Next weekend sees UFC 259 take place from Las Vegas, and in one of three title fights on the card, Petr Yan defends his UFC Bantamweight crown against Aljamain Sterling. The UFC Bantamweight division is loaded, so when UFC 259 is done, who will get the next shot at the gold?
It’s definitely a question worth exploring as there are a number of potential contenders that could lay their claim to a shot.
With that in mind, here are 5 fighters who could be next in line for a UFC Bantamweight title shot.
#1 Cory Sandhagen (UFC record: 7-1)
Probably the most clear-cut potential contender for the next UFC Bantamweight title shot is Cory Sandhagen.
The Sandman is an impressive 7-1 in the UFC, and he’s picked up two highlight-reel knockouts in his last two fights.
Sandhagen trains with a top-level team in the form of the Elevation Fight Team. At 28, he’s in his athletic prime, and he’s capable of finishing an opponent from seemingly any area.
The one thing that could keep Sandhagen from gaining a title shot after UFC 259? His only UFC loss came in one-sided fashion at the hands of Aljamain Sterling.
The Funk Master needed just 1:28 to choke Sandhagen out. And so if Sterling defeats Yan to win the title at UFC 259, giving Sandhagen a rematch with him would perhaps feel too soon.
Outside of that, though, ‘The Sandman’ is primed for a run at the UFC Bantamweight title.
#2 TJ Dillashaw (UFC record: 12-4)
It’d be hugely controversial given the circumstances of his absence, but it also wouldn’t be a surprise to see the UFC give the next UFC Bantamweight title shot to TJ Dillashaw.
Dillashaw – who had two reigns as the UFC’s Bantamweight kingpin – never actually lost his title inside the Octagon. Instead, he was stripped of the title and suspended for two years after testing positive for the banned substance EPO.
In the current USADA era of the UFC, you’d think that the promotion would shy away from pushing Dillashaw right back into the title picture.
But the UFC will happily look to book any fight that’s going to draw money. And the fact is that Dillashaw is more of a known commodity than any of the UFC’s other Bantamweights. He’s headlined multiple pay-per-views and been a coach on TUF.
And more to the point, judging by his feud with former champ Cody Garbrandt, he seems more than willing to play the villain.
Dillashaw has already stated that he’s ready for an instant title shot upon his return. And while it’d leave a sour taste to some if he were given it, it also wouldn’t be a massive shock to see it happen.
#3 Henry Cejudo (UFC record: 10-2)
Another former UFC Bantamweight champion who didn’t lose his title inside the Octagon, Henry Cejudo, hasn’t fought since his title defense last May against Dominick Cruz.
Triple C decided to retire after that fight – feeling he’d accomplished enough in MMA after winning both the UFC Flyweight and Bantamweight titles.
However, many observers maintain that his retirement was simply a bargaining trick and that with enough money on the table, he’d be willing to return.
Cejudo certainly hasn’t shied away from the spotlight since last summer. In fact, he recently posted a tweet essentially calling out the UFC’s Flyweight, Bantamweight and Featherweight champions, stating none of them would last two rounds with him.
But if Cejudo were to return, it’s likely that the first title he’d go after was the one he most recently abandoned – the UFC Bantamweight crown.
And in this case, few fans would have any problem with him jumping the queue for an immediate title shot.
A fight with either Yan or Sterling would make for some serious fireworks, meaning that this one could be the most intriguing one of all the options.
#4 Cody Garbrandt (UFC record: 7-3)
It’s safe to say that former UFC Bantamweight champ Cody Garbrandt hasn’t had the best time of things in recent years.
No Love debuted in the UFC in January 2015 and rocketed up the ranks with five straight wins that set him up for a shot at then-Bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz in December 2016.
Garbrandt stunned everyone by defeating Cruz for the title. But injuries then derailed him, and he lost his belt in his first defense against bitter rival TJ Dillashaw.
A second loss to Dillashaw – and a devastating KO loss to Pedro Munhoz followed, making many fans believe No Love was done. However, he rebounded in unbelievable fashion last year, knocking out Raphael Assuncao in highlight-reel fashion.
On paper, at least, it seems like a ludicrous idea that Garbrandt might be offered a title shot after picking up just one win since 2016. However, it’s not that far-fetched.
If Aljamain Sterling beats Petr Yan for the title at UFC 259, for instance, the UFC may feel it’s too early to rematch him with Cory Sandhagen.
And if they don’t feel comfortable with giving TJ Dillashaw an immediate shot at the gold, then Garbrandt – a known commodity who has headlined UFC pay-per-views – might be the next best option.
Right now, No Love is an outside bet for a title shot, but in the world of the UFC, stranger things have happened.
#5 Deiveson Figueiredo (UFC record: 9-1-1)
Current UFC Flyweight champion Deiveson Figueiredo has his hands full right now. After his wild title defense against Brandon Moreno at UFC 256 ended in a draw, the UFC have booked an immediate rematch, reportedly to happen in April or May.
But if Figueiredo wins that fight, then what’s next for him? He’ll already have three UFC Flyweight title defenses to his name, and none of the up-and-coming contenders really look that hot.
With that in mind, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the UFC look to book him in a champ vs. champ fight with the UFC Bantamweight king, whether that’s Petr Yan or Aljamain Sterling.
The UFC loves ‘superfights,’ after all. And a fight between the Flyweight and Bantamweight champions could add intrigue that simple title defenses against regular contenders would not.
Would this make much sense? Well, no, especially not with top Bantamweight contenders like Cory Sandhagen sniffing around.
But the UFC’s always shown a tendency to put potential “money fights” ahead of more logical booking, and so to see them pull a rabbit-like this out of their hat wouldn’t be too much of a shocker.