With Aljamain Sterling seemingly set on taking a break from the octagon that appears will last through the first half of 2023, what should the UFC do with bantamweight division in the meantime?
Sterling released a video on social media yesterday letting the bantamweight contenders know that they currently have two options: they can sit around and wait until he’s ready for another fight or they can take other fights instead.
With no clear-cut number one contender waiting in the wings for the next title shot, but plenty of worthy candidates for a claim at one, the UFC has several options they could choose to take with the bantamweight division for the foreseeable future.
The first option would be for the promotion to do what they have in the past when one of their champions is out for a lengthy time or planning to be and that is to create an interim championship.
That definitely is the most likely option for the UFC to consider for the 135 division if Sterling is indeed wanting to take an extended absence to recuperate from having two full training camps already this year.
The problem with that, however, would be selecting which two fighters to put into the interim title fight.
Sean O’Malley is currently listed as the number one contender in the most recent UFC Bantamweight rankings after coming off a victory over Petr Yan at UFC 280.
Yan and Merab Dvalishvili are currently tied at number two in the standings, which is intriguing for the fact that Dvalishvili is a teammate of Sterling’s and they have said in the past that they will not fight each other.
Then you have Chito Vera, who is on a four-fight winning streak and is coming off a statement-making knockout of Dominick Cruz in his most recent fight.
You also have Henry Cejudo currently trying to work his way back into the UFC Bantamweight title picture after deciding to come back from retirement.
The UFC could run with any combination of O’Malley, Dvalishvili, Vera, and Cejudo while placing an interim championship on the line and most MMA fans would likely be fine with that decision.
However, I think there is a more intriguing choice on the table if the UFC chooses to look at it: a four-man grand prix to determine an interim bantamweight champion.
Personally, I would set up a potential UFC Bantamweight Grand Prix with an opening round of O’Malley vs Vera 2 and Dvalishvili vs Cejudo taking place at UFC 284 in Perth, Australia.
Then the winners of those two fights would face each other sometime in the early summer to determine an interim champion for the division, potentially during International Fight Week.
The interim champion and winner of the grand prix would then presumably face Sterling in his first fight back from his layoff sometime in the back half of 2023.
However, if Dvalishvili emerges with the interim belt, would Aljo even bother returning to bantamweight? He has mentioned the possibility of moving up to featherweight in the past when approached with the possibility of facing his teammate one day.
Sterling could potentially choose to relinquish the title in that scenario and announce he is moving up to challenge for the UFC Featherweight belt in his return instead of facing Dvalishvili.
It’s a very interesting situation for Dana White and the rest of the UFC matchmakers to have on their hands as they sort out the fallout of Aljamain Sterling deciding to take a break from competing for the foreseeable future.
Would you be more interested in the UFC hosting an interim title fight with two of the previously mentioned fighters or the potential four-man grand prix to determine an interim title holder? Let us know by voting in the poll below!
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