Dominick Cruz won't be lonely in the gym once ‘TUF 15’ gets started. | Photo: Dave Mandel
1. Dominick Cruz (19-1)
Cruz waited more than four years for his rematch against Urijah Faber; their third meeting will come much quicker. The bantamweights have been tabbed as coaches of “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 15, which will debut on FX in March and will conclude with an as-yet-unannounced clash.
2. Urijah Faber (26-5)
In July, Faber suffered his first loss at bantamweight in a five-round unanimous decision against UFC champ Dominick Cruz. The “California Kid” will have another opportunity to take the title in 2012, but first he will coach opposite Cruz on the 15th season of UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter.”
3. Joseph Benavidez (15-2)
MMA fans and pundits have long believed that Benavidez could be a champion at 125 pounds. The Team Alpha Male representative will have a chance to prove them right when he enters the semifinals of the UFC’s four-man flyweight title tournament against Shooto champ Yasuhiro Urushitani on March 3.
4. Renan Barao (28-1, 1 NC)
Barao’s fifth fight under the Zuffa banner didn’t end in a decisive finish, but it was impressive nonetheless, as the Brazilian took a hard-fought unanimous decision over former WEC title challenger Scott Jorgensen at UFC 143. The Nova Uniao fighter has now gone 29 straight fights without a loss and could be primed for a shot at the belt in 2012.
5. Brian Bowles (10-2)
Bowles suffered his first submission loss on Nov. 19 by way of Urijah Faber guillotine choke, and with it was dealt his first setback in the Octagon after wins over Takeya Mizugaki and Damacio Page. For now, the 21-year-old from Georgia moves down a rung in the ever-deepening UFC bantamweight division and takes a step back from a potential rematch with the man who took his WEC title, Dominick Cruz.
6. Demetrious Johnson (14-2)
The diminutive “Mighty Mouse” won’t have to answer questions about dropping to flyweight anymore. After suffering a five-round decision loss to Dominick Cruz in an October bid for the UFC bantamweight belt, Johnson is headed down to 125 pounds. First up: No. 1-ranked Ian McCall on March 3 in the semifinals of the UFC’s flyweight title tournament.
7. Scott Jorgensen (13-5)
The bantamweight division’s all-action wrestler had regained some momentum following his failed WEC title bid against Dominick Cruz, topping Jeff Curran and Ken Stone in his first two UFC outings. That came to a halt Feb. 4 when Jorgensen was outpointed by streaking Brazilian Renan Barao at UFC 143.
8. Miguel Torres (40-4)
Miguel Torres’ “rape van” Twitter indiscretion might have gotten him released, but just three weeks later, the former WEC bantamweight champion once again had a UFC deal. His first assignment back won’t be an easy one, as Torres has been tasked with derailing the momentum of hot prospect Michael McDonald, April 21 at UFC 145 in Atlanta.
9. Masakatsu Ueda (15-1-2)
With an entertaining victory over previously unbeaten Kyoji Horiguchi on Jan. 8, the former Shooto world 132-pound champion firmed up his 2012 plans. Ueda will be headed stateside this year, to take part in Bellator’s Season 6 bantamweight tournament.
10. Bibiano Fernandes (11-3)
After losing his Dream featherweight crown on the last day of 2010, Bibiano Fernandes stormed through 2011 en route to the promotion’s bantamweight title. On New Year’s Eve 2011, Fernandes topped Rodolfo Marques Diniz before finishing off UFC veteran Antonio Banuelos in 81 seconds.
Other contenders: Brad Pickett, Zach Makovsky, Michael McDonald, Takeya Mizugaki, Eddie Wineland.
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