The bantamweight division got a dose of stability last weekend as Aljamain Sterling defeated Petr Yan to unify the 135-pound crown, but the fun is just beginning in one of the UFC’s most talent-rich weight classes.
Champion: Aljamain Sterling
Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Petr Yan (4/9/2022)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Sterling came into the rematch with Petr Yan emotional, determined and locked-in on delivering a performance that solidified his status as the bantamweight champion. It’s safe to say he turned in a much better performance than his first scrap with Yan, staying composed and getting the fight to the mat. Although the split decision left some uncertain, Sterling is absolutely the undisputed champion and deservedly so. “Funk Master” hasn’t tasted defeat since December 2017 and has beaten the who’s who in the division. It seems like his next defense is going to come in the form of TJ Dillashaw, although Henry Cejudo’s reentrance into the USADA testing pool makes things interesting.
1) Petr Yan
Last Fight: Split Decision Loss vs Aljamain Sterling (4/9/2022)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Many felt “No Mercy” would’ve beat Sterling in the first fight had he not disqualified himself with an illegal knee, and he looked the part of a champion in his interim title win against Sandhagen. However, the judges gave the split nod to Sterling, and Yan is forced to rebuild his resume. He already holds wins over Sandhagen and Aldo, and with Font coming off a loss, there isn’t a clear opponent for Yan just yet. With Font and Marlon Vera set to fight, that could provide Yan a dance partner. At 29 years old, Yan is likely a mainstay in the picture for the next few years, and another crack at holding the bantamweight strap seems more likely than not.
2) TJ Dillashaw
Last Fight: Split Decision Win vs Cory Sandhagen (7/24/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: After returning from his two-year suspension, TJ Dillashaw put himself right back into the title picture with a hard-fought win over Cory Sandhagen. He could’ve found himself in the interim title fight spot had he been healthy, but he’ll need to find another way to a chance at gold once healthy. The 35-year-old showed he is absolutely still one of the best 135ers in the world, and he was Octagonside during the Sterling-Yan rematch. The champ expressed his interest in that fight, and it seems like a title shot is imminent for him.
3) José Aldo
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Rob Font (12/4/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: The ageless José Aldo – who is only 35 but has been around for what seems like forever – turned in another sharp, measured and calculated performance against Rob Font and secured his third-consecutive win at 135. The rejuvenation is encouraging to see in the surefire Hall of Famer, and with Sterling sitting up top, Aldo might only need one more win to earn a second chance at another world title. A fight against Dillashaw would get everyone in the sport excited given their respective resumes, but Sandhagen is also a hyper-intriguing matchup for a variety of reasons. Regardless, The King of Rio is very much in the title picture at bantamweight.
4) Cory Sandhagen
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs Petr Yan (10/30/2021)
Next fight: N/A
Outlook: Sandhagen hasn’t competed since his interim title fight with Yan in Abu Dhabi, but after fighting four times in the span of a year, the current layoff could serve Sandhagen well. He has floated the idea of fighting a legend in either Dominick Cruz or José Aldo, as well as expressed his general desire to get a win for the first time since he knocked out Frankie Edgar in February 2021. Either Font or Vera, whomever wins, is a fight that makes sense even if they have a little less name value than the aforementioned former champions.
5) Rob Font
Last Fight: Unanimous Decision Loss vs José Aldo (12/4/2021)
Next fight: vs Chito Vera (4/30/2022)
Outlook: Following a four-fight winning streak that planted Font in the Top 5 at 135, he stumbled ever so slightly against Aldo. Nothing to scoff at considering Aldo’s recent form, but a disappointment nonetheless. Now, Font has a risky matchup against “Chito” Vera, but one that is necessary to cement his spot in the rankings. It’s similar to the position his New England Cartel teammate Calvin Kattar found himself to start the year. Kattar delivered perhaps his best performance yet in response, and it’s safe to say Font will return just as sharp, as the Massachusetts native has never lost consecutive fights in his career.
In the Mix: Merab Dvalishvili, Song Yadong, Marlon Vera, Henry Cejudo
Outlook: In many ways, by which I mean a grappling-heavy way, Merab Dvalishvili is the boogeyman in the bantamweight division. His relentless grappling and heart make him a miserable person to fight, and he has yet to get a chance to follow up on his comeback victory over Marlon Moraes at UFC 266. Also hoping to follow up on a win over Moraes is Song Yadong, whose emphatic knockout win was his third in a row and second-straight finish. They both might need to fight down to get a shot at someone above them. “Chito” could be the newest face in the Top 5 if he bests Font in their main event tie, and he could also provide a fun matchup with both Dvalishvili and Yadong.
“Triple C” himself seems to be back in the USADA testing pool, and although Cejudo hasn’t competed since 2020, the 35-year-old has remained active in the sport, bringing in the likes of Deiveson Figueiredo, Zhang Weili, Jon Jones and Jiri Prochazka to train at Fight Ready MMA in Arizona. He has long teased the idea of fighting Alexander Volkanovski for the featherweight strap, but Sterling expressed his own interest in Cejudo. If Cejudo’s return is real, it makes an already chaotic bantamweight title picture a little more so.
UFC 273: Volkanovski vs The Korean Zombie took place on Saturday, April 9, 2022, live from a sold out VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida. See the Final Results, Official Scorecards and Who Won Bonuses — and relive the action on UFC Fight Pass!