2011 is winding down and has been monumental for mixed martial arts. Icons were finished, veterans put on some of their best performances, champions were crowned in the face of adversity and some men have emerged from the shadows to the main stage of their respectful division. Looking back on the past year the bantamweight division is nothing new, it has just begun to take its true form under the UFC banner.
Here are some of the best, worst and those to watch at 135 lbs from this past year and leading into 2012.
Dominick Cruz (19-1) – Given the fact he is already the champion puts him in a position to be the best. However, factoring in his wrestling, dizzying feet movement and unorthodox boxing, “The Dominator” has picked apart everyone placed in front of him. Walking into his first UFC title defense against nemesis Urijah Faber, he displayed that night in Vegas (UFC 132) why he is not the same man who was submitted years ago by getting the best of Faber for five rounds to retain his title. UFC on Versus 6 had him against Demetrius Johnson, which saw Cruz suplex his way to another unanimous decision win. Poised for a rubber match with “The California Kid” in 2012, the Alliance MMA fighter is looks to be getting into full stride and could be holding his belt for a long time.
Urijah Faber (26-5) – Since dropping from his featherweight status to the more natural bantamweight, Faber has tasted defeat only once, a decision loss to Dominick Cruz for the title. Aside from this bout, he has defeated veteran fighters Eddie Wineland and Brian Bowles. In the two wins, he used his superior wrestling and improving hands to open the shot and secure takedowns. Getting a chance to claim UFC gold again has inspired the Alpha Male to focus on the tools he needs ready to beat Cruz and claim his throne. It is rare to see the top two fighter in a weight class be the neutralizer to the other and have the disdain they do for one another; come next year – it will all be ended in one of the best trilogies in MMA.
Eddie Wineland (18-8-1) – Having the status and skill to become the first WEC bantamweight champion (May 2006) was not enough for the Indiana wrestler this past year. Being defeated by two strong wrestlers (both from Team Alpha Male) in Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez, he can take 2011 as a learning experience and focus on the weakness’ in training. Looking for another shot at the title is a way off but not impossible for anyone. The heart and dedication of a champion is not lacking in Wineland and he will need to have everything ready when he stands across from Demetrious Johnson (another wrestler) in January 2012.
Miguel Torres (39-4) – Being one of the most feared and violent men to ever enter a cage was a reputation that followed Torres for years as WEC champion. After losing the belt and re-focusing his training to TriStar with Firas Zahabi, the killer has gone cold and the methodical Torres has emerged. Finishing the year with an overall UFC record of 2-1, the victories were both unanimous decision wins over opponents his older self would have decimated. Stating that he will fight the way he needs to win and not necessarily how the fans want him to perform, he’ll need to find a piece of the insanity to finish his opponents if he wants to wear the gold again.
The Next Big Thing:
Renan Barao (27-1, 1nc) – Brazil is becoming the new breeding ground for some of the best fighters and this bantamweight is nothing short of amazing. Being defeated only once, which was his first professional bout, he has gone onto one of the longest win streaks and was victorious in his UFC debut in a decision win over Cole Escovedo (UFC 130) and most recently a submission win over Brad Pickett (UFC 138). Wins have appeared to come easy for him through his career up to this point, a true test of his skill would be against Takeya Mizugaki, Brian Bowles or Miguel Torres as options for his next match in 2012.
Think that these are not the best, worst or next big thing? Feel free to sound off in the comments and stay hooked in with MMA Valor.
Next Up, the Featherweight Division