Just under a year ago, T.J. Dillashaw scored a second straight definitive win over Cody Garbrandt, effectively snuffing out that budding rivalry while confirming his standing as one of the UFC’s most dominant champions and a pound-for-pound talent. What a difference a few months make; between his disastrous attempt to challenge for Cejudo’s flyweight title in January and subsequent positive test for performance-enhancing drugs, Dillashaw is now out of the picture for the foreseeable future.
Nonetheless, Cejudo has no shortage of worthy challengers, should he follow through on his stated intention to defend both belts. Moraes is not going anywhere, Garbrandt is younger than Cejudo and suddenly has a path back to title contention that was effectively nonexistent as long as Dillashaw held the belt, Aljamain Sterling seems to have finally broken through, and of course there is always the looming specter of Dominick Cruz.
It is impossible to look at the history of the bantamweight title without an understanding and appreciation of Cruz’s history of injuries; for the first six years of the division’s existence, Cruz was a recurring apparition, alternating between dominance and disappearance but always hovering over the proceedings. With the possible exception of Cain Velasquez, no champion has missed more of the prime of his career with injuries than Cruz, and with all due respect to Velasquez, Cruz was the more dominant of the two. Until his loss to Garbrandt at UFC 207, nobody had beaten a healthy Cruz in nearly a decade, and frankly, only Dillashaw had even come close.
“The Dominator” is still only 33, claims to be fit for action and is highly visible as a color commentator for the UFC. As such, he remains a what-if -- or an asterisk -- for anyone claiming to be the best 135-pounder in the world. Cejudo is well aware of this, and notably called out Cruz in the aftermath of his career-defining win at UFC 238. Whether that is Cejudo’s first defense of his new title, or he takes on any of the plethora of other righteous contenders, bantamweight is back in business and stranger than ever.
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