1. Dominick Cruz (22-1)It was a slower start than we have grown accustomed to for “The Dominator,” but in his championship rubber match with Urijah Faber at UFC 199, Cruz effectively shut out his main rival, dropping “The California Kid” partway through the second round before cruising to a unanimous decision after 25 minutes. The bantamweight division continues to improve as its young guns work their way up the ladder, but until one of those prospects can emerge as a viable title contender, the MMA world will keep its figurative fingers crossed for Cruz to rematch UFC flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson -- a man he defeated via unanimous verdict in October 2011.
2. T.J. Dillashaw (12-3)Dillashaw’s reign as undisputed bantamweight champion ended on Jan. 17 in Boston, where he was outpointed across five rounds by Dominick Cruz, despite a late push from the Duane Ludwig pupil. The defeat marked Dillashaw’s first “L” since October 2013, when he dropped a contentious split decision against Raphael Assuncao. The former champ will rematch Assuncao at UFC 200 on July 9.
3. Marlon Moraes (16-4-1)Moraes has won 11 straight bouts, as he has gone undefeated for nearly five years and clearly established himself as one of the best 135-pound fighters on the planet. Unfortunately, the World Series of Fighting continues to struggle to supply its bantamweight champion with intriguing matchups. At WSOF 32 on July 30, Moraes will defend his title against once-beaten Canadian Josh Hill. That one loss for Hill came against Moraes in a one-sided five-round title defense for the Brazilian in February 2015.
4. Urijah Faber (33-9)Faber at UFC 199 started fast against Dominick Cruz, but ultimately, the fourth UFC title challenge for “The California Kid” morphed into the bout we expected, as Cruz danced and delivered volume punching for 25 minutes. The 37-year-old Faber is now 3-3 in his last six bouts dating back to February 2014.
5. Bryan Caraway (21-7)Through his eight bouts inside the Octagon, Caraway has gotten a little bit better each time. Those incremental improvements finally turned into a big payoff for “Kid Lightning,” as he overcame a tough first five minutes to come back and take a split decision win over the previously unbeaten Aljamain Sterling on May 29, vaulting him into these rankings.
6. Aljamain Sterling (12-1)For the first five minutes of his May 29 bout with Bryan Caraway, Sterling looked every bit a dominant, undefeated prospect. However, when Caraway battled back over the final 10 minutes, he managed to outwrestle and outhustle the Serra-Longo Fight Team product, handing “The Funkmaster” the first loss of his pro career.
7. Cody Garbrandt (9-0)With his brutal first-round knockout of Thomas Almeida on May 29, Cody Garbrandt announced himself not just as a hot prospect, but a fighter ready to tangle with the bantamweight division's elite. Most folks expected Garbrandt to walk into a showdown with veteran Bryan Caraway for his next bout, but instead, “No Love” will take on rugged divisional gatekeeper Takeya Mizugaki in a contest penciled in for UFC 202 on Aug. 20 in Las Vegas.
8. Takeya Mizugaki (21-9-2)Takeya Mizugaki is unlikely to ever get a UFC bantamweight title bid, but the scrappy Shooto product remains the de facto “gatekeeper to the stars” at 135 pounds. Mizugaki's UFC career has been predicated on sorting out the contenders from the pretenders at bantamweight and next, he will serve as the acid test for unbeaten Cody Garbrandt at UFC 202 on Aug. 20, with hopes of dismissing “No Love” as a “not ready for primetime” player.
9. Thomas Almeida (21-1)Almeida entered his May 29 showdown with Cody Garbrandt, not just as a slight favorite but as favorite to earn a UFC bantamweight title shot in the near future if he stayed on his current trajectory. Garbrandt rejected that narrative wholesale, socking up Almeida from the outset before crushing him unconscious with a right hook early in the first round, handing “Thominhas” the first loss of his career.
10. Jimmie Rivera (19-1)Rivera on Jan. 30 collected his biggest scalp yet when he outworked crafty Brazilian vet Iuri Alcantara to claim a three-round unanimous decision. The victory extended the New Jerseyan’s impressive winning streak to 18 straight, including three in a row since joining the UFC in July.
Other Contenders: Iuri Alcantara, Darrion Caldwell, Eduardo Dantas, John Lineker, Frankie Saenz.
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