In 2011, the bantamweight division kicks into high gear in the Octagon, and if you don’t know them already, here are 12 of the 135-pounders to watch in the coming year.
In December of 2010, UFC fans got their first taste of bantamweight action when Nick Pace submitted Will Campuzano on The Ultimate Fighter season 12 finale card. But it will be in 2011 that the division kicks into high gear in the Octagon, and if you don’t know them already, here are 12 of the 135-pounders to watch in the coming year.
Overall Record – 17-1
WEC Record – 7-1
Key Fight – TKO2 Brian Bowles
Possessing one of the most cryptic standup styles in all of mixed martial arts, Dominick Cruz has befuddled every fighter he has faced at 135 pounds, earning the WEC (now UFC) bantamweight crown in the process. He’s already beaten Joseph Benavidez (twice), Brian Bowles, and Charlie Valencia, but there are plenty of intriguing matchups for the champion, including one with the only man to beat him (albeit at featherweight), Urijah Faber.
Overall Record – 22-1, 1 NC
WEC Record – 2-0
Key Fight – Wsub1 Chris Cariaso
The latest phenom from Brazil’s Nova Uniao camp, Renan Barao already has over 20 wins, a SHOOTO title and a jiu-jitsu brown belt, all before his 24th birthday. In 2010, Barao made his WEC debut with a third round finish of Anthony Leone, and he was even more impressive in submitting tough Chris Cariaso six months later. Barao looks like the real deal, which means he is firmly on his way to following in stablemate Jose Aldo’s championship footsteps.
Overall Record – 13-2
WEC Record – 5-2
Key Fight – Wsub2 Miguel Angel Torres
Yes, Joseph Benavidez is a rock-solid contender with big wins over Jeff Curran, Miguel Angel Torres, and Rani Yahya. But all you really need to know about the creator of Joe-Jitsu is that after a discouraging split decision loss to bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, he jumped right back into the gym and the cage, submitting grappling wizard Wagnney Fabiano in the second round. The fact that his only two losses have come to Cruz doesn’t bode well for a quick shot at the crown in 2011, but if he keeps taking out the contenders around him, he will end up as the only logical choice for another title fight.
Overall Record – 8-1
WEC Record – 5-1
Key Fight – KO1 Miguel Angel Torres
Georgia’s Brian Bowles will never wow you with his prowess on the mic in pre-fight interviews, but he will leave you open-mouthed on fight night with his ability to finish. A former WEC bantamweight champion, Bowles has finished all five of his WEC bouts, taking home one Knockout of the Night and two Submission of the Night bonuses in the process. Injuries have kept him on the sidelines since he lost his belt to Dominick Cruz last March, but he is expected back in 2011, adding another big name to an exciting mix of contenders.
Overall Record – 24-4
WEC Record – 9-3
Key Fight – Wsub1 Takeya Mizugaki
The man who put the WEC on the map, Urijah Faber was the undisputed superstar of the organization and the king of the featherweight division from 2006 to 2008. But after losing his crown to Mike Brown and only going 2-2 in his next four bouts, some wondered whether “The California Kid” had seen better days. The response? A drop to the bantamweight division and a rock-solid win over Takeya Mizugaki last November. Faber looks like he’s back in championship form, and considering that he’s the only fighter to beat the man at the top now, Cruz, it makes for a nice storyline should the two meet in 2011.
Overall Record – 12-1
WEC Record – 2-1
Key Fight – Wsub3 Damacio Page
“Mighty Mouse” indeed. The toughest 5 foot 3 hombre you will ever run into, Demetrious Johnson survived a trial by fire in his first WEC bout as he engaged in a hard-fought three round scrap with Brad Pickett. From that decision loss, he bounced back with a decision victory over Nick Pace and then sent a message to the rest of the division by submitting Damacio Page in November. But life won’t get any easier for the Matt Hume protégé in the UFC, as his debut in the organization comes against Kid Yamamoto at UFC 126 in February.
Overall Record – 11-4
WEC Record – 7-3
Key Fight – W3 Brad Pickett
After Scott Jorgensen compiled a five bout winning streak that included two Fight of the Night awards and quality victims like Takeya Mizugaki, Antonio Banuelos, and Brad Pickett, it came as a bit of a shock that Dominick Cruz shut him down completely in their December championship bout. But you can bet the house on the fact that the former college wrestling standout will use this defeat as fuel and come out with all of his “Young Guns” blazing in the UFC this year.
Overall Record – 11-1
WEC Record – 1-0
Key Fight – Wsub1 Clint Godfrey
Just 19 years old, California’s Michael McDonald earned his shot in the WEC with 2010 knockout victories over former WEC featherweight boss Cole Escovedo and former bantamweight title challenger Manny Tapia. Not content with those displays, the jiu-jitsu brown belt finished out the year with a first round submission of Clint Godfrey in his WEC debut in November. And if you didn’t catch it the first time, he’s only 19 years old. Can you say Barao vs McDonald as THE bantamweight matchup of, say, 2012 or 2013?
Overall Record – 21-5
WEC Record – 3-1
Key Fight – W3 Ivan Menjivar
The UK’s top bantamweight import, Brad Pickett has quietly won 10 of his last 11 bouts dating back to 2007. I say quietly because when “One Punch” is in the cage, it doesn’t really matter who wins or loses because he’s always delivering a Fight of the Night-quality bout. Owner of WEC victories against Kyle Dietz, Demetrious Johnson, and Ivan Menjivar, Pickett’s only loss in the organization came in a Fight of the Night against Scott Jorgensen. Pickett may not get a lot of hype, but he’s going to be a tough out for anyone at 135 pounds.
Miguel Angel Torres
Overall Record – 37-3
WEC Record – 6-2
Key Fight – W5 Takeya Mizugaki
Before losing his bantamweight crown to Brian Bowles in 2009, Miguel Angel Torres was on a six year winning streak and in the upper reaches of the mythical pound-for-pound list. Then came a second straight defeat against Joseph Benavidez, and questions popped up everywhere about the future of Torres. But warriors like Torres don’t go away without a fight, and with a win over Charlie Valencia in September and a new trainer in Firas Zahabi, Torres looks to be back in form as he approaches his UFC debut against Antonio Banuelos in February.
Overall Record – 18-6-1
WEC Record – 5-2
Key Fight – KO1 Ken Stone
It looked like Eddie Wineland was destined to be the right man at the wrong time, as his short reign as the first WEC bantamweight champion came right before the organization took off and established itself as an international and mainstream force. But after stumbling in his return in 2009 against Rani Yahya, Wineland has won four in a row, including two Knockout of the Night victories over Will Campuzano and Ken Stone. If anything, Wineland looks to be getting better with each fight, and 2011 may very well be his year.
Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto
Overall Record – 18-3, 1 NC
WEC Record – 0-0
Key Fight – TKO1 Genki Sudo
The wild card of this group, Yamamoto will make his long-awaited UFC debut in February against Demetrious Johnson. A few years back, the one fight scores of hardcore MMA fans wanted was a showdown between Kid and Urijah Faber. It never happened. Now, at the age of 33, Yamamoto comes to the UFC, and some wonder if after losing two of his last three bouts, it’s too late. Yamamoto believes he still has some bullets left though, and when he’s on, Kid - a standout wrestler, knockout artist, and charismatic figure – is something to see. Just ask some of his victims, fighters like Genki Sudo, Rani Yahya, Caol Uno, and Royler Gracie.