The lightest weight class that Bellator sanctions and Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series featured is bantamweight. The UFC’s division is so stacked that a couple of the bantamweight standouts that one would think would have been snatched up are still defending belts or waiting for the call.
At Dana White’s Tuesday Night Contender Series six bouts took place on the first season, tied with featherweight and light heavyweight while one fight ahead of middleweights. Boston Salmon earned a UFC contract on the first episode by handing Fury FC champion Ricky Turcios his first professional loss. On the second episode bantamweight Sean O’Malley on a contract by defeating Alfred Khashakayan. The third bantamweight UFC contract went to Benito Lopez who defeated former LFC champion Steven Peters while Peterson bounced back with a win over Dustin Winter in LFA. Of the other three winners Kyler Phillips remained undefeated at 5-0, Castaneda went on to fight in the Combate Americas tournament where he lost in the finals to Levy Saul Marroquin Salazar, and Ricky Simon who went on to win the vacant LFA title with a defeat of UFC vet Chico Camus.
The most dominant bantamweight outside the UFC is One Championship champion Bibiano Fernandes. 21-3 Fernandes hasn’t lost a fight in 13 bouts going back to Dream’s New Year’s Eve show in December 2010. Fernandes won the One title in October 2013 and defended it six times most recently with a choke of Andrew Leone. Fernandes next moves up to bantamweight to try to take that belt from Martin Nguyen in March. The downside is Fernandes will in all probability never fight in the UFC and the field of competition in One is not nearly the same.
For Bellator bantamweight were the weakest division in 2017 with only five fights on 22 “numbered” events. Going into the year Eduardo Dantas was on his second reign as champion with his bout against former LFA champion Leandro Higo in March being a non-title fight due to Higo missing weight. Dantas went on to lose the belt to Darrion Caldwell in October while Higo went on to defeat Joe Taimanglo which earned him a fight against Caldwell for the belt in March. Former champion Joe Warren defeated Steve Garcia to open the main card of Bellator 181 while the final bantamweight clash of the year was UFC vet Michael McDonald making his promotion debut with a win over Peter Ligier. The first half of 2018 looks already set with Caldwell vs. Higo for the belt and surely McDonald will get the winner. One interesting side note is when Higo won the LFA belt in January 2017 a big deal was made in the cage of Higo already having a UFC contract to sign and actually signed it live on AXS TV, what became of that now embarrassing media stunt is a mystery.
LFA started off the year with Higo winning the bantamweight title in their first show as a combined entity of RFA and LFC. To further underscore LFA’s support of the division 33 fights on 30 show’s main cards were at this weight class including Ricky Simon winning the vacant belt by defeating UFC vet Chico Camus as mentioned under DWTNCS. Also mentioned above Steven Peterson lost that title fight against Higo to start the year but returned to LFA to pick up a win over Ryan Hollis, lose in DWTNCS, then back to LFA to defeat Dustin Winter. The amount of standouts in LFA’s division is numerous but one to keep an eye out for is Eli Tamez, a 10-0 fighter who fought on the same card as Higo.
Jose Torres, keep an eye out for that name! Torres actually came to attention as an amateur after winning the IMMAF World Championships tournament not once but twice in 2014 and 2015. Torres is “only” 6-0 as a pro but first as a flyweight then after taking Titan FC’s belt in that class moving up to bantamweight to take that title from Farkhad Sharipov. Torres went on to defend the bantamweight title against Gleidson DeJesus and next faces Alberto Orellano in February. Torres actually was already offered a UFC contract but had to decline due to a broken hand sustained in the Sharipov fight, no word is available on what will happen if he defeats Orellano and what the future of Titan’s flyweight belt will be.
Raufeon Stots is another one to watch as he is the champion in Victory FC which is webstreamed at UFC Fight Pass. Stots captured the belt in April with a defeat of UFC vet Rob Emerson then for some inexplicable reason took a fight in Ring of Combat against Merab Dvalishvili. Dvalishvili won that fight and went on to the UFC while Stots went back to VFC where he defended the title against Arnold Berdon to now stand 8-1.
Given ROC’s penchant for moving fighters on to the UFC like Dvalishvili keep an eye out for their current champion Alexander Keshtov. Keshtov won the vacated title in September by defeating James Quigg to remain undefeated at 7-0 while his highest-profile fight to date was a win over Caleb Lally in WSOF.
Prior to WSOF being bought out and rebranded as Professional Fighters League the bantamweight champion was Bekbulat Magomedov. PFL’s plans are still a little murky with the emphasis being on a league format while retaining the old WSOF champions leaving Magomedov’s future unknown. He won the belt vacated by now-UFC vet David Branch by defeating Donavon Frelow last March which improved his record to 18-1.
- Bellator: Darrion Caldwell
- CES MMA: vacant
- CFFC: Ricky Bandejas
- CWFC: Nathaniel Wood
- LFA: Ricky Simon (LFA 29)
- M-1 Challenge: Movsar Evloev
- One: Bibiano Fernandes
- PFL: Bekbulat Magomedov
- ROC: Alexander Keshtov
- TFC: Jose Torres
- TPF: Rodrigo Lima
- VFC: Raufeon Stots
- Other standouts: Juan Archuleta, Justin Rader, Joe Warren, Steven Peterson, Leandro Higo, Farkhad Sharipov, Ricky Turcios, Levy Saul Marroquin Salazar, Kyler Phillips, Ricky Simon, John Castaneda, Leandro Higo, Eli Tamez, Alberto Orellano