One of the things that demonstrates Dominick Cruz's dominance over the bantamweight division in mixed martial arts is also one of the problems that the UFC is going to have promoting him going forward: He has already handily beaten most of the best 135-pound fighters in the world, and there aren't a lot of big fights for him out there.
Cruz's latest conquest was Demetrious Johnson, and that fight went a lot like most of Cruz's other fights: It wasn't a vicious, violent beatdown, but it was a one-sided display of technical dominance, a fight in which we knew within the first minute or two that we were going to see Cruz win a unanimous decision.
As much as MMA fans recognize Cruz's skill, it's going to be hard for the UFC to get the general public excited about his fights because the public likes guys who destroy their opponents better than guys who win through their technical mastery. Still, there's no doubting that Cruz is by far the best in the bantamweight division: He's already beaten most of the other Top 10 bantamweights, as you'll see below.
Top 10 Bantamweights in MMA
(Number in parentheses is the fighter's rank in the last bantamweight list.)
1. Dominick Cruz (1): One of the really impressive aspects of Cruz's current run is the quality of the competition he's facing. As we'll discuss below, there are a lot of really good bantamweights in the UFC right now -- Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, Brian Bowles, Urijah Faber, Scott Jorgensen -- and Cruz has beaten them all handily.
2. Joseph Benavidez (2): Benavidez is 15-0 when he's not fighting Cruz, and 0-2 when he is fighting Cruz. If the UFC ever adds a flyweight class, Benavidez could easily make the cut to 125 pounds and would likely be the division's first champion. Instead he languishes as the second-best fighter in a division where he's already lost twice to the best.
3. Brian Bowles (3): After losing the bantamweight belt to Cruz in March of 2010, Bowles missed a year because of injuries. Now he's 2-0 in 2011, and if he makes it 3-0 by beating Faber at UFC 139, he'll probably get another shot at Cruz.
4. Urijah Faber (4): If Faber gets by Bowles at UFC 139, the UFC will probably give him his rubber match with Cruz. But that says more about Faber being the UFC's most marketable bantamweight than it says about Faber's chances of taking the bantamweight belt from Cruz: The way Cruz beat Faber at UFC 132 leaves little doubt that Cruz would be a heavy favorite if they fight again.
5. Bibiano Fernandes (NR): The former Dream featherweight champion, Fernandes is now fighting at 135 pounds in the Dream bantamweight tournament, and he looks great there: He's better off fighting at a lower weight. He's the best bantamweight outside the UFC, and he could be a great future opponent for Cruz if the UFC ever signs him.
6. Demetrious Johnson (5): Mighty Mouse is undersized at 135 pounds, and he would benefit from a move down to flyweight. The UFC has been talking about creating a flyweight class for a long time (and the WEC talked about it for a long time before that), and with guys like Johnson and Benavidez around, there's no better time than now.
7. Scott Jorgensen (6): Jorgensen was thoroughly outclassed by Cruz last year, but he bounced back with a big knockout win over Ken Stone in June. He draws Jeff Curran next at UFC 137.
8. Miguel Torres (7): The former WEC bantamweight champion, Torres is the best UFC bantamweight who hasn't yet fought Cruz. I also think Torres could be an interesting opponent for Cruz because he has height and reach that match up well with Cruz, and because he's good at fighting off his back, and Cruz showed against Johnson that he can at times be sloppy on top. Torres is coming off a loss to Johnson, and he probably needs to go on a two-fight winning streak before the UFC would give him a crack at Cruz. He can start that streak at UFC 139, when he fights Nick Pace.
9. Brad Pickett (8): After putting together some very impressive performances in the WEC, the British Pickett will finally make his UFC debut on his home turf at UFC 138 in Birmingham, England, where he'll face ...
10. Renan Barão (9): Barao is on an incredible run, having won 26 straight fights (with one no contest) since dropping his professional MMA debut in 2005. However, all but the last three of those fights have been against little-known opponents on small Brazilian shows. Going to England to face Pickett represents a big step up in quality of competition for Barao, and the fight represents a very good match-up to determine which one of them really deserves to be considered a Top 10 bantamweight.
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