At UFC 288 this past weekend, Aljamain Sterling defended his title against former champion Henry Cejudo, etching his name among the greatest bantamweights of all time. The UFC's 135-pound bracket is arguably the deepest division across combat sports, so to make it to the top and stay there is truly something special.
While the UFC bantamweight division is undoubtedly home to most elite 135-pounders competing today, it wouldn't be fair to say that all the best bantamweights are signed to the world's premier MMA promotion. Bellator and ONE Championship boast world-class fighters as well, some of who would give their UFC counterparts a real run for their money.
On that note, here are the five best bantamweights outside the UFC right now.
#5. Danny Sabatello
Our first entry may come as a surprise to many, especially considering who hasn't been included on this list. Bellator's Danny Sabatello has a tremendous upside, and despite his loss to former interim champion Raufeon Stots last year, he still makes the cut.
Sabatello is the most polarizing figure on the Bellator roster. The outspoken American is more than happy to play the bad guy, as he has the skills to back his boisterous claims.
Fighting out of American Top Team, home to UFC stars Dustin Poirier and Jorge Masvidal, Danny Sabatello is very highly regarded by his teammates. The 30-year-old boasts an impressive 14-2 record, and at just 30, he's just scratching the surface of his potential, and his popularity.
Sabatello's fighting style, however, leaves a lot to be desired. While it's certainly effective, the collegiate wrestling standout's dominant top game isn't the most fan-friendly style. In his title bid against Raufeon Stots last year, he accrued loads of control time, but didn't dish out any damage whatsoever and ultimately lost via split decision.
Notably, Sabatello featured on Dana White's Contender Series back in 2020. He came out on top via unanimous decision against Taylor Moore, but failed to secure a UFC contract as the UFC president wasn't impressed with his lack of urgency to finish the fight. He signed with Bellator soon after.
'The Italian Gangster' appears to have re-discovered his finishing ability, getting his first stoppage in seven fights with his submission win over Marcos Breno earlier this year.
#4. Adriano Moraes – Former ONE flyweight champion
Adriano Moraes is a tough night out for any bantamweight on the planet. The Brazilian is massive for the weight class, which compliments his long-range striking and lethal submission game beautifully. 'Mikinho' remains the only fighter in the world to have a knockout victory over MMA legend Demetrious Johnson.
Sporting a 20-5 record, Adriano Moraes has spent the majority of his career in ONE Championship having joined the Asian promotion over a decade ago. The 35-year-old Brazilian is a lethal finisher, with 14 of his career wins coming via stoppages, including four knockouts and ten submissions.
His last two outings are defeats to Demetrious Johnson and there's no shame in that. Johnson is also the only fighter who has finished 'Mikinho', which is a testament to his durability and toughness.
With 'Mighty Mouse' seemingly on the cusp of retirement, Moraes could re-claim his title and re-emerge as ONE Championship's best 135-pounder very soon.
#3. Sergio Pettis – Bellator bantamweight champion
Sergio Pettis endured a turbulent run in the UFC before signing with Bellator in 2019. Being the younger brother of former UFC lightweight champion Anthony Pettis might've come with some added pressure, so when he won and defended the Bellator bantamweight title in 2021, it was the crowning moment of his career so far.
Sergio Pettis won the Bellator bantamweight title with a dominant five-round display against Juan Archuleta before brutally knocking out heavy favorite Kyoji Horiguchi with a highlight reel spinning backfist. He still holds the title, but hasn't competed since December 2021.
Pettis' professional record stands at 22-5, with 14 decision wins. While he isn't seen as a devastating finisher like his older brother Anthony, the 29-year-old is very well-rounded and often showcases impressive fight IQ in sticky situations. 'The Phenom' notably holds a win over current UFC flyweight king Brandon Moreno as well.
Pettis will look to defend his title next month when he takes on Patricio Pitbull at Bellator 297.
#2. Patchy Mix – Bellator interim bantamweight champion
In Sergio Pettis' absence, Raufeon Stots claimed the interim title and was looking to defend it in the recently concluded Bellator Bantamweight Grand Prix. Stots made it all the way to the final and was one win away from the $1 million cash prize, but ran into the knee of one of the best 135-pounders in the world – Patchy Mix.
Patchy Mix's record stands at 18-1, comprising two knockouts and 14 submissions. While he was primarily known for his grappling prowess, his latest KO win over Raufeon Stots showed that he's no slouch on the feet.
Still just 29, Mix is supremely well-rounded and will prove to be a real test for any elite bantamweight. He has trained alongside UFC champion Aljamain Sterling and No.1-ranked contender Merab Dvalishvili, both of who have vouched for their fellow New Yorker's potential.
After securing a massive payday with his most recent performance, Mix will be targeting undisputed gold when he returns to action and will likely take on the winner of Sergio Pettis vs. Patricio Pitbull. Nevertheless, he already sees himself as the best bantamweight in the world.
#1. Demetrious Johnson – Former UFC flyweight champion and reigning ONE flyweight champion
Demetrious Johnson is aging like a fine wine. The former longtime UFC flyweight champion has enjoyed an incredible run in ONE Championship since 2019, and at the promotion's first-ever show on American soil earlier this month, solidified his status as one of the greatest fighters of all time.
Demetrious Johnson defeated Adriano Moraes for a second time at ONE Fight Night 10 in Colorado. Soon after the fight, 'Mighty Mouse' made it clear that he is close to retirement, having already done almost everything there is to do in the sport.
Johnson will likely be inducted into the UFC Hall of Fame at some point down the line, having defended his flyweight title in the American promotion a staggering 11 times, a record that stands to this day. 'DJ' is now the face of ONE Championship and has inarguably elevated the promotion to new heights.
As of this writing, he hasn't announced his retirement. Until he does, Johnson remains the best active 135-pounder outside the UFC.