Following a pivotal matchup between Cory Sandhagen and Song Yadong that saw Sandhagen take the victory via doctor stoppage, it's time to play matchmaker in what seems like an everlasting UFC Bantamweight Grand Prix.
These 2 Dana White's Contender Series alumn are two of the most exciting up-and-comers in the Bantamweight division. Both men are undefeated in the UFC and have showcased some flawless striking techniques in their young UFC careers. They are both on the cusp of entering the stacked Bantamweight top 15. Basharat put on a masterclass at UFC Fight Night: Cory Sandhagen vs. Song Yadong, where he defeated Tony Gravely and moved to 13-0 as a professional. I believe Yanez would be a great test to see if Basharat is ready to take a step into the upper end of the Bantamweights and potentially see if both men are fit to face someone in the top 15 in the year to come. Adrian Yanez is one of the most exciting fighters in the entire UFC and has been the star of the Apex era. His crisp striking and ability to hit and not get hit made many fans get on board his hype train. Basharat is quite a similar striker who also can get in and out and land shots before his opponent can counter. This fight would be a marvel to see to find out who could lead the dance.
The loser of this fight would make a great matchup for Dominick Cruz in the potential final fight of his historic career. During Cruz’s previous bout against Marlon Vera, he proved he can still hang with the next generation of MMA despite losing by knockout late in the fight. Cruz was winning leading up to the knockout loss, exercising fancy footwork and skillful striking with finesse. Either option would not be an easy task for Cruz, as both men are some of the best strikers the division has to offer. But I believe he deserves to go out in a big fight, for instance, O’Malley or Yan. “Suga” Sean O’Malley has been calling for a Dominick Cruz fight for quite some time now. If he doesn’t get passed Petr Yan, this could be a perfect opportunity to have this fight for both of them. If Yan were to lose to O’Malley, a big win over a big name like Cruz could be just what he needs to get back onto the title track.
Yadong started strong in his fight with Cory Sandhagen and was landing big shots which looked like he could hurt Sandhagen until physicians instructed referee Herb Dean to stop the match just before round 5 started because of a deep cut on his eyebrow. Yadong should not be counted out for this loss as he was still putting on a good performance and was willing to fight despite being unable to see. Rob Font has faced two of the best opponents of his career in his last two fights and came up short but proved he never gives up. These two always show they have the heart and determination to win. I believe a matchup between the two would be an exciting fight, no matter who gets their hand raised. I'm sure both are looking to bounce back after some minor setbacks.
My pick for the next shot at the Bantamweight title; Vera has been beating up everyone at the top of the Bantamweight division and doing it with style. Vera is a super exciting fighter who has never been finished in his career and is always ready to put on a show whether he wins or loses. In his last outing, we saw Vera finish Dominick Cruz by head-kick KO in a fight he was losing on the judges' scorecards. A matchup between either man in the Bantamweight title fight coming at UFC 280 would be a gift for the fans moving into 2023. But if Dana White and the UFC wanted him to take one more fight in the meantime, I'm sure Vera would happily oblige.
Sandhagen and Dvalishvili always seem to be in bloody and brutal fights but are yet to have faced one another. With Sandhagen's win over Song Yadong at UFC Vegas 60, this puts him 1 or 2 bouts removed from another title shot. Although Sandhagen lost to both men in the upcoming title fight, he proves time and time again that he is constantly getting better. Dvalishvili is on an 8-fight win streak where he is potentially only one fight away from Bantamweight gold, and with a win over Sandhagen, he can do just that. I believe Dvalishvili needs one more victory before fighting for the title, as Marlon Vera is right on the edge of said title after coming off a huge KO victory against one of the Bantamweight greatest of all-timers in Dominick Cruz. I don't think Dvalishvili is willing to fight his friend and teammate Aljamain Sterling if he gets passed a potential matchup with Sandhagen and Sterling retains his title. If not, I'm sure he and the team at Serra-Longo would love to have their two fighters as the champion and number 1 ranked fighter for both to defend their top spots over the years to come.
With how stacked and exciting the Bantamweight division is right now, all of these fights are interchangeable, and they would still be awesome. The most exciting thing about Bantamweight is that everyone is willing to fight anyone to be the next in line for a title shot, and most are only 1 or 2 away. No matter how the matchmakers plan these fights going forward, it will be the fans who win at the end of the day.