Who Will Be the UFC Bantamweight World Champion at the End of 2021?

Bantamweight Potential Champions

The Lightweights have the most popular division, everyone loves the Heavyweights, there is a great deal of parody at the top of the Featherweight Division, but the Bantamweights might be the most talent-rich in all of mixed martial arts.

I feel like the smaller the weight class, the more skill these fighters have to possess because the potential for a random knockout decreases. The 125ers aren’t the best division because there aren’t as many little people as there are medium-sized people who fight at 135.

These guys we are going to talk about today walk around about 155 pounds and in some instances, even more. I know that one fighter we will talk extensively about today, Aljamain Sterling, walks around north of 160 pounds.

This division just got a new champion when Petr Yan came back from potentially losing the first two rounds two the legendary Jose Aldo to finish the former Featherweight king with strikes in the final round.

The Russian is 15-1 with 10 consecutive victories including a record of 7-0 inside the Octagon. Yan looks great. Don’t get me wrong but I don’t think he is unbeatable by any means.

We mentioned Sterling already. Heck, he was supposed to get a shot at the belt less than a month ago in December but Petr Yan had to pull out of the fight due to “personal reasons”. Interesting.

You see this a lot from the Russian fighters.

How many fights did Khabib pull out of in his UFC career? 3,4,5?

I don’t like it but Yan likely has a date with Aljo when his personal reason runs out. I do favor Petr in that fight but Aljamain is a bad matchup for everyone in the division, really. He is so long to just be 5’7”.

So, he is shorter so he has a ton of muscle but with a 6 footer’s reach. The college wrestler and New York native has shown that he can strike with most and take down just about everyone the UFC has put in front of him.

One of those fighters Aljo was able to run through is Cory Sandhagen.

You know the Colorado native would like to run that one back as he got his back taken early on and tapped out with a rear naked choke.

The fight was over as quickly as it began. We also have the return of the snake, TJ Dillashaw! He is liable to beat everyone up and be the one coveting the title belt over Christmas. Henry Cejudo could come back for one fight and rip it from the current champ’s grip like only Triple C can.

There are former champions, Cody Garbrandt and Dominick Cruz lurking around. Cody has said he plans to stay down at Flyweight but if a chance to fight for the title presents itself, you know he will take it.

Please Note:
The UFC loves him because of his looks and marketability. He is also an all action fighter which, of course, sells as well as his neck tat and perfect hair. We have to take into account the UFC’s likelihood of making the fight as well with our bet(s) today. There are boring fighters they couldn’t care less about and then there are the Garbrandts of the world.

Rob Font recently blew through Marlon Moraes like he didn’t belong in there with him. Moraes is sliding hard and the New England Cartel member has never looked better.

There are so many championship level fighters on this list of Bantamweights. Let’s try and get to all of them today that I think have a decent chance at being the 135 champ by Christmas time.

BetOnline.AG has the betting odds for us today. Make sure to bet directly from this article when we make our picks. I will say this before we start, though. The Bantamweights are difficult!

Merab Dvalishvili: +2000

Say whaaaat? Merab, who broke Khabib’s record for most takedowns in a year in 2020, is 20 to 1 to win the belt?! Kinda like Islam Makhachev at Lightweight, Merab can take down just about the entire division yet is a 20 to 1 dog to own the title at the end of the year.

I don’t like that at all. Well, actually, I do like it because this has the potential to hit!

He does have some questionable losses on his UFC resume but he appears to still be improving as a mixed martial artist every time he steps foot inside the Octagon. The Georgian, Dvalishvili, has wins over Raufeon Stots, Casey Kenney, Tony Gravely, and Brad Katona.

Merab Dvalishvili Bantamweight

That might not sound like very much but these guys are the future of the UFC’s Bantamweight Division. Casey Kenney has a breakout year and is now fighting former world champion Dominick Cruz in his next fight with even betting odds.

Stots is 15-1 and never lost to anyone else. Gravely and Katona are both takedown machines themselves.

I really like Merab. He gets a lot of takedowns and his cardio is endless so normally, he is a great bet as long as his betting odds haven’t gotten out of control yet.

The guy has the ability to beat anyone in the division. Will the UFC let him make his way to the top in 2021? Probably not. That’s why the line is where it is at 20 to 1 but he has the skill so I will give him a few bucks to potentially nab that belt by next January.

Jimmie Rivera: +1600

Sorry, Jims. It’s not gonna happen. He has already lost convincingly to Aljo and Yan so a title shot anytime soon isn’t likely.

Rivera is a good fighter but he isn’t top 5 material.

Jimmie Rivera Bantamweight

I picked him against Cody Stamann in his most recent fight and that play cashed but prior to that fight, he had lost 3 of 4 inside the Octagon albeit to top contenders.

Sorry, Jims.

Dominick Cruz: +1400

Do we have another dark horse? It could be. Dominick is still the longest reigning UFC Bantamweight World Champion but I honestly don’t think Triple C will let it happen.

