Esther Lin, MMA Fighting
With Renan Barao handling Urijah Faber at UFC 149 and asserting himself as the clear-cut top challenger to UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz, all eyes turn to the titleholder's injured left knee.
Cruz is four months away from resuming full-scale training as he rehabs his torn ACL. At some point, the UFC will have to make the call on whether to set a Cruz-Barao fight in stone, or whether to have Barao defend his interim title while waiting for the champ's comeback. This decision will have a ripple effect on the rest of the division, which has next-to-nothing of note lined up for the near-term future.
For his part, Cruz looks forward to the challenge of meeting Barao, saying on Fuel TV's UFC 149 post-fight show "I am looking forward to it. [Barao] is new blood. He was composed and is ready for a five-round title fight with me."
If Cruz's knee rehab doesn't come around in a timely enough manner, then the next logical step at the top of the division is to have Barao defend his interim title. With Faber already receiving his share of title shots, Brian Bowles falling off the map, and the rest of the pack not quite ready, Michael "Mayday" McDonald becomes the logical choice.
But if Cruz vs. Barao is in fact a go, the next logical fight near the top of the division would be McDonald against Faber. But that, too, would depend on how quickly Faber is recovered from his cracked rib suffered in his unanimous decision loss to Barao.
All this is still a ways down the road, which means that we're not likely to see movement at the top of this division for some time to come.
(Official MMAFighting.com ranking policy: Fighters who are under commission suspensions are ineligible to be ranked during the duration of their penalty).
1. Dominick Cruz (19-1): Cruz's past four fights have gone to a decision, as have three of Barao's past four. So draw your own conclusions on how the stylistic matchup between the two will play out.
2. Renan Barao (29-1): Doesn't seem to have teammate Jose Aldo Jr.'s propensity to run over his foes, but otherwise, there's little to indicate he won't give Cruz all he can handle.
3. Michael McDonald (12-1): The fast-rising 21-year old out of Modesto, Calif., looks better and better each time out.
4. Urijah Faber (26-6): Faber believes he's still near the top of the division. To prove it, he'll likely have to face an up-and-comer determined to prove otherwise.
5. Brian Bowles (9-2): The former WEC champ hasn't fought since losing to Faber in November and does not have his next opponent lined up. His management declined on Tuesday when asked to provide an update on what their fighter is up to. Hmm.
7. Bibiano Fernandes (11-3): With Hector Lombard stumbling, Fernandes is the odds-on favorite to become the new trendy non-Zuffa internet bandwagon favorite. Fortunately for Fernandes, he has skills to match hype.
8. Eduardo Dantas (14-2): The Bellator champ and Nova Uniao product is legit.
9. Eddie Wineland (19-8-1): Impressive knockout win over Scotty Jorgensen showed the former WEC champ still has some fire left.
10. Rafael Assuncao (17-4): With back-to-back wins since dropping to 135, including his first stoppage win in Zuffa, Assuncao is building momentum like he hasn't had since entering the WEC in 2009.
Honorable mention: Miguel Torres, Scott Jorgensen, Chris Cariaso, Yves Jabouin, Mike Easton.
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