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 a bantamweight title bout between Faber and Cruz at UFC 148 on July 7.
2. Urijah Faber (26-5)
Last 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 July at UFC 148, but first he will coach opposite Cruz on the 15th season of UFC reality show “The Ultimate Fighter.”
3. 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.
4. 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 31-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.
5. Michael McDonald (15-1)
“Mayday” is no longer a reason to panic but to rejoice: at UFC 145, Michael McDonald quickly left former WEC champion Miguel Torres dead-as-a-doornail with his brutal combination punching. The gruesome stoppage was the eighth straight win for the 21-year-old, who has quickly emerged as one of the division’s elite fighters and one of the sport’s greatest young talents.
6. Scott Jorgensen (13-5)
In February, Jorgensen was outpointed by streaking Brazilian Renan Barao at UFC 143. Now, “Young Guns” will have a chance to regroup at UFC on FX 3 on June 8, but his opportunity comes against fearsome puncher Eddie Wineland in a bantamweight clash that is high-risk for both athletes.
7. Brad Pickett (21-6)
At UFC on Fuel 2 in Stockholm, Brad Pickett turned in arguably the finest performance of his career with a nine-minute domination of gritty Greg Jackson pupil Damacio Page. From bell-to-bell, the Brit dominated with his striking, wrestling and grappling before choking “The Angel of Death” out in the second round. The rousing win has already gone a long way toward erasing the memories of Pickett’s first-round loss to surging Brazilian Renan Pegado last November.
8. Eduardo Dantas (14-2)
Michael McDonald isn’t the only young bantamweight who broke into the big time in April. At Bellator 65 on April 13, the 23-year-old Nova Uniao product absolutely throttled the rock-solid Zach Makovsky to take the promotion’s bantamweight crown, choking “Fun Size” out cold with a beautiful arm-triangle choke. The sensational performance signaled the Brazilian’s arrival amongst the divisional elite, whilst adding yet another major MMA title to the Nova Uniao trophy case.
9. Miguel Torres (40-5)
While Miguel Torres’ outside-of-the-cage battles stemming from his now-infamous “rape van” tweet were difficult, they couldn’t possibly stack up to the unenviable outcome of his UFC 145 bout with hot prospect Michael McDonald. Torres, who was knocked out in grim fashion in the first round, is 3-4 in his last seven bouts after losing just once in his previous 37 outings.
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:Chris Cariaso, Zach Makovsky, Travis Marx, Takeya Mizugaki, Masakatsu Ueda
With his April 6 loss to Travis Marx and the entry of Eduardo Dantas, previously seventh-ranked Masakatsu Ueda falls to the contenders list.
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