This Saturday, Dominick Cruz will put his UFC bantamweight title on the line in our nation’s capital in what will be his second UFC title defense.  However, “The Dominator” won his title back in March 2010 by defeating Brian Bowles in a different promotion, the WEC.  With Zuffa merging the two promotions, the WEC bantamweight title became the UFC bantamweight title after Cruz was victorious in defending his title at WEC 53 against Scott Jorgensen.  The champion has only lost once in his career, and it was for the WEC featherweight title back in 2007.  Even though he fought once after that fight at 145 pounds, he dropped the additional 10 pounds and really found his home in the 135-pound division where he has defeated Urijah Faber, Bowles, Jorgensen and Joseph Benavidez twice.

After his most recent victory against Faber at UFC 132, people were calling for an immediate rematch in what would be the rubber match of the series, but the promotion decided to go another route by giving the title shot to Demetrious Johnson.  “Mighty Mouse” might not be the most well-known of fighters on the UFC roster, but his 10-1 record speaks for itself.  Most recently, Johnson squared off against Miguel Torres in what was supposed to be Torres’ title opportunity.  Someone forgot to tell that to Johnson, as he not only took the unanimous decision, but he took the No. 1 contender spot.

Now that we have talked about the two that will be fighting for the title, let’s take a look at the rest of the division, as they will be glued to their televisions this Saturday night.

Brian Bowles (10-1, two-fight winning streak)

Current champion Cruz defeated Bowles in their title fight at WEC 47.  The fight was stopped after the second round when the doctor called it due to Bowles’ broken hand, awarding the belt to Cruz.  This is the one and only time that the former champion has ever tasted defeat in his MMA career.  He came back strong in his UFC debut by defeating Damacio Page for the second time in his career and following it up with a decision victory over Takeya Mizugaki.  It was speculated that if he defeated Mizugaki, he would get the next title shot, however the promotion decided to give it to Johnson.  Bowles will take on Faber at UFC 139 in what could be a No. 1 contender spot against the winner of this Saturday’s championship bout.

If Bowles can defeat Faber, he should get the next title shot and a chance to avenge the only loss of his career.

Miguel Torres (38-4, lost last fight)

Once the king of the 135-pound division, Torres has not been the same since he lost his crown to Bowles back at WEC 42.  Only once in his career prior to that fight had the Indiana native lost a fight, but recently he has lost three of his last five.  He had appeared to get out of the funk that he was in and was headed at a title shot until he ran into the roadblock that is Demetrius Johnson at UFC 130.  The former champ is scheduled to take on Nick Pace at UFC 139 in what should be a very winnable fight and should get him back on track.

A victory over Nick Pace will put him one quality win away from getting his first shot at UFC gold.

Urijah Faber (25-5, lost last fight)

Even though the bout was contested at 145 pounds, Faber is the only person to defeat Cruz.  That fight took place in 2007, and in 2011 at UFC 132 the tables were turned on Faber as the loss was avenged, this time at 135-pounds.  Still, “The California Kid” sits atop the division and remains a force to be reckoned with.  He was to the WEC what Wanderlei Silva was to Pride, winning his first six fights with the promotion, five of them being championship bouts.  Eventually, he started to struggle after losing to Mike Brown and was then bounced from the division after losing to Jose Aldo.  The move from featherweight to bantamweight was a good decision, as he won his two fights leading up to the recent title shot.  Now, after the loss, he looks to stay on track and a victory over Bowles will propel him in the right direction.

The winner of the Faber vs. Bowles fight will likely yield the next No. 1 contender. However, if Faber cannot earn a stoppage, he might have to fight once more against top competition before getting another title shot.

Scott Jorgensen (12-4, won last fight)

Another fighter who has been defeated by Cruz, Jorgensen sits near the top of the division.  Heading into his title shot, Jorgensen was riding a five-fight winning streak and looked unstoppable.  Leave it to “The Dominator” to derail him and send him back to the drawing board.  “Young Guns” got back on track after he defeated Ken Stone in his first fight after losing to Cruz.  The former Boise State Bronco was actually losing the first round against Stone when he managed to gain the top and knock out the American Top Team fighter from guard.  With that victory, Jorgensen is back and ready to climb his way up the divisional ladder once again.

At UFC 137, Jorgensen will take on Jeff Curran, a fighter who has struggled against solid competition throughout his career.  If “Young Guns” can win this fight, he will need to win one more high-profile bout to get another crack at the title.

Joseph Benavidez (15-2, three-fight winning streak)

Benavidez has twice squared off against Cruz.  The first time took place in a three-round affair at WEC 42, a fight he lost by unanimous decision.  The second time took place in a five-round title bout at WEC 50, a fight he lost by split decision.  “The Dominator” could be considered kryptonite to “Joe B” since, in his other 15 career fights, he has come out victorious each time.  Benavidez has won three straight fights and has most recently taken down Eddie Wineland, the first-ever WEC bantamweight champion.  There is buzz around the UFC regarding the addition of a flyweight division to the promotion and rumors are that the Team Alpha Male fighter will shed the additional 10 pounds and fight in that division.  The question, however, is when exactly will the division open up.

Should “Joe B” stick around at 135 pounds, he is one victory away from a trilogy fight against the current champion.  If he drops the additional weight, he should be considered as one of the top flyweights on the planet.

