1. T.J. Dillashaw (12-2)Proving that his UFC title win was no fluke, the Team Alpha Male standout once again demolished Renan Barao on July 25. Dillashaw tore up Barao on the feet, outstriking the former champion by a nearly three-to-one margin before punching his way to a violent finish early in round four. The 29-year-old will look to cement his status as No. 1 bantamweight when he meets returning ex-champ Dominick Cruz on Jan. 17.
2. Renan Barao (33-3, 1 NC)One fight removed from his shocking title loss, Barao attempted to reclaim the UFC bantamweight belt from T.J. Dillashaw on July 25 in Chicago. The Brazilian fared no better in the rematch, as Dillashaw’s speedy and precise striking caused Barao to fade before the championship rounds and ultimately succumb to punishment in the fourth frame.
3. Dominick Cruz (20-1)It had been three years since Cruz last stepped into the Octagon, but at UFC 178, he looked like the same old “Dominator.” The former bantamweight king showed no ill effects from multiple knee surgeries, as he executed a flawless, 61-second dismantling of perennial contender Takeya Mizugaki. However, just when it looked like Cruz had shaken the injury bug, he revealed another blown ACL, this time on his right knee. Now healed from the injury, Cruz will try to reclaim the belt he never lost when he faces T.J. Dillashaw in January.
4. Urijah Faber (33-8)Following a May loss to Frankie Edgar at featherweight, Faber returned to 135 pounds and picked up a hard-fought decision over Frankie Saenz at UFC 194. “The California Kid” now wants a shot at the UFC bantamweight title, a claim aided by Faber’s built-in storylines with old rival Dominick Cruz and former training partner T.J. Dillashaw.
5. Aljamain Sterling (12-0)Sterling showed why he is one of the 135-pound division’s hottest prospects by strangling tough Brazilian veteran Johnny Eduardo on Dec. 10 in Las Vegas. Having completed the final fight on his UFC contract, “The Funk Master” will now test the waters of free agency, though Sterling mentioned after his win that he still has eyes on the UFC bantamweight belt.
6. Takeya Mizugaki (21-9-2)Following the first back-to-back losses of his Zuffa career, Mizugaki on Sept. 27 scored a much-needed win before a partisan crowd in Saitama, Japan. It did not come easy, but the former World Extreme Cagefighting contender outworked 6-foot-1 George Roop to snatch a unanimous decision in a clinch-filled three-rounder.
7. Marlon Moraes (15-4-1)Moraes remained the first and only World Series of Fighting bantamweight champion on Aug. 1, when he floored previously undefeated Sheymon Moraes and followed him to the ground for a third-round rear-naked choke submission. While he may not be facing elite competition, Moraes continues to defeat all challengers to the WSOF throne. He is now 8-0 in the organization with two knockouts and two submissions.
8. Thomas Almeida (20-0)The hottest prospect in the 135-pound division continues to churn out thrilling performances with each Octagon appearance. On Nov. 7, it was Anthony Birchak who fell victim to Almeida’s devastating striking -- namely, a vicious right cross late in the first round. The unbeaten Brazilian has recorded knockouts in three of his four UFC outings and has stopped 19 of 20 opponents in his career.
9. Frankie Saenz (11-3)Saenz was game enough to overcome a near-knockout in round two of his UFC 194 bout with Urijah Faber, but he could not put away “The California Kid” down the stretch and ultimately dropped a unanimous decision. The defeat snapped a seven-fight winning streak which had seen Saenz best the likes of Iuri Alcantara and Sirwan Kakai.
10. Bryan Caraway (20-7)Caraway has emerged as one of the toughest outs at 135 pounds since joining UFC in 2011, compiling a 5-2 record inside the Octagon with his only defeats coming against top-shelf veterans Raphael Assuncao and Takeya Mizugaki. Most recently, “Kid Lightning” bounced back from his loss to Assuncao by outpointing Eddie Wineland in July.
Other Contenders: Iuri Alcantara, Bibiano Fernandes, Marcos Galvao, John Lineker, Jimmie Rivera.
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