The UFC bantamweight division is officially a mess. On Monday, two of the division’s top contenders announced injuries, with Raphael Assuncao declaring himself out with a broken ankle, and former UFC bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz saying he tore his ACL in his right knee, the opposite knee of the one that kept him out of action for nearly the last three years prior to UFC 178. With Assuncao and Cruz expected to be out for lengthy periods of time, the UFC’s bantamweight division is in a crunch right now because there is no longer a clear-cut No. 1 contender to fight UFC bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw for the title. Cruz, the former champ who only lost his belt due to injury, was the obvious next title contender, and Assuncao, who had won seven-straight fights and held a win over Dillashaw, both of them made sense for getting the next title shot, but with both being out for the foreseeable future, the UFC will now have to turn to not just Plan B, but to Plan C. And Plan C is more than likely former UFC bantamweight champion Renan Barao, who recently picked up a submission win over Mitch Gagnon. Barao, of course, had been unbeaten in 32-straight fights before losing the belt to Dillashaw in the Upset of the Year back at UFC 173, and he was supposed to get an immediate rematch at UFC 177 this past summer. But after having problems with his weight cut, the UFC pulled him from the fight and Dillashaw instead fought Joe Soto, knocking him out in the fifth round with a head kick (the same exact method he used to dispatch Barao). Due to Barao missing weight and screwing up the UFC’s big pay-per-view plans, the promotion threw him under the bus during the telecast and then yanked his title shot away from him, giving it to Cruz after his dominating performance over Takeya Mizugaki at UFC 178 and forcing Barao to take a stay-busy fight against Gagnon. With with Assuncao and Cruz now out of the picture, Barao finds himself in a good spot to fight Dillashaw, because the only other fighter in the division who comes close to earning a title shot based on merit is Urijah Faber, who is of course a friend and teammate of Dillashaw’s at Team Alpha Male. There’s no doubt Dillashaw vs. Faber is a huge fight, but both men have said on numerous occasions they do not want to fight each other, so until Dillashaw loses the belt, I don’t see Faber fighting for it anytime soon, and instead I think you’ll see Barao get the title shot. This is all really unfortunate news, and the situation itself is not a good one for anyone, especially the champ Dillashaw, who wanted to further prove his legitimacy as the sport’s top 135lber with a win over the former champ Cruz or the guy who beat him last year in a controversial decision, Assuncao. But it’s MMA, and injuries can and often do happen, and so look for Dillashaw to now take on Barao and prove his beatdown of him back at UFC 173 wasn’t a fluke to anyone who is still doubting that it was (it wasn’t).
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