1. Dominick Cruz
Cruz is recovering nicely from surgery on his hands and should be ready for a late summer or early fall return. His next opponent will likely be the winner of the Urijah Faber/Eddie Wineland bout at UFC 128. Cruz vs. Faber 2 could be the money match that the new UFC bantamweight division needs to really make a mark in the company, and given the history between the two fighters and the animosity they share for one another, it’ll be an easy sell.
2. Joseph Benavidez
Benavidez finds himself in an interesting situation. He only guy he’s ever lost to was Dominick Cruz, but two losses to the champion usually means you won’t get another title shot until all other options are exhausted. Plus, Faber is now in competition for the belt, which means Benavidez must take a backseat to his Alpha Male teammate. There are plenty of compelling bouts for Benavidez outside of the title picture, though, and we suspect you’ll see the master of Joe-Jitsu in action plenty of times this year.
3. Urijah Faber
All Faber really has to do is get past Wineland. Once he does that, it’s virtually guaranteed that he’ll get a title shot against nemesis Cruz this summer. Faber is one of the only bankable stars in the lighter weight classes, so plenty of people will be pulling for him to put on an impressive performance against Wineland.
4. Brian Bowles
The former WEC bantamweight champ makes his return from injury (and UFC debut) against the hard-hitting Damacio Page at UFC on Versus 3. Bowles has been plagued by easily-broken hands in the past, so the slugfest with Page should provide an indication as to just how healed Bowles really is.
5. Scott Jorgensen
Jorgensen faces Ken Stone at the Ultimate Fighter 13 Finale in June in his UFC debut. The colorful fighter will have a long road back to title contention, but the Stone fight should be his for the taking.
6. Miguel Torres
Fans used to criticize Torres for his old balls-to-the-wall fighting style. Nowadays, they’re criticizing him for being too careful. You can’t please everybody, but Torres’ careful and tactical new fighting style makes him a dangerous opponent for anyone in the division. He’ll face the tough Brad Pickett at UFC 130.
7. Takeya Mizugaki
Mizugaki makes his UFC debut next month against Reuben Duran. He’s coming off a loss to Faber last year and needs a win to stay relevant in the division. A loss here might not mean a pink slip, but it puts him dangerously close to the unemployment line.
8. Brad Pickett
Pickett isn’t getting any hand-outs from Sean Shelby and the UFC. His last three opponents have been Demetrious Johnson, Scott Jorgensen and Ivan Menjivar. It gets even tougher when he faces Miguel Torres in May.
9. Demetrious Johnson
With wins over Nick Pace, Damacio Page and Kid Yamamoto, Johnson has become an unlikely player in a division where he faces a size disadvantage against every opponent he steps in the cage with. Against all odds, Johnson just keeps winning, and he’ll get a much tougher opponent the next time out.
10. Masakatsu Ueda
Ueda scored a win over Ralph Acosta at a Shooto event in last month, but the dwindling Japanese MMA scene may ultimately mean that follows Yamamoto and Omigawa to the UFC.