As the sport of mixed martial arts continues to evolve, the history becomes ever more complex and difficult to decipher.
This is especially true when taking into account a period of time when the sport truly grew into a more mature form. Whether you’re talking about a now-retired combatant or a now defunct promotion, the sport continues to expand its chapters. With this, it begs us to look back at the historical significance of those branches of time as well as to consider their place in history among the ever-expanding present. Or the possible and arguable lack thereof.
Back in 2001, the World Extreme Cagefighting (WEC) promotion was founded. It would go on to feature many of the sports best talents in its early days such as Chris Leben, Nate Diaz and Carlos Condit from its inception up until 2009 when the promotion would go on to exclusively feature fights from the Lightweight division and lower. During this time, the WEC was the only major promotion on live television that featured the Featherweight, Bantamweight and Flyweight divisions. During this time, stars like Miguel Torres, Brian Bowles, Cub Swanson, Leonard Garcia, Dominick Cruz, Jose Aldo and Urijah Faber would emerge.
Now during that time, the WEC’s Bantamweight division would come about in full force, highlighting many fighters of superb skill. Eddie Wineland was the inaugural 135 pound champion back in 2006. The title would eventually find its way to Miguel Torres who went on to defend the title three times. A feat no one else would go on to surpass before the promotion went defunct in 2010. Torres was considered one of the WEC’s greatest champions at the time before losing the belt to Brian Bowles in the summer of 2009.
Eventually, the championship would find its way to “The Dominator” Dominick Cruz. Cruz was a former Featherweight who dropped down to Bantamweight and would take the sport by storm with his unique and divisive style of striking and wrestling that saw him propel his name quickly into the upper echelon of the sport before joining the Ultimate Fighting Championship roster in 2011. Cruz would defeat Joseph Benavidez and Scott Jorgenson during his WEC run and was able to turn away Urijah Faber in his UFC debut and first UFC title defense. He would later defeat future Flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson that same year, further cementing his status as the greatest Bantamweight to ever compete at that point in time.
Cruz accomplished much in a short amount of time while kingpin of the 135 pound division. So much so to where his name was synonymous with the Bantamweight division itself. Few had ever dominated the weight class like he had up until that point. However in 2012, tragedy would strike for Cruz as he suffered a torn ACL, thus beginning a string of longstanding injuries that would force Cruz out of action for nearly three years. This opened up the weight class for a new wave of competitors to take over the division.
The rest is simply history from there. Specifically, it is UFC history. Many new champions have been crowned since and this has allowed for several other names to clock their names in amongst the best Bantamweights in the world.
If one were to just go by the UFC’s history, there was a time when one would think Dominick Cruz to be the easy answer. But now it is much more difficult. Because Cruz was injured for so long, one could argue that some prestige feels lost from his still historic legacy, especially after losing to Cody “No Love” Garbrandt in the fashion that he did back at UFC 207 while only winning the belt a second time with a split decision win over Tj Dillashaw that many, to this day, still dispute.
Then you have Renan Barão. An underrated competitor for his time who doesn’t get nearly enough praise for his contribution to the division as champion during Cruz’ absence. He defended the belt three times which is tied for as many as Cruz has in the UFC total. However, Barão was decimated by TJ Dillashaw in two seperate contests for the UFC Bantamweight championship.
Enter the latest entry into the UFC’s Hall of Fame Urijah Faber who holds the most accolades outside of being a champion, in the UFC’s Bantamweight division. Faber has the most fights (15), most submission wins (6), longest total fight time (3:29:04), most wins against ranked competition (12) and most takedowns landed in the division (26).
It really depends on how you look at the prestige of the division. In reality the division is still quite young, and even with any and all the argument presented, it is hard to discount what Cruz has accomplished as a whole. However the only reason he has gotten the chances at Bantamweight that he has is because of his work at the end of the WEC era. So to bring that over to the UFC and then disclude it makes his resume look somewhat shallow to Faber or Dillashaw despite his wins against both men.
Cruz again finds himself missing an extensive amount of time from competing due his latest arm injury that has seen him miss nearly 18 months of action and has only competed six times in the UFC in as many years.
This takes us to the current and aforementioned champion in TJ Dillashaw. Despite his setbacks against Dodson and Cruz, Dillashaw has emerged as one of the sports most active, efficient and exciting champions to ever compete in the UFC. Dillashaw, now being the only ever two-time champion next to Cruz, also has two title defenses. Although those defenses are against Barao and Soto, which in hindsight is no longer as impressive in comparison to Cruz’ . Despite this, Dillashaw has the most wins at Bantamweight with 11 due to his high volume of activity while also finishing all four championship fights that he has been in and has the most knockouts in the Bantamweight division with five. This tally of work places Dillashaw amongst all that currently compete in the UFC.
The WEC provided us with so many memorable Bantamweight moments and it gave Dominick Cruz the platform to build upon his name that still to this and forever onwards will always been considered as one of the greatest to ever compete. But since that time when the WEC folded seven years, a new wave of competitors have stepped up and stacked claim to a division now so much more competitive than ever before.