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Catching up with the UFC Bantamweight Division

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The series of top-ten UFC Bantamweight fights will reach another leg this weekend when Cory Sandhagen takes on Yadong Song in the main event of UFC Vegas 60. Now that it has reached roughly the halfway point of the “grand prix” of sorts, let’s take a look at what the remaining fighters need to do to find themselves in a UFC title fight.

Cory Sandhagen

Sandhagen has been in a unique spot in the Bantamweight division throughout the past year. He has not fought since his Interim-Title fight loss to Petr Yan last October, a fight he took on short notice following his very narrow loss to TJ Dillashaw only three months prior. “The Sandman” is ranked at #4 in the division, and while he is 2-3 in his last five fights those three losses are his only losses in the UFC and they were to three men ranked above him.

Again, this has Sandhagen in an interesting situation. Despite being in the top five of the division and certainly could have gotten the nod against Dillashaw, he is likely one of the furthest away from being considered for a title shot at this moment. A win over Song would certainly be a step closer, but with many new matchups for him within the top ten, he may need two more wins to get back into the title conversation even with a win this weekend.

Yadong Song

Song is likely the only fighter currently farther away from a title shot than Sandhagen, but at 24 years old he is surging, showing off the elevation of Song Yadong and has a chance to insert himself into the contender conversation at what may be the best division in the UFC. He is currently ranked at #10 and has a promotional record of 8-1-1, including a win over #5 Chito Vera.

A win over Sandhagen would propel him near the top five in the division, and could possibly set up some exciting matchups with other contenders. A rematch with Vera could be incredibly compelling, their first fight ended in a somewhat controversial decision in which Song’s hand was raised and Vera has skyrocketed since. There would be no shortage of matchups for Song near the top of the division if he is able to get by Sandhagen this weekend.

Petr Yan

Despite being the most recent former champion in the UFC Bantamweight division, Yan finds himself in a somewhat advantageous position. He is fighting Sean O’Malley, the biggest mainstream star in the division, on the same night as the Bantamweight Title fight between Aljamain Sterling and TJ Dillashaw.

Now, if Sterling wins on October 22 it is unlikely the UFC would revisit Sterling vs. Yan so quickly. But if Dillashaw wins, it would seem all but guaranteed that they would do Dillashaw vs. Yan. Yan would have all the heat from beating O’Malley, and that is a fight the UFC has wanted since Dillashaw re-entered the division post-suspension. If all goes well for Yan, he could find himself in another title fight in the not-so-distant future.

Sean O’Malley

Even if O’Malley had won dominantly over Pedro Munhoz this past July, the jump to fighting Yan still may have been seen as a bit ambitious. That being said, he has no shortage of support or confidence going into UFC 280. 

He has an enormous opportunity in a fight against one of the best UFC bantamweights in the world, Petr Yan. Yan has proven to be a stylistic nightmare for nearly everybody he has fought, and beating him undeniably would prove that O’Malley belongs at the top of the division. This, combined with his mainstream stardom, would all but guarantee a shot at the title if he emerges victorious on October 22. 

Marlon Vera

The first member of our list who has already progressed through the first round of the UFC’s unofficial bantamweight tournament, Chito Vera may have the most heat of anyone in the division right now. His last two performances have been nothing short of spectacular. His domination of Rob Font was enough to make some fans uncomfortable, and then the absolutely brutal head-kick KO of Dominick Cruz has his stock as high as anyone’s in the division. 

He is certainly not far from a shot at the belt and is one fighter who may have already earned that shot if a couple of things go his way. Should Sterling defeat Dillashaw, and Yan defeat O’Malley, Vera could very likely get the bump all the way to a shot at the title. 

Luckily for Vera (and all of us), he has a couple of compelling rematches available for him within the top ten as well. A rematch with O’Malley would be an enormous fight and one I think both men would be ready to revisit. Vera also has lost to Song, albeit incredibly close and somewhat controversial, but both men have made serious strides in their careers since then and on paper looks like Fight of the Night material. 

Honestly, the UFC bantamweight division is Chito Vera’s oyster right now. 

Merab Dvalishvili

Merab is the second fighter who successfully passed the first lap of this race to the top of the division, but for him, it is a slightly more complicated situation. 

He has won eight fights in a row, just beat the legend José Aldo, and is a stylistic mismatch for just about anyone. In a normal situation, he would almost certainly only be one fight away from a title shot, but the champion of his division just happens to also be his best friend and training-partner. They have loosely discussed how they would go about the situation when the time comes, and the only thing both Merab and Sterling have said for certain is that they will not fight each other. 

We will likely get more concrete answers after October 22, and no matter how it all works out, Merab is knocking on the door of the title. 

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