Former UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw made a successful return to the Octagon this past weekend, beating Cory Sandhagen by split-decision in the main event at UFC Vegas 32.
Dillashaw returned to action more than two years after being banned from competing due to a doping suspension. Many believed that he wouldn’t be able to perform at the same level as he did before, without the performance-enhancing drugs, let alone win. Dillashaw proved his critics wrong, however, by putting on a gritty performance against Sandhagen, who’s considered one of the best bantamweights in the world right now.
While the doping suspension has tainted his legacy to a certain extent, Dillashaw can redeem himself by getting his hands on the title again, and solidify his place as one of the GOATs, if not the greatest bantamweight in MMA history. Here are the 5 best MMA bantamweights of all time.
In his heyday, Dominick Cruz was untouchable, but his recurring injuries had a major impact on his career. ‘The Dominator’ has only fought six times in the last seven years, but he’s still the frontrunner in the bantamweight GOAT debate.
After winning the inaugural bantamweight title against Scott Jorgensen in 2010, Cruz went on to successfully defend his title five times, against the likes of Urijah Faber (twice), Dillashaw, and Demetrious Johnson, who’s the consensus flyweight GOAT. Cruz lost his title to Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207 in 2016.
He then returned in 2020 to face Henry Cejudo for the bantamweight title, but lost by TKO, before beating Casey Kenney earlier this year in March to return to winning ways.
TJ Dillashaw is second on the list of bantamweight GOATs, but he can surpass Cruz with a third reign as the bantamweight king, although he’ll have to work really hard for that.
That being said, Dillashaw is known for doing the unthinkable, as he has proved throughout his career. When the American got his first title shot in the UFC, he faced Renan Barao, who was 32-1 at that time. Dillashaw, a +520 underdog, pulled off one of the biggest upsets in UFC history by finishing his opponent in the fifth round.
He then defended his title twice, against Joe Soto and Barao, before losing it to Cruz in a razor-close split decision. He won the belt a second time when he knocked out Cody Garbrandt in the second round at UFC 217, before beating him again at UFC 227 to put an end to their rivalry.
Dillashaw was stripped of his title due to his doping suspension after his loss to Henry Cejudo in their flyweight title fight in 2019.
— UFC (@ufc) July 25, 2021
Henry Cejudo hasn’t fought at bantamweight as many times as Cruz or Dillashaw, but he’s beaten both of them and holds a 7-0 record at 135lbs. He claims that he’s the greatest bantamweight of all time, and he makes a strong case for it. However, he retired too soon. Had he fought and beaten the likes of Petr Yan, Aljamain Sterling, and Cory Sandhagen, he would have been the GOAT without a question.
While he’s not the consensus GOAT, he’s still one of the greatest fighters to grace the Octagon, and his resume is proof of it. His last four wins have come against Cruz, Dillashaw (at flyweight), Marlon Moraes, and Demetrious Johnson (at flyweight). That’s an incredible run in itself.
Bibiano Fernandes has never competed in the UFC, due to failed contract negotiations in 2012, but that doesn’t mean he isn’t good enough to make this list. Not only is he a multiple promotion MMA world champion, but he’s also a BJJ ace, who has won 11 gold medals in various tournaments.
He’s 24-4 in MMA and is the current bantamweight titleholder in ONE Championship, where he has made seven successful title defenses.
— ONE Championship (@ONEChampionship) May 23, 2020
Although he won his only major title as a feather in WEC, Faber never won a title in the UFC, despite four chances, including an interim title fight.
But to his credit, he fought the absolute best in his division and was a bit of a celebrity bridesmaid at times. The reason why he got more title shots than many of his UFC counterparts is that he was mostly a top-three fighter in his division and only lost consecutive fights once in his 46-fight career. Very few fighters have had the fame that he has had and he still remains relevant to date, even at 42-years-old.
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