The bantamweight kingdom is currently without a ruler — in the wake of T.J. Dillashaw announcing his own ‘adverse’ USADA finding and subsequently relinquishing his title — and that means the field is now wide open for the division’s top contenders.
Marlon Moraes. Pedro Munhoz. Aljamain Sterling. Those are three of the names being bandied about to potentially compete for the vacant 135-pound title, but flyweight champion Henry Cejudo has also thrown his hat into the ring. Cejudo defended his own title against Dillashaw at UFC Brooklyn earlier this year, winning by knockout in just 32 seconds, and he’s been looking to fight Dillashaw again, only next time for Dillashaw’s belt.
Cejudo last competed at bantamweight in his UFC debut four years ago, and if he’s looking to jump back up, Sterling is ready to play the welcoming committee.
“I look at Cejudo, he’s trying to swim with the big boys,” Sterling told MMA Fighting. “He beat a depleted T.J. Dillashaw. Everyone advised T.J. not to cut that extra 10 pounds. If you look at him during that fight week, there was a picture where he had a whole table filled with, like, 20 bottles of supplements and pills. God knows what was in those pills and that was supposedly the way for him to get down safely to 125. I tell you, I cut down to 135, people think I’m huge for the weight, and I don’t take none of that shit.
“So he’s pumping himself up over beating a 125 T.J. Dillashaw. It’s not the same fighter. If he wants to come up and get smacked up by a couple of real big boys and swim with the sharks, he’s gonna want to go back running down to 125 real soon. … Let Cejudo come up. His wrestling’s only going to take him so far before the body weight and everything starts to play a factor. Honestly, I would like to be the guy to welcome him to this division. Welcome to 135, champ.”
Sterling is also amused and somewhat confused by the actions of Cejudo’s manager Ali Abdelaziz. Abdelaziz also represents Moraes, and his two fighters engaged in some social media sniping following the Dillashaw news. That was funny to Sterling, who suggested that Abdelaziz might be trying to build up a fight through his clients’ accounts.
“Ali is doing a lot of tweeting these days for some of his guys,” Sterling said.
What Sterling finds strange is the idea that Abdelaziz would want to pit two of his top clients against each other, rather than have Cejudo continue to defend his flyweight title and Moraes potentially go after the bantamweight title.
More than that, Sterling is frustrated with the UFC’s handling of one of its most competitive divisions. Even as contenders have emerged, the matchmakers have kept Dillashaw tied up with an instant rematch against rival Cody Garbrandt last August and then his ill-fated superfight with Cejudo. Now that Dillashaw is out of the picture for the time being, Sterling sees this as the perfect time for the UFC to straighten out what is going on not just with Dillashaw’s division, but Cejudo’s as well.
“I don’t know, I feel like I’m at a strip club being teased by the UFC right now,” Sterling said. “They’re telling us one thing and then they’re doing this other thing. Are we getting rid of 125. Is there a clear stance so that these guys know what’s going to happen? 125 needs a home. No doubt about that. For them to just cut the division is absolutely insane and completely unfair to those guys. And I’m not saying that just because I want the title shot. If I was a ‘25er and I could have made the weight and that could have been an option for me, I would be pretty pissed about that.
“I think if they just make a clear stance so that we can figure this out and get our lives going again at 135. It’s just been kind of chaotic and madness with the automatic rematch with T.J. and Cody and this superfight at 125, so the division’s been pretty stagnant for a very, very long time. You’ve got new blood, fresh faces at the top of the game, and they’re all exciting. Pedro’s exciting, I think I’m exciting if I do say so myself, Marlon Moraes is exciting, he’s taking out top guys one-by-one. And to have Cejudo come and just jump in weight classes when he still has work to do at ‘25, he lost to Joseph Benavidez. I just want to know what’s going on.”