The UFC’s 135-pound bantamweight division isn’t lacking any sort of talent. Especially when it comes at the top, as you could argue that the division has the highest level of combined talent out of any other division in MMA.
Among those names is the often overlooked, Raphael Assuncao who is 10-1 in the weight class. That includes a 1-1 record against the current champion, TJ Dillashaw.
Currently riding a three-fight win streak since taking his first L in the division, Assuncao told MMAFighting that he now has his sights set on a former champion for his next opponent.
“I’ve already called him out in many interviews, but we don’t know what’s next for me yet. The fight to make is me against [Dominick] Cruz. He’s the #2 in the ranking and I’m the No. 3. That’s the right fight to make. Marlon [Moraes] and Jimmie [Rivera] are right below me and they are fighting next, so this is the fight to make…but he already ran from the fight, said he’s out indefinitely.
I think he’s trying some kind of strategy, like waiting for someone to get injured and get a title fight on short notice. I think that’s what he wants. But we have to make this fight to see who’s the next contender.”
Cruz hasn’t fought since he lost his title back in December of 2016 to Cody Garbrandt but was expected to return at UFC 219 until he suffered a broken arm in training camp.
Regardless, Assuncao continued on about how much sense him vs Cruz makes as the next fight for each.
”Even though he’s a former champion, most of the guys he beat when he was champion have already retired. I’m the most consistent fighter in the division, he’s the most inconsistent fighter in the division. We both want to fight for the title, so this is the perfect fight.
Dominick knows that this is the perfect fight to make, but I want to fight. We’ll try to make it happen and stay active and prepared to fight when the opportunity comes. The more I fight, they are actually helping me *laughs*. It’s feeding me with experience, and when my time comes they can bring anyone.”
Assuncao has never been granted a UFC title shot but a win over Cruz would make it very hard to argue against. Especially since he and Dillashaw are already tied up in their two fight series.
Funny enough, Assuncao was supposed to challenge for the title against Renan Barao at UFC 173 but was forced out due to injury thus giving Dillashaw the shot where he shocked the world in what remains one of the greatest upsets in MMA history.
So what do you think? Is Cruz vs Assuncao the fight to make?
This article first appeared on BJPenn.com on 3/27/2018.