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USA Today Sports Media Group
USA Today Sports Media Group
Dan Tom

Top 5 bantamweight wars in MMA history, ranked

The bantamweight division, as defined by the unified rules of MMA via the Association of Boxing Commissions (ABC), constitutes fighters who are between 126 and 135 pounds.

Before the New Jersey State Athletic Control Board took charge of MMA regulation in 2001, organizations like the UFC used to refer to its lightweight division as bantamweight (which was introduced back at UFC 26). This, however, was a short-lived period given that the UFC realigned its weight classes by UFC 31, which saw the promotion’s first official lightweight fight at 155 pounds.

In Japan, organizations like Shooto were among the first to form a weight class for 135-pounders, which they classified as featherweight. Since the early 2000s, Shooto has been able to produce notable champions from Masakatsu Ueda to Kyoji Horguchi.

In North America, organizations like the WEC and King of the Cage were doing their parts to help pioneer these lighter-weight classes in the early 2000s – though KOTC technically classified itis bantamweights as flyweights due to its division structures.

The WEC, in particular, found some real success with its bantamweight division thanks, in large part, to names like Miguel Torres and Dominick Cruz. In fact, the California-based organization was so hot that it eventually got absorbed by the UFC in 2010, which then adopted its lighter weight classes and fighters alike.

Since then, the bantamweight division has only continued to grow and deserves to be celebrated as one of the best divisions in MMA.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to pay tribute to the weight class by listing my top five bantamweight battles of all time.

As usual, these lists reflect my personal tastes and biases and are not meant to serve as some ultimate authority. That said, I feel very strongly about not only my list but also my honorable mentions at the end – which are more than strong enough to serve as their own top five.

So, without further ado …

No. 5: Dominick Cruz vs. Demetrious Johnson at UFC on Versus 6 (Oct. 1, 2011)

Notching the No. 5 spot is a personal favorite from Dominick Cruz’s catalog that doesn’t come up as often as it should.

Although Demetrious Johnson wasn’t the pound-for-pound great that (educated) fans know him as today, Johnson was a fast-rising bantamweight on a four-fight streak that included legendary names like Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto and Miguel Torres.

Despite Cruz being known for his speed, Johnson was one of the first fighters to consistently get the jump on him in that department. In fact, Johnson did much better than given credit for in striking stanzas through early portions of the fight – arguably earning some rounds if adjudicated under today’s criteria.

That said, Cruz, ever the champion, was able to smartly adjust down the stretch by putting on one of the heavier grappling performances of his career (almost closing the show with submissions on multiple occasions).

Thankfully for Johnson, this was his last UFC fight at 135 pounds since the organization started its flyweight division the following year.

No. 4: L.C. Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro at Bellator 135 (March 27, 2015)

L.C. Davis vs. Hideo Tokoro

Speaking of fights no one talks about enough, Bellator earns a firm spot on this list thanks to a banger it booked between L.C. Davis and Hideo Tokoro.

It’s hard to articulate this battle any better than Jimmy Smith does in the video linked above, but this three-round war had just about every move you could ask for.

Whether we’re talking about flying leg-scissor heel hooks to flying knees or spinning elbows and broken teeth, this fight had it all.

Tokoro’s unapologetic aggression really helped bring this battle to a boiling point by complimenting Davis’ propensity to counter as a southpaw. This hard-fought win earned Davis a title opposite Joe Warren, but also ended up being the last victory of his professional career.

No. 3: Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber 2 at UFC 132 (July 2, 2011)

Dominick Cruz vs. Urijah Faber, UFC 132

Even though I already gave one of my favorite Cruz fights proper representation on this list, I’d be remiss if I left off a classic from his series with Urijah Faber.

Faber, who was the WEC’s poster boy at featherweight (the division where he holds a win against Cruz), successfully dropped down to bantamweight after failing to re-capture his title opposite Jose Aldo at WEC 48. And at UFC 132, destiny would be bring these two bitter rivals back together for another title fight.

The fight was much more competitive than some of the scorecards may indicate (as, again, this is another contest that could be scored differently if it was graded under the gaze of today’s criteria).

Faber was able to land the harder blows in and out of the breaks, but Cruz was able to adjust down the stretch by extending combinations and putting out more dynamic offense to get ahead on the numbers.

They would meet one final time at UFC 199, but this rematch is the best offering of the series for my money.

No. 2: Magomed Magomedov vs. Petr Yan 1 at ACB 32 (March 26, 2016)

Although I usually keep my hipster selections to lower spots on the list, I couldn’t help myself when it came to rewarding the insane pacing and positional changes that took place between Magomed Magomedov and Petr Yan at ACB 32.

For me, this bout between Magomedov and Yan felt like ACB’s Forrest Griffin vs. Stephan Bonnar.

I went from casually watching Russian MMA on my timeline on a Saturday morning to missing breakfast just so I could tell everyone about this amazing fight I was watching.

Despite only having five pro MMA bouts to his name, Yan found himself in a title fight against 11-0 Magomedov that he was likely expected to lose. Fortunately for Yan and fight fans alike, the Russian fighter rose to the occasion with his shifting striking and judo-style scrambles.

Both men were able to hit impressive takedowns and submission attempts throughout, but Magomedov’s back control must’ve really made an impression with two of the three judges as the Dagestani fighter took a controversial split decision to earn ACB’s vacant bantamweight title.

Magomedov and Yan had a fun, tactic-filled rematch at ACB 57, but I strongly suggest you rewatch their first fight if you haven’t already.

No. 1: Miguel Torres vs. Yoshiro Maeda at WEC 34 (June 1, 2008)

Coming in at No. 1 is an all-time WEC classic between Miguel Torres and Yoshiro Maeda.

Torres doesn’t get enough mention in conversations regarding bantamweight greats, but the native of East Chicago, Ind., not far from Chicago, was one of the first MMA competitors to be truly considered a top “pound-for-pound” fighter.

The term, of course, comes from boxing and was designed to shed light on the skills possessed by lighter-weight classes. And for anyone who watched Torres fight in his prime, the man definitely did the term justice with his diverse and dangerous fighting style.

WEC 34 was Torres’ first title defense with the California-based promotion, and he was paired up with a dangerous Japanese southpaw in Maeda.

For those who remember this era of MMA, my favorite stylistic matchups were “boxing/judo” versus “muay Thai/jiu-jitsu.”

Akin to fights like Carlos Condit vs. Hiromitsu Muira, the muay Thai and jiu-jitsu stylist typically threatens with more finishing threats while the judo and boxing stylist fights hard to either control the pace or change the position. And in the case of Torres-Maeda, we got all the stylistic smoke with a bonus attachment of bad blood that ended up equating to three rounds of madness.

This fight is so damn good that you won’t even be bothered by how it ends.

Honorable mentions

T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao

• T.J. Dillashaw vs. Renan Barao 1 at UFC 173
• Miguel Torres vs. Takeya Mizugaki at WEC 40
• Brad Pickett vs. Thomas Almeida at UFC 189
• Cory Sandhagen vs. Petr Yan at UFC 267
• John Lineker vs. Francisco Rivera at UFC 191

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