If Cruz gets close enough, Henry Cejudo will come back and knee him in the head again when he does one of his signature duck-offs. Beating Casey Kenney would put Dom up a few spots you would think.

Dominick Cruz Bantamweight

Then again, Casey isn’t even ranked inside the top 15 at the moment so Cruz, who doesn’t fight regularly, would have to win probably 3 more times in 2021 to capture the world title. There is just too much talent and too many new faces atop the UFC’s Bantamweight Division right now to think Cruz could make a realistic run in ‘21.

It could happen but I think there is better value and a better likelihood of several other fighters capturing that world title.

Deiveson Figueredo: +1400

No way, jose. I’m not buying what you’re selling. The Brazilian is good but he is primarily a bully and guess what. He isn’t going to bully fighters at 135 pounds. The Brazilian, being a natural 130 pound guy you could say has a lot of trouble getting down to the Flyweight limit of 125 pounds.

Deiveson Figueiredo Bantamweight

There is no division lower than Flyweight, though, so many times he is going up against a guy who is more of a natural 120 or even 115.

Figgy is a lot of fun but I don’t think he is going to come up in weight and even if he did, the hairdresser will likely have a hard time cutting opponents who look him in the eye, down to size.

Frankie Edgar: +1000

You gotta love it! It only took 15 years and about 45 UFC fights it feels like for Frankie Edgar to fight in his natural weight class. He was the world champion at one time at 155.

Edgar had a chance at the Featherweight belt but fell short against the larger and longer Max Holloway. Frankie just keep getting after it, though, and when he made his Bantamweight debut against Pedro Munhoz last year, I had to jump on that dog.

Frankie Edgar Bantamweight

Sure, Munhoz can crack for 135 but Frankie is used to getting hit with much bigger shots and the Brazilian’s guillotine game was tested and toppled by the offensive wrestling of Edgar. It felt good to see him get the W but especially so because we picked him to do it at (+240)!

We have to be realistic here, though. Frankie is 39 years old and may never even get a shot at the belt. It is just too difficult to rate him over Petr Yan right now who is 27. If Edgar could sneak in there against Aljo and maybe steal the belt, that would be rad but I still don’t think he would hold it for the rest of the year.

Henry Cejudo: +900

Om, yea why not?

I will put up 11.12 to make 100 bucks on Henry. His mouth just keeps going and going so half the time, you don’t know what to believe. If you believe anything he says, though, it is that he will win the fight.

Only two men have been able to defeat Triple C and if either had a rematch right now, they would be underdogs. Wow, I would love to see Cejudo and Mighty Mouse again but with Johnson fighting in ONE FC and Joe Benavidez retiring soon, you have to write those two men off.

Henry Cejudo Bantamweight

Other than these two losses, Henry has been highly dominant defeating both TJ Dillashaw and Dominick Cruz. If you break it down further, though, his resume isn’t that impressive after beating DJ.

He beat TJ at 125 pounds where Dillashaw had NO BUSINESS fighting! He looked like Skeletor had been on an 8-ball/day for the past week, walking death!

After that, Henry beats Marlon Moraes who went on to lose his next two fights convincingly. Then, he fought Dominick Cruz who hadn’t fought anyone in 3 and a half years. This is still a highly impressive run for anyone but we can stop worshipping the guy now.

He is only 33 years old, though, and money happens to talk. I could see Triple C as the UFC’s Bantamweight World Champ at the end of the year! And at 9 to 1 odds, we can throw at least a 10 spot on it.

Cody Garbrandt: +900

I know I spoke of his possible chances at the strap earlier but he has moved to another weight class and nothing has sent him back to 135, at least not yet.

Cody Garbrandt Bantamweight

Cody can crack, though, but he has shown that it’s better if he doesn’t trade with some of his fellow Bantamweights.

Rob Font: +750

Dark horse? He is coming off of a big win and certainly has some excellent momentum heading into 2021 but Rob Font needs to be more consistent with fighting. It isn’t because he is losing some and winning some.

The guy has put together 3 consecutive wins. The problem is that they are stretched apart by over 2 years.

Rob Font Bantamweight

Rob is good, the best version of himself, and at the age of 33, no time to waste. Unfortunately for him, though, he has already wasted potentially too much time.

If the guy had been fighting more regularly, he could be inside the top 5 right now and one bout away from a title shot. He hasn’t, though, and as much as I like his game right now, I have to pass on Rob Font.

Cory Sandhagen: +650

We are still getting some high paying odds even this deep into the Bantamweight Division.

I don’t mind it either with a fighter like Cory Sandhagen who matches up well with the entire division. I know Aljamain Sterling was able to get him down and tapped within the first round but if the two men ran that one back another 9 times, I don’t think we see the exact same result again once.

He will be tested by the takedown once again in his first matchup of the new year against Frankie Edgar in February. I see a lot of similarities in how Cory fights with Frankie’s style.

I know Frankie was never long for any division but they each have excellent footwork that continually put them in positions to succeed.

Cory Sandhagen Bantamweight

Picking the winner of this fight is really difficult right now.

