We’re only one month into the new year. With 11 months ahead of us before 2020 is in the books, there’s a lot of MMA action still to come. The UFC’s bantamweight division is a very competitive weight class, with a bunch of hungry contenders chasing after reigning champion Henry Cejudo. So, what does 2020 hold in store for this division? Here are a few predictions:
Aljamain Sterling will get a title shot and defeat
This will be the year of the “Funk Master,” who anxiously sits
at No. 2 in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings waiting for his opportunity to have a
shot at bantamweight gold against the current champ Cejudo.
Sterling has been a top addition to the UFC
bantamweight division since his arrival in 2014. Thus far, he has
compiled a UFC record of 10-3. He is now on a four-fight winning streak after defeating
Brett Johns, Cody Stamann, Jimmie Rivera and Pedro Munhoz. Sterling currently boasts one of the more impressive streaks in the division and has easily established himself as
the primary contender to face Cejudo after Cejudo recently denounced the
flyweight title and permanently moved up to bantamweight.
If you have watched Sterling since the beginning
of his career, you will notice that he constantly grows and gets better with
every performance. Athletic, creative and diverse are just a few adjectives to
describe the 30-year-old’s style. He effectively mixes his elite ground game
with diverse and unorthodox striking to frustrate his opponents and dictate the
pace of the bout. Sterling’s well-roundedness is apparent from his 4.18 significant striking average per minute and his 2.10 takedown average per 15-minute bout. Under the studious leadership of Matt Serra and Ray Longo, the New York-based fighter is certainly the top candidate to fight for the strap.
Cejudo has not fought since
winning the title against Marlon Moraes in June 2019. Although there have been whispers that José Aldo might get the next shot at Cejudo, it is very unlikely that this will come
to fruition. Instead, the ever-deserving Sterling will fight Cejudo in the
first half of 2020. He will rise to the occasion when he finally meets Cejudo and will use his size, athleticism, and consistently evolving skills to defeat the current titleholder and become the new
Petr Yan and Cory Sandhagen will meet inside the Octagon.
It could be for a title-elimination bout or just a fantastic
fight for the fans, but this fight needs to happen in
2020. The UFC bantamweight division has become
one of the most competitive and exciting divisions in the UFC with the addition
of numerous top contenders, which brings
us to arguably the division’s two most exciting and competitive combatants in
Yan and Sandhagen.
Yan is currently riding a nine-fight winning streak. His last six wins have come in the
UFC. The Russian fighter defeated John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera and Urijah Faber in
2019. He trained eight years in boxing, achieving the rank of Master of Sport in the 140-pound division. The 26-year-old upstart isn’t shy to display his diverse striking every time he steps into the Octagon. He is as dangerous as they come, averaging 6.46 significant strikes
landed per minute, an 83 percent takedown-defense average, and 1.73 takedowns per bout.
A seven-fight winning streak, an extensive striking background,
8.89 significant strikes landed per minute, 1.64 takedowns landed per bout, and a
1.64 knockdown ratio — these stats, which belong to Sandhagen, are similar to the ones mentioned above for Yan. In many ways, these two men are in the exact same position in their impressive careers, which is why a fight between them makes so much sense. Sandhagen finished 2019 with a 3-0 record after taking out Mario Bautista, John Lineker and Raphael Assunção. He was recently robbed of fighting Frankie
Edgar in late January, but the 27-year-old
bantamweight contender currently resides at No. 4 in the UFC’s bantamweight rankings
and is itching for a chance to get back inside the Octagon against another top
There is not much else to say
about these two gentlemen except that a fight between them would be nothing
short of fireworks. These two will meet at some point in 2020 as one of them takes the next step toward a shot at bantamweight gold.
Dominick Cruz will return to the Octagon and once again
establish his contender status.
With the amount of new arrivals and top contenders quickly
filling the UFC bantamweight rankings, it’s easy to forget about the past and
how one champion shaped the division for years to come with his established
dominance as the UFC bantamweight champion. It’s crazy to think that Cruz officially became the UFC champ back in 2011, when the organization absorbed the WEC, and then defended it against Faber and Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson. What’s even more
shocking is that he returned after a three-year layoff to once again march up the ladder and claim the crown. He defended his belt against Faber yet again before his loss to Cody Garbrandt.
