterling and Bryan Caraway top the Fight Pass portion of the card in a fight that really deserves to be the evening’s co-main event. Alas, the UFC is attempting to grab subscribers to its digital platform by offering good fights. Well, it doesn’t come much better than Sterling and Caraway. Sterling enters the contest ranked at fourth in the division. Caraway sits in the eighth spot. There are huge implications in any fight pitting two guys in the top 10 against one another, but this one has some extra sizzle. Sterling has made it a point to go out of his way to select Caraway as the top name he wants to defeat in order to elevate himself. Countless jabs across social media have gone largely unanswered, but you can be assured Caraway will have some extra motivation on May 29. The winner of this pivotal contest will certainly be in the driver’s seat to a title shot.
However, the two men squaring off in the evening’s main event will certainly have something to say about that. It’s tough to find two more highly regarded prospects in the division than Cody Garbrandt and Thomas Almeida.
Garbrandt, a product of Team Alpha Male, has ascended up the bantamweight ranks in a hurry. He finished Marcus Brimage in his UFC debut at UFC 182 and picked up another impressive TKO finish in his last bout.
Almeida has proven to be a destructive force of nature thus far into his UFC tenure. After winning the Legacy FC belt, Almeida picked up a decision victory in his UFC debut. He has yet to hear the judges’ scorecards read, though. Instead, he’s finished each of his last three fights in spectacular fashion. The preview clip for his fight with Garbrandt will have plenty to showcase.
Outside of this being a contest between two surging contenders, the fight between Almeida and Garbrandt could change the narrative of the bantamweight division. Ever since Dominick Cruz has been at the top of the division, he’s found himself square in the sights of Team Alpha Male. First, it was his rivalry with Urijah Faber. Then it became his clash of styles with former Team Alpha Male fighter T.J. Dillashaw. If Garbrandt emerges victorious and Cruz beats Faber, as most think he will, then we could find ourselves right in the middle of another Cruz vs. Team Alpha Male showdown. Meanwhile, an Almeida victory would provide a change of pace to a division that’s just now starting to get fresh again.
Cruz is still the king, but this event should go a long way in determining how the immediate future of the 135-pound division plays out. Garbrandt could add another wrinkle to the Cruz-Team Alpha Male rivalry. Almeida could shake everything up with a single strike. And don’t count out the winner of the fight between Sterling and Caraway. Don’t mistake the fact that the fight is on Fight Pass for a lack of importance. With a strong showing, either Sterling or Caraway could leapfrog the winner of the evening’s main event. It’s a big weekend for the bantamweight division.