Let’s take a look at the betting li…..WOW, Cory is a (-400) favorite over Frankie Edgar. That is absolutely ridiculous. Frankie actually has 2 inches of reach on Cory even though he is giving up nearly half a foot in height.

It isn’t likely going to hit but a few bucks on Frankie as a 3 to 1 dog is worth it. Conversely, I can’t see how anyone in their right mind could lay that kind of juice on Cory Sandhagen. Either way, the winner of this fight will put themselves in a very good position to potentially challenge for the Bantamweight World Title.

Edgar is live here but if Sandhagen wins, he will likely get a title shot. He will probably have to defend his belt after that at least one more time in ‘21 but he doesn’t have terrible value at (+650).

TJ Dillashaw: +450

Guess who’s back and off of the EPO?

This guy!!! The Snake TJ Dillashaw is back in the mix in 2021 in the UFC’s Bantamweight Division to reclaim his title belt and I think he can do it.

TJ has shown over the years that he is a step above fighters like Cody Garbrandt and Rob Font but the two years away and the fact that he is now off of his conditioning boost definitely gives bettors pause.

TJ Dillashaw Bantamweight

I like his odds here, though. The UFC has already built his name and being a former champion at the weight class means he will skip most of the line. TJ doesn’t have a fight scheduled yet for 2021 and that has me thinking that he is potentially awaiting the winner of Aljo and Yan.

I would favor him against both men, actually, and also against his first likely challenger, Cory Sandhagen.

TJ is the pick as of now.

Aljamain Sterling: +350

I love this guy! We have trained together and he and his cousin still talk to me on social media. Sterling is all class every time he steps inside the Octagon and lately, he has been all skill as well.

The Funk Master is at his peak now. He has won 5 consecutive fights in convincing fashion against some of the division’s best and is just 31 years old. He is in his prime and getting a title shot at Petr Yan at seemingly the perfect time.

Well, that is when “Mr Personal Reasons” decides he is ready to defend his belt.

Aljamain Sterling Bantamweight

Yan just got the title and he is already stalling and cancelling bouts. He didn’t want to lose it right before the beginning of the year.

Aljo could very well be champ at the end of the year but I don’t think he will be able to get past Yan. If Petr beats him, then he will have to go nearly to the back of the line because the list of contenders at this weight class is lengthy.

If he wins, then he will likely have to beat Dillashaw as well and maybe even Sandhagen again too. That is asking a lot so I will stay away.

Petr Yan: +300

3 to 1…

Finally, a betting favorite with some value! There is a good reason, though, and I just outlined it. There are more than a handful of contenders at 135 right now so picking the champion at the end of the year is a tough task.

I don’t think Petr Yan at 3 to 1 is a bad choice, though. First of all, he already has the belt. Secondly, he is a Russian champion and they tend to cancel fights. Piggybacking off of that point, the Interim World Title belt doesn’t count for this bet, only the real thing, baby!

What Petr Yan ended up doing to Jose Aldo was pretty ugly and I trust his camp in Phuket, Tiger Muay Thai to have him as ready as ever. If you can build endurance in that kind of heat, you are a tough son of a gun.

Petr Yan Bantamweight

Thailand is hot, really really hot and these guys train outside. Morning sessions aren’t too bad but by the evening in Phuket, it is likely still over 100 degrees and that is with ungodly humidity added onto it.

Petr Yan doesn’t seem like he is going to be an unstoppable force like his countryman Khabib but almost surely a strong champion who will defend a couple of times. I rate TJ Dillashaw and Henry Cejudo as his most dangerous potential opponents.

I think Henry can out wrestle and TJ will have a speed and likely technical advantage on the feet. There is no guarantee that Petr Yan will fight either man, though. He might fight Aljo and not again.

He might fight Aljo and Sandhagen and call it a year. Since he has the belt and is still 3 to 1, he gets my pick.

The Bets
Yan
+300
TJ Dillashaw
+450
Henry Cejudo
+900
Merab Dvalishvili
+2000

In Conclusion

Whew, I enjoyed writing that but it wasn’t easy. I’m glad it’s over. I know that. The 135 pound division is surely the most talented and may be an even more wide open race than up at Featherweight.

135 is definitely interesting too! Sterling has been deserving of a title shot for what seems like years now.

With that being said, I don’t know if he can hang with TJ Dillashaw’s striking and Henry Cejudo possesses a level of wrestling that nobody else really has. The guy won a gold medal. I’m sure you have heard him, the king of cringe, talk all about it.

Both Rob Font and Cory Sandhagen are coming off of knockout wins over the former champion, Marlon Moraes. Frankie Edgar is in the mix! Seriously, how cool is Bantamweight right now?

We didn’t even talk about Salty Sean O’Malley or my new favorite fighter, Marlon Chito Vera.

How about Merab Dvalishvili who takes everyone down and is 20 to 1 to win the belt?

The longest reigning champ at 135, Dominick Cruz still has his name in the hat. He will have a heck of a test against a new generation fighter, Casey Kenney, early on in 2021. This year looks to be another good one for the UFC and especially the Bantamweight Division.

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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.