Cruz has certainly had a colorful, yet unpredictable career that has no doubt been plagued
by numerous injuries. However, when he is healthy, Cruz is easily one of the most dangerous
and frustrating bantamweights any competitor could face. He has not stepped
inside the cage since December 2016, but the broadcast analyst has teased his return several times in the last few years.
When Cruz is focused
and generally healthy, he averages 3.17 takedowns per bout and uses his slick
and unorthodox movement to boast an 83 percent takedown-defense rate and a 75 percent significant-strike defense rate. If you have watched
Cruz throughout his career, then you know the only time he’s really been hit is
against Garbrandt, who had an incredible performance the night he won
In 2020, Cruz will return to
the Octagon against a top-10 opponent and win impressively. The 34-year-old will once
again remind fans and the UFC bantamweight roster why he was the “Dominator” for
many years of his career.
Rob Font, Marlon Vera and Song Yadong will lead the
new wave of UFC bantamweight contenders.
It’s easy to focus on the top half of an elite division and
overlook some of the bottom-half contenders who have quietly been impressive and
consistent throughout their Octagon careers.
Do not sleep on Font. Since
joining the UFC in 2014, he has compiled a 7-3 record. His three losses
came while he was fighting the bantamweight elite. Font possesses a well-rounded game backed by strong striking fundamentals and an underrated ground game. The Massachusetts native is currently riding a two-fight winning streak that consists of unanimous decisions over Sergio Pettis and Ricky Simon. Font has had a couple of opportunities to
fight the division’s upper-tier competitors, but he was unsuccessful. In 2020, Font will
fight at least twice as he looks to further elevate his current standing as the No. 10 bantamweight in the UFC. He will take the next step, extend
his current winning streak, and solidify himself in the top five of the division.
Similarly, Vera will join Font in a group of
fighters that will dominate the bantamweight highlights going into 2020 and
beyond. Vera joined in the UFC in 2015
and has quietly amassed a 9-2 record. His only two losses in this stretch came to Lineker and Douglas Silva de Andrade between late 2017 and early 2018. Since his last setback, the Ecuadorian fighter has gone on to rattle off five straight wins, all by either knockout or submission. In 2019, he scored a TKO finish of Frankie
Saenz, submitted Nohelin Hernandez, and stopped Andre Ewell with strikes. Vera finally
got the respect he deserved and was matched up with the hard-hitting Jimmie Rivera
for a UFC 247 appearance. Unfortunately,
Rivera pulled out of the fight and there has been no update on if the pairing
will be moved to another card or canceled all together. Vera will get a top-10 bantamweight foe very soon and extend his winning streak even further.
If you haven’t seen Yadong’s 2019 knockout of Alejandro
Perez, you need to track that highlight down. Yadong joined the UFC in 2017 and
pulled off an impressive front choke against Bharat Khandare. After getting his first win, the young Chinese prospect decided to move back down to bantamweight, where he continued his winning streak by knocking out Felipe Arantes, outpointing Vince Morales and knocking out
the aforementioned Perez. Yadong was matched up with Stamann for a December date that ended in a majority draw. The 22-year-old is currently averaging 4.31 significant
strikes per minute, a 1.54 takedown average per bout, a 1.03 knockdown ratio,
and an impressive 100 percent takedown-defense rate. The No. 12 bantamweight is
slated for a big 2020 as he looks to build on his impressive start in the UFC.
Cody Garbrandt will go on a three-fight winning streak.
Fight fans have waited long enough. Garbrandt has been out of
action since March 2019, when he lost to Munhoz in one of the most
exciting fights of 2019. Like the aforementioned
Cruz, it’s easy to forget how good Garbrandt is after he dropped three straight
fights and was out for the remainder of 2019. The return to dominance for Garbrandt
begins on March 28 when he faces Assunção in the co-main event of UFC
on ESPN 8.
Garbrandt put on a masterful performance against Cruz to win
the title. He used his crisp boxing, steadfast head movement, and a 100 percent takedown-defense rate to get the job done. Garbrandt dropped Cruz multiple
times and used his exceptional knowledge of distance to neutralize Cruz’s impressive
footwork. Unfortunately, Garbrandt lost
to T.J. Dillashaw twice for the belt, only to find out that the champion had
been using banned substances to elevate his performance.
Garbrandt isn’t done. The 28-year-old former champ will return
to form in March and fight at least twice more in 2019 to regain
his contender status and rightful place as a member of the bantamweight elite.
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