May 24, 2016

UFC Fight Night 88: The Next Bantamweight Title Contender Could Be Determined This Weekend In Vegas

By Adam Martin

The UFC bantamweight division is one of the most exciting weight classes the promotion has to offer right now, and the next title contender could very well be determined at UFC Fight Night 88.

In the main event, undefeated Brazilian prospect Thomas Almeida makes his UFC main event debut when he takes on another undefeated prospect, Cody Garbrandt, in what is expected to be an incredible fight between two of the hottest up-and-coming fighters in the sport regardless of weight class. Both men are only 24 years of age,
with Almeida having a 21-0 record and Garbrandt being 8-0. Between the two of them, they have seven UFC wins, and in their combined careers both men have finished 26 of their 29 victories. Safe to say both men have been nothing short of extremely impressive to date in their respective careers, and a big win in what should be considered a showcase fight for both men could potentially jump the winner of this fight into title talks.

But they aren’t the only top-shelf bantamweights on the card. That’s because in the Fight Pass prelims, Aljamain Sterling, another undefeated young beast, takes on veteran Bryan Caraway in what is sure to be a crowd-pleasing bout. Sterling, who is 26, is 13-0 in his MMA career and 4-0 in the Octagon. No doubt Caraway is a stern test, but considering how dominant Sterling has looked in his UFC career so far, it’s really hard to see him losing this fight. And should he win, as the betting odds are indicating he should, he will be right up there with the winner of Almeida vs. Garbrandt when it comes to who deserves the next title shot. And although Caraway isn’t the most “sexy” title contender, it’d be hard not to throw him on the shortlist of bantamweight contenders if he hands Sterling the first loss of his career.

With UFC 199 going down next week and UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz defending his title against archrival Urijah Faber in the card’s co-main event, the timing is great for all four fighters competing this weekend to show the MMA world they deserve the next shot at the belt.
Of course, one can’t forget about the former champ TJ Dillashaw, who battles Raphael Assuncao at UFC 200 in a pivotal rematch between the two. Assuncao defeated Dillashaw back in 2013, but because of injuries he hasn’t yet had his chance to fight for the bantamweight title, despite reeling off eight straight wins in the UFC. Dillashaw, meanwhile, became the champ when he defeated Renan Barão in a massive upset at UFC 173 and he later defended the title twice, against Barão in a rematch and against Joe Soto in a beatdown. He barely lost his belt to Cruz earlier this year at UFC Fight Night 81 in a split decision defeat, and if he can beat Assuncao in impressive fashion, he could definitely jump in line for a bantamweight title shot. As for Assuncao, if he beats Dillashaw for his ninth straight win in the UFC it would be tough to deny him a title shot, but he’s not exactly the most exciting fighter, and with all of his injury concerns, it would be interesting to see how the UFC views him compared to the other top contenders fighting at UFC Fight Night 88. Even if Assuncao beats Dillashaw, there’s no guarantee he would be ahead of anyone fighting this weekend for a title shot.

Ultimately it will come down to who is most impressive inside the Octagon and who the UFC feels can most sell the fight against the Cruz vs. Faber winner. Obviously with his history with both men, Dillashaw would seem to have a leg up as far as the promotional aspect goes, but there’s a very good argument to be made that the fans would like to see someone new challenge for the title. If Almeida knocks out Garbrandt in electrifying fashion this weekend for his fifth-straight win in the UFC, perhaps the fans will get behind him for the title shot. The same can be said of Garbrandt. But if both men put on a stinker, perhaps Sterling, if he’s impressive against Caraway, could leapfrog this weekend’s main eventers for a title shot despite being buried on the prelims. Caraway, being the boyfriend of UFC Women’s Bantamweight Champion Miesha Tate, would seem to have some pull, and if he can beat Sterling it would be interesting to see what kind of regard the UFC holds him in. It’s easy to go through these scenarios on paper, but ultimately it will come down to what these men do in their showcases at UFC FN 88.

With all of the aforementioned bantamweight fighters, plus guys like John Lineker, John Dodson, Michael McDonald and Jimmie Rivera, the 135-pound division is as healthy as it has ever been. The division is full of excitement right now and it will be interesting to see how things shake out in the coming weeks and months, because it’s a division full of possibilities, and in the end, the fans are the ones who win the most.

UFC Fight Night 88
Bryan Caraway vs. Aljamain Sterling

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UFC Fight Night 88
Thomas Almeida vs. Cody Garbrandt

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UFC Fight Night 88: Almeida vs. Garbrandt takes place on May 29, 2016 at Mandalay Bay Events Center in Las Vegas, Nevada.

Click the stars to rate how good you think UFC Fight Night 88 will be.

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