Who Are the Contenders for the UFC Bantamweight Title Post-Cejudo?

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UFC 238 Marlon Moraes
Credit: Dave Mandel/Sherdog.com

If Henry Cejudo has left the bantamweight division for good, who are the contenders that could fight for the now vacant championship?

Outside of those in his inner circle, Henry Cejudo’s retirement took the MMA world by surprise.  Saturday was supposed to be a changing of the guard, with Cejudo stunning bantamweight legend Dominick Cruz and moving on to the next wave of contenders that made up the title picture.  The idea lasted all of a few minutes, as Cejudo told Joe Rogan that he was hanging up his gloves just moments after vanquishing Cruz.  His absence now leaves a void that many could potentially fill.  While the list is comprised of mostly up-and-coming stars, several established veterans are also in the running.

Petr Yan UFC
Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

Petr Yan

After kicking off his professional career at 8-1 in Russia’s ACB, 27 year-old Petr Yan signed with the UFC and quickly became one of the top contenders in the bantamweight division.  He has accumulated a 6-0 record in just two years, shocking perennial contenders like John Dodson, Jimmie Rivera, and Urijah Faber in that span.

UFC President Dana White has already expressed that Yan will be the first to compete for the now vacant bantamweight title.  The only question: who will he face and when?  Though he trains out of Kings MMA, the travel ban in Yan’s native Russia could provide obstacles.  Yan was previously scheduled to face Marlon Moraes on June 13 at UFC Kazakhstan and that fight could receive championship status, with a possible spot on Fight Island should it come to fruition.

Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

Marlon Moraes

By most accounts, Marlon Moraes was the top contender fighter in the division behind Cejudo going into Saturday night and in all likelihood will be number one in the rankings when they are updated.  A former WSOF champion, Moraes’ resume includes victories over the likes of Miguel Torres, Raphael Assuncao, Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling, and most recently José Aldo.  After previously being booked to face Petr Yan, he is the front-runner to face the Russian with UFC gold on the line.

To help his case, Moraes has a stoppage victory over fellow top contender Aljamain Sterling which was one of the contenders for Knockout of the Year in 2017.  A powerful finisher, Moraes checks all the boxes for an exciting contest against any opponent should the UFC book him for the title.  While the loss to Cejudo in 2019 still looms fresh over Moraes, another victory or two could soon put that result far into the rear-view mirror.

UFC Atlantic City Aljamain Sterling UFC 238
Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Aljamain Sterling

While many contenders campaigned for a fight with Henry Cejudo prior to his departure, perhaps none was as entertaining as “The Funkmaster” Aljamain Sterling.  But while his social media attack and interview call-outs kept him at the forefront, his four straight victories over contenders like Jimmie Rivera, and Pedro Munoz have him looking every bit the part of a title contender.  He already expressed on social media that he’s expected to return on June 6 which puts him on a timeline to fight for the title soon should the UFC need him.

The only thing in the way of Sterling is that if the UFC does go with Yan for one half of the title fight, Moraes could be chosen by virtue of his knockout victory over Sterling in 2017.  Though Sterling has rebounded as well as anyone could have, the authoritative loss to Moraes still puts him behind the Brazilian who is also currently in the running.  That said, his four fight win-streak is one of the best in the division and his ability to travel within the United States could be the deciding factor in booking the title fight.

Credit: Rodney James Edgar/Cageside Press

José Aldo

While José Aldo’s previously scheduled title shot came largely behind the push from former champion Henry Cejudo’s insistence on fighting the legend, the same reasons still apply for him to remain on the short list for a shot at the championship.  Aldo remains the biggest name in the bantamweight division and makes for an easy sell on pay-per-view against any opponent, an important fact considering that events are expected to be without fans (and therefore gate revenue) for the foreseeable future.

While Also handled the cut down to 135 pounds better than expected last December, he came up short in his bantamweight debut in a close contest with Marlon Moraes.  Though the aforementioned contenders would go into a title fight with stronger credentials in the weight class, Aldo’s pedigree as the longest reigning featherweight champion can’t be overlooked.  Consider that the fight would also take place on the much anticipated Fight Island, attaching Aldo to the event would help bolster what is already expected to be a stacked lineup.

Cory Sandhagen UFC
Cory Sandhagen Credit: Gabriel Gonzalez/Cageside Press

Cory Sandhagen

Though he still seeks the signature victory on a big stage that will put him over the top, it is hard to deny the work that Cory Sandhagen has done in so far in his UFC run.  Currently on a seven fight win-streak extending back to his time in LFA, Sandhagen has been perfect in the Octagon with wins over the likes of Raphael Assuncao and John Lineker.  In January, he was set for a jump in competition as he was scheduled to welcome former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar to the bantamweight division.  Edgar was pulled from the fight to save another event a month prior, but it clearly remains the UFC’s plan to push Sandhagen forward as he was attached to a possible fight with former champion Dominick Cruz.

Frankie Edgar Bantamweight UFC
Frankie Edgar, UFC 240 Official Weigh-in Credit: Jay Anderson/Cageside Press

Frankie Edgar

The final name on this list is former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar.  “The Answer” has already etched his name as one of the best fighters of the past decade, previously claiming lightweight gold and competing three times for the featherweight title.  After being previously set to face the aforementioned Cory Sandhagen earlier this year in his bantamweight debut, Edgar was pulled from the bout to save the UFC event in South Korea and stay at featherweight to fight Chan Sung Jung, aka “The Korean Zombie.”

Though he came up short in Jung’s home country, Edgar maintained that he still planned to move down to bantamweight in 2020 and was attached to a possible fight with Aljamain Sterling prior to the coronavirus pandemic.  Similar to José Aldo, Edgar’s name value carries significant strength as the UFC will be looking to bring in viewers to off-set the lack of a live gate for the time being.   Furthermore, his ability to travel within the United States could work to his advantage as current travel bans may affect the ability of others on this list to make it to the fight.

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