UFC 250: Bantamweights battle for title shot, but who will come out on top? (VIDEO)
Saturday night's UFC event may feature a main event battle for the UFC women's featherweight title, but arguably the most intriguing aspect of the fight card is the number of pivotal fights involving bantamweight contenders.
The UFC's 135-pound division recently saw its title vacated when Henry Cejudo announced his retirement following his win over Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 in May. Now the division is wide open, and the top bantamweight fighters in the world are preparing to stake their claim for a shot at the gold.
The UFC looks set to book Petr Yan vs. Jose Aldo for the vacant title, leaving a host of top contenders to battle it out for the next shot at the belt. There are two key bantamweight fights on the card at UFC 250, with all four men holding legitimate ambitions of a title shot. But who will come away from the UFC Apex on Saturday night with their title stock elevated, and who will be heading back to the drawing board?Also on rt.com Yan's the man: Dana White says Russian star Petr Yan will fight Jose Aldo for the vacant UFC bantamweight title (VIDEO)
RAPHAEL ASSUNCAO VS. CODY GARBRANDT
The co-main event of the evening sees two bantamweights with a point to prove going head to head knowing defeat could all but end their hopes of a title shot in the next 12 months, or longer.
Both Raphael Assuncao and Cody Garbrandt arrive in Las Vegas this week on losing streaks. Assuncao lost his last two outings to Marlon Moraes and Cory Sandhagen, while former UFC champion Garbrandt is on a three-fight skid thanks to back-to-back stoppage losses to TJ Dillashaw, then a shock knockout at the hands of Pedro Munhoz.
Both men are desperate for a win, but the wide-open nature of the division, coupled with their respective statuses as longtime contenders, means a spectacular win could propel them back into the title conversation once again.
Assuncao is tough to break down, but has struggled to find highlight-reel moments in a UFC career that has been dominated by decision victories.
Garbrandt, however, is the complete opposite. Heavy-handed and powerful, "No Love" has scored a strong of knockouts. But more recently has also shown himself to be vulnerable to solid punches himself.
Can Assuncao outsmart Garbrandt and claim a much-needed to win get his career back on track, or will the former champion rediscover his knockout power and explode back into title contention by handing the 37-year-old only the second knockout loss of his career?
OUR PICK: GARBRANDT
ALJAMAIN STERLING VS. CORY SANDHAGEN
In many experts' eyes, Aljamain Sterling should be fighting Petr Yan for the vacant bantamweight belt next, but the UFC has opted to take things in a different direction, leaving "Funkmaster" needing another big win to force himself into a title fight.
The problem for Sterling is he's been handed arguably the toughest assignment the UFC could have thrown at him. Cory Sandhagen may not have the same name value as some of his colleagues at the top of the bantamweight division, but he is every bit as dangerous as the rest – and may even be better than most.
Sandhagen trains out of Team Elevation in Denver, Colorado, which also serves as home for the likes of UFC interim lightweight champion Justin Gaethje and rising lightweight contender Drew Dober.
Sandhagen's run of form is outstanding. He's 12-1, including 5-0 in the UFC, with his most recent outing seeing him score a unanimous decision win over the aforementioned Raphael Assuncao. A win over Sterling would leave no doubt about the 28-year-old's title credentials.
But Sterling is a man on a mission, and knows one more win should be enough to get him his long-awaited shot at the title.
After a career-slowing knockout to Marlon Moraes in 2017, the amiable New Yorker went back to the drawing board and came back in fine form. He's since reeled off four straight twins, all against legitimately dangerous opposition.
Sterling's ability to present a constantly moving target on the feet while scrambling on the mat will be crucial to his success, but Sandhagen's ability to finish fights standing or on the ground makes him a VERY dangerous prospect.
OUR PICK: SANDHAGENAlso on rt.com UFC 250: MMA's female GOAT Amanda Nunes returns to defend her featherweight title (VIDEO)