The UFC Men's Bantamweight Championship: A Visual History

By Ben Duffy Jul 12, 2020
Meet the new boss, Ultimate Fighting Championship bantamweights.

At UFC 251 on Saturday, Petr Yan pulled ahead in the championship rounds to thrash former featherweight champ Jose Aldo for a fifth-round TKO stoppage. By so doing, the 27-year-old Russian claimed the 135-pound title vacated by Henry Cejudo just six weeks ago. While Yan is riding high, there is no shortage of deserving challengers for his new belt, starting with Marlon Moraes—who defeated Aldo last year—and Aljamain Sterling, both of whom were probably more deserving of fighting for the belt than Yan and Aldo.

Beyond those immediate contenders, the bantamweight division has three former kings, still in or near their prime and ready to make their presence felt once again. Cody Garbrandt made a triumphant return last month after a 15-month hiatus, starching Raphael Assuncao in a strong contender for “Knockout of the Year.” T.J. Dillashaw, whose PED-laced disgrace belies the fact that he never lost the belt in the Octagon, should be eligible to return in January. Finally, there is Cejudo himself; while the UFC is treating his retirement as genuine, few seem to believe it will be permanent. Between those three and a deep pool of up-and-comers, Yan figures to have a full dance card for the foreseeable future.

One man who may finally be out of the immediate title picture is Dominick Cruz, who fell to Cejudo in the champ’s last title defense. It is impossible to look at the history of the bantamweight title without an understanding and appreciation of Cruz’s history of injuries; for most of the division’s existence, “The Dominator” was a recurring apparition, alternating between dominance and disappearance but always hovering over the proceedings. With the possible exception of Cain Velasquez, no champion has missed more of the prime of his career with injuries than Cruz, and with all due respect to Velasquez, Cruz was the more dominant of the two. Until his loss to Garbrandt at UFC 207, nobody had beaten a healthy Cruz in nearly a decade, and frankly, only Dillashaw had even come close.

Here is the history of the UFC men’s bantamweight title and the times it was won, lost or defended. Interim title fights are omitted, other than the ones involving Renan Barao, since he was promoted to undisputed champ without a title unification bout.

Ben Duffy/ illustration


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