All signs seem to point toward a title showdown between UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz and rising star Cody Garbrandt in the coming months. Garbrandt is one of the most exciting fighters in the division, but is he leapfrogging more worthy contenders?
Let’s start with the UFC’ rankings. As superficial as they might be, they still provide a gauge of where a fighter stands within the UFC. Currently sitting at No. 6 among 135-pound fighters, Garbrandt has a few guys listed ahead of him that could argue they deserve a title shot before the young Team Alpha Male fighter.
Bryan Caraway, listed at No. 5, has become one of the more consistent fighters in the division. Although he’s not usually considered among the bantamweight elite, he’s been a constant in the upper echelon of the division since entering the UFC. He has suffered a loss to Raphael Assunção, who is also ranked ahead of Garbrandt, and this ultimately hurts his argument for a title bid. However, Caraway’s recent win over fan-favorite Aljamain Sterling did a lot to boost his standing with UFC fans.
There’s also T.J. Dillashaw. The former champ lost to Cruz earlier this year, but the fight was extremely close. Prior to the defeat, Dillashaw had looked to be well on his way to a dominant run as the titleholder. He entered UFC 173 as a massive underdog to Renan Barão and then proceeded to beat the Brazilian all across the Octagon. A pair of dominant showings, including a rematch with Barão, set Dillashaw apart from the rest of the pack. The narrative changed, of course, with the return of Cruz. Dillashaw has been searching for a rematch since their January encounter, and he has made it a point to lob verbal attacks toward Cruz through social media. Given the closely contested nature of the first bout between Cruz and Dillashaw and Dillashaw’s victory over the aforementioned top-five fighter Assunção, it’s hard to not sympathize with the former champion.
Yet, Garbrandt has done everything the right way when it comes to looking for a spot in the title picture. He’s spoken to a number of media outlets, both from the MMA world and beyond, making it a point to verbally attack Cruz at every opportunity. He’s also done a pretty good job of downplaying his former teammate Dillashaw en route to a title shot. Going back and forth with the champion and undercutting his competition, Garbrandt has proven to be very smart with his self-promotion.
Proving to be more than just talk, Garbrandt has been nothing short of sensational inside the Octagon. He has ended the fight within the first round by knockout in each of his last three appearances, so the UFC has no shortage of highlight clips to utilize. If we factor in his non-UFC bouts, Garbrandt has gone to a decision just once in his career. That includes seven — seven! — first-round knockout or TKO finishes. There’s no way around it: Garbrandt has dynamite in his hands, and the UFC is looking to make a nice payday off those explosions.
Garbrandt has done very well at marketing himself. He has done some incredible things inside the cage, too. The UFC would be silly not to strap a rocket to his back and look to cash in while his value is at its highest. Garbrandt and Cruz obviously don’t like each other, and there’s plenty of history in the Cruz-Team Alpha Male rivalry to fall back on.
Is Garbrandt the most worthy contender out of the top guys in the 135-pound division? Probably not.
Is he benefitting from his ability to talk trash? Of course.
Regardless of the credentials from other fighters, no contender is doing a better job of positioning themselves for a title fight than Garbrandt. He has the chops to play the media game and the exciting style that MMA fans will always pay to see. Garbrandt is clearly the biggest money fight the UFC has in its bantamweight division.