After he successfully defended his 135-pound belt for the first time against short-notice replacement Joe Soto this past weekend (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014) at UFC 177: “Dillashaw vs. Soto” in Sacramento, Calif., T.J. Dillashaw will now be forced to take on all challengers in the bantamweight division, and the title seekers are already starting to pile up.
For starters, it's not going to be Renan Barao.
Assuming Dana White stays firm on his exclusion of Barao in the title picture until the Brazilian wins another fight (which he most certainly will), T.J. Dillashaw has some stiff competition to worry about in the blossoming 135-pound division.
After knocking out a tough Joe Soto in the main event of their bantamweight championship fight (watch the replay here), which took place this past weekend (Sat., Aug. 30, 2014) at UFC 177 from inside Sacramento's Sleep Train Arena, Dillashaw will now get to duke it out against someone he actually prepared for in his next fight.
"One Bad Mofo" was a game opponent, surprising observers with his all-around toughness, despite being a monstrous underdog. Going from the preliminary card to the main event is a tall order, but the former Bellator featherweight champion seized the opportunity and tried his best to dethrone the champion.
There's not too much to take away from champion's performance, since the Team Alpha Male standout wouldn't have gained much apart from a successful title defense. He certainly had a lot to lose, but he didn't take his foe lightly and pursued a finish in the fifth round when he was dominating the entire contest.
The bantamweight division isn't as loaded as the 155-pound weight class; however, there are a crop of contenders ready to showcase their skills in a title fight.
The obvious choice for Dillashaw's next foe would be the winner of Dominick Cruz vs. Takeya Mizugaki, which takes place on the undercard of UFC 178: "Johnson vs. Cariaso" at the end of September. "The Dominator" never lost his title, with a number of frustrating injuries forcing him to relinquish his belt after years of inactivity.
With that said, Cruz has wins over current flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson, former WEC titleholders Urijah Faber and Brian Bowles, and also Joseph Benavidez and Ian McCall. He hasn't lost a fight since 2007, which was at the hands of "The California Kid," and he later avenged that defeat.
Mizugaki, on the other had, has been in high-profile wars against Faber and Miguel Torres (which was a fight of the year candidate at WEC 40 back in 2009). He's come a long way in his nine-year career, and finds himself riding a five-fight winning streak after going 2-2 inside the Octagon. Then again, he hasn't finished any of those fights, but if you dominate, that's what counts.
Just ask Cruz.
Raphael Assuncao has also made a claim for recognition, since he was the last fighter to defeat Dillashaw. The split-decision win at UFC Fight Night 29 could have gone either way, but there's no disputing who was awarded the win, regardless of the judging controversy.
The Brazilian has now won his past six contests, looking vastly different from the combatant Erik Koch knocked out when the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt made his Octagon debut way back at UFC 128.
Either way, the winner of Cruz vs. Mizugaki -- or Assuncao -- gets Dillashaw, with the loser potentially getting a showdown against Barao.
That much we know.
If we want to complicate things even further, Urijah Faber should be returning to action soon and could be slotted in against either of these men in the near future, as well. What makes this whole scenario interesting is if Dillashaw and Faber keep winning, their paths could eventually cross, regardless of their affiliations at Team Alpha Male.
Both fighters have admitted they would be down to trade fisticuffs, though that's probably not going to happen right away.
Apart from the names mentioned above, Iuri Alcantara and Johnny Eduardo are also looking good, but neither of them are anywhere close to title fights. Michael McDonald and Eddie Wineland also need to bounce back in big ways if they want recognition.
It's safe to say Dillashaw has his work cut out for him, but who can he expect the next time he returns to the cage?
For more on UFC 177: "Dillashaw vs. Soto," check out our story stream, including video highlights, post-fight recaps, and more right here.
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