UFC Bantamweights Are A TUF Sell

By Graham Jones
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports
Joshua S. Kelly-USA TODAY Sports

For the technical skill, athleticism and toughness displayed at the lighter weight classes, the UFC bantamweight division doesn’t garner near the respect it deserves. And with one of the most dominant and electrifying champions in the sport today in Renan Barao, it is hard to imagine why the 135ers have yet to catch on with most fans.

If you’re looking for the best fighter in the world and you only tune to watch the big boys fight you are missing out in a huge way. The level of competition at heavyweight is sparse at best, while every fighter in the top-10 at 135 pounds has a legitimate shot at gold on any given night.

This month at UFC 173, No. 5-ranked bantamweight T.J. Dillashaw will take on the champ Barao in what is sure to be an unheralded fight. The bouts between Daniel Cormier and Dan Henderson, and Jake Ellenberger and Robbie Lawler will no doubt overshadow one of the sport’s most dynamic champions, and this is a travesty.

Barao has not lost in 33 professional fights, and that is not a typo. The UFC bantamweight champ’s last loss came in his professional debut in 2005, and Barao has been on a terror for the ages since. Since winning the UFC interim title, he has stopped his opponent in every defense of his crown, but more impressive still is the diversity in which he finishes fights.

After a unanimous decision victory against Urijah Faber at UFC 149 to capture the interim belt, Barao faced highly-touted prospect Michael McDonald and after three closely-contested rounds, Barao was able to bait the young fighter on the ground to lock up a beautiful arm triangle choke for the victory.

In his next appearance, the champ impressed even further, taking out dangerous striker Eddie Wineland with a ferocious spinning back kick to the head and earning “Knockout of the Night” honors in the process. But even after this spectacular stoppage in a title fight, the champ still was not being recognized.

At UFC 169, Barao once again squared off against Faber for the 135 belt, but this time Barao sealed the deal with an overhand right that floored Faber and kept his incredible unbeaten streak alive.

In his next defense, Barao will take on rising star and Faber protege Dillashaw, who has looked outstanding going 5-1 since dropping The Ultimate Fighter Season 15 Finale to John Dodson. Like many of his Team Alpha Male cohorts, Dillashaw comes from an impressive wrestling background as a standout at Cal State Fullerton and has channeled his exceptional athletic prowess into a dangerous standup game as well.

Though he has all the makings of a future threat and is coming off of a big win against Mike Easton, it’s hard not to think this shot is coming a little soon for the 28-year-old American, who while impressive, has yet to show that he is on the same level as Barao.

Dillashaw will likely be forced to stand and trade with the champion, who has some of the best takedown defense in the UFC today at a whopping 96 percent successfully defended. While vastly improved, Dillashaw is getting thrown to the wolves simply because Barao vs. the streaking Raphael Assuncao would receive a collective “who cares?” from the mainstream audience, despite being two of the most talented and skilled fighters on the roster.

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