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Big Night for Bantamweights at UFC Sacramento

July 16, 2019 | Posted by Dan Plunkett

“California Love” blared on the speakers of the Golden 1 Center and it was like viewers were transported back in time. The Sacramento crowd erupted at the signal of hometown hero Urijah Faber’s entrance. Minus the Reebok logos, you could have been fooled into thinking this was his 2008 walk to the cage against Jens Pulver, or his 2010 walk for Jose Aldo, or his 2016 “retirement fight” walk against Brad Pickett. The lessons: Sacramento loves Urijah, Urijah has fought there several times, and Urijah hasn’t visibly aged in at least 11 years.

Faber kept the same theme going in the fight. There were some worrying moments early on, but nothing too bad considering this was a 40-year-old that hadn’t fought in two-and-a-half years going against a good young fighter in Ricky Simón. About 40 seconds in, Faber cracked Simón with a right hand to the temple, sending a man 14 years his junior to the floor. That was about all she wrote for Simón; Faber finished him seconds later.

Rarely do returns post-40 yield such triumphant moments, but Faber got at least one more moment to shine, and set himself up for another big fight. Faber called out bantamweight champion Henry Cejudo after the fight. I have no desire to see that happen next because until proven otherwise, I think it will likely be a terrible and wholly unnecessary night for Faber. Let’s not lose context here—Faber beat the 15th ranked fighter in UFC’s bantamweight rankings with a quick knockout. That’s a very legitimate and noteworthy win, but it’s not as though he dominated a top five guy in his first fight back.

This is the UFC and money talks—Faber would still be the biggest name challenger at bantamweight, but I don’t see him walking right into a title shot. After all, Cejudo probably isn’t returning this year, and he also has a title defense at flyweight waiting for him.

Of course, Faber is still going to have a tough matchup ahead of him. He’ll probably go against a top 10 caliber guy, perhaps Rob Font or the winner of next month’s Raphael Assuncao vs. Cory Sandhagen fight. A win in his next fight against someone of that caliber would at least get him serious consideration for a title fight, and given his name, he’d probably get the shot.

The fight that followed Faber’s in Sacramento also held key implications for bantamweight, this one in the women’s ranks. Champion Amanda Nunes has been nearly unmatched over the past four years. Valentina Shevchenko came close twice, and perhaps still stands the best chance at beating Nunes today, but she’s busy ruling the flyweight division now. Her well of challengers running dry after she knocked out Holly Holm in one round earlier this month, Nunes’s next opponent may have been decided Saturday night.

One-time featherweight champion Germaine De Randamie stopped Aspen Ladd in just 16 seconds to extend her win streak to five. It was an early stoppage, with Ladd ready to defend when referee Herb Dean stepped in, but there’s not enough controversy or interest to run it back. Even with the disappointing ending, De Randamie was still impressive.

It’s been a weird few years for De Randamie. She was placed in a fight for the women’s featherweight title in February 2017 for no reason other than the UFC wanted a title fight to headline the show. It was comical that the UFC decided to create a women’s title at featherweight and not have Cris Cyborg compete for the title, but that’s exactly what they did because Cyborg couldn’t fight on the date they needed a fight. So, De Randamie fought Holly Holm, beat her in a fight made controversial by De Randamie striking Holm after the horn in two rounds, and hurting her badly with one of those strikes. Then De Randamie refused to fight Cyborg and was out of the picture for a while, so the UFC stripped her of the title.

De Randamie returned from a long absence in November 2018, soundly beating Raquel Pennington in a fight that didn’t attract much attention.

The decision about whether Nunes vs. De Randamie is the next fight is in the hands of an unlikely figure: Cris Cyborg. Cyborg, 34, is scheduled to complete the last bout on her UFC contract against Felicia Spencer on July 27. If she beats Spencer and re-signs with the UFC, she’ll be the next fight for Nunes. Nunes vs. Cyborg is simply a much bigger fight than Nunes vs. De Randamie. But if Cyborg goes elsewhere, or takes her time in making her decision, we should see Nunes vs. De Randamie next.

On paper, De Randamie matches up interestingly with Nunes with her power and length. They have fought before, with Nunes taking her out in one round almost six years ago, but both are different fighters now. Of course, Nunes will rightly be a sizeable favorite, but that’s not to say the UFC is scraping the bottom of the barrel with De Randamie—it’s a testament to Nunes’s success and ability.

Dan Plunkett has covered MMA for 411Mania since 2008. You can reach him by email at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @Dan_Plunkett.

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Dan Plunkett