Renan Barão (26-1(1), 16-fight winning streak)

When thinking of top bantamweight contenders, the name Renan Barão does not exactly roll off of the tongue.  However, when you look at what he has done in his career, some things jump out.  First, the one and only loss in his career was a split decision defeat in his very first fight.  Second, he has stopped 18 of his opponents with an impressive 12 submissions.  Third, he is 3-0 fighting for Zuffa, which is key.  At just 24-years-old, the Brazilian has a lot going for him.  The one and only knock against Barão is that he hasn’t done anything against competition of any significance.  The three UFC victories were good enough to earn him a solid opponent in Brad Pickett at UFC 138, but the young man still has work to do.

If the Brazilian can defeat Pickett, he will be ready to square off against a top-level fighter in the division.  If he can then pass that test, Barão will be ready for a title shot.

Michael McDonald (13-1, six-fight winning streak)

The UFC did not cut Dan Hardy after his fourth consecutive loss because they love people that battle.  Well, with Michael McDonald, they have just that.  “Mayday” has three victories under Zuffa, two of which have come while fighting for the UFC.  This sounds all well and good, but when you learn that McDonald was born in the 90’s, it makes it even more impressive.  That’s right, at just 20-years-old, the kid has established himself in the sport.  It appears as though the UFC is grooming him, however.  He defeated Clint Godfrey in his WEC debut, Edwin Figueroa in his UFC debut and Chris Cariaso in his last fight, all three of which are not overly impressive victories.  He is scheduled to take on Johnny Eduardo in his next scrap at UFC 139, another fighter who is not near the top of the division.

“Mayday” needs to take it easy and realize that after all, he is only 20.  Yes, if he defeats Eduardo in his next fight, that will be four victories under Zuffa and three with the UFC, but McDonald needs to take his time and progress slowly.  If he wins at UFC 139, then give him another lower-rung fighter.  If he wins that, then let’s see what the kid can do.

While the fighters above are in the immediate hunt for the winner of the title fight this weekend, the fighters below still have a some work to do before they are considered for the title.  Let’s take a look at who exactly are these fighters on the edge of greatness.

Eddie Wineland (18-1-1, two-fight losing streak)

When he defeated Antonio Banuelos at WEC 20, Wineland became the first-ever WEC bantamweight championship.  While that title now goes by a different name, the Texan will forever be able to say that he was the first to hold it.  Sure, that is all well and good, but what have you done for me lately, Mr. Wineland?  The answer is: Not a whole lot.  He was riding a four-fight winning streak where he earned two consecutive Knockout of the Night honors, but then was handed a defeat in a No. 1 contender fight against Faber.  Looking to bounce back from that loss, he lost again to Joseph Benavidez, which has moved him to the lower rung.  Sure, Faber and Benavidez are two top 135-pounders, but losing two straight fights will drop you down.  Currently, Wineland does not have an opponent for his next fight, but a solid victory will move him back up to where he wants to be.

Reuben Duran (8-3-1, won last fight)

Losing his UFC debut to Takeya Mizugaki was not exactly how Duran drew it up. However, he rebounded nicely by defeating Francisco Rivera in his next bout.  From these two fights, we really do not know a whole lot about the Californian, but if we look at what he has accomplished in his career, we find that he has done well and has earned the stoppage in seven of his eight career victories.  What should come for “The Future” is another fight of about equal competition to make sure that he is as good as advertised.  If he can come out victorious in that fight, he is still a ways away from being considered in the top of the division, but it would be a good start.

Jeff Hougland (10-4, nine-fight winning streak)

Hougland holds the winning streak that any top contender would love to have, however eight of those consecutive wins came outside of the UFC.  In his lone promotional fight, “The Hoagie” looked sharp with his grappling and showed good submission skills en route to a unanimous decision victory over Donny Walker, but we need to see more from him.  His next test was supposed to come this Saturday, but an injury has removed him from the card.  If Hougland can bring the intensity that he displayed at UFC 132 in his next fight, he should be up towards the top of the food chain in just a few fights.

Takeya Mizugaki (15-6-2, won last fight)

Unfortunately, Mizugaki has fallen into the category of Japanese fighters who had success while fighting on their home island, but struggle ever since making the move to fight in North America.  He came to this country to fight for the WEC bantamweight title in his American and WEC debut, and was outpointed by then champion Miguel Torres in a fairly close fight.  From there, it has been up and down, as he has alternated winning and losing fights all the way up until his last fight, in which he was victorious against Cole Escovedo last weekend at UFC 135.  The TKO victory hopefully will put “The Intelligent Sniper” back on the right track, but if history tells us anything, it is that he will be on the losing end of things in his next fight.  Mizugaki will need to win at least two or three more fights before he is even considered for the title again.

Edwin Figueroa (8-1, won last fight)

Even though Figueroa lost his first career fight in his UFC debut, he was awarded Fight of the Night honors.  That may sound like a loser’s consolation, but it is better than losing the debut and getting nothing for it.  He moved on from the loss and earned the TKO in his next fight against Jason Reinhardt, which got him nicely back on track.  That victory was his eight career victory, and his eighth win by stoppage, which is something that any promotion would like their fighter to be able to boast.  “El Feroz” needs to win his next fight in order to see a step up in competition.  If he can string those victories together, he will be in good shape as far as title talk in concerned.

Ivan Menjivar (23-8, two-fight winning streak)

Zuffa brought the El Salvadorian in for the final WEC card, where he lost a close decision to Brad Pickett.  That was a tough first test for Menjivar and he came back from the defeat nicely, as he took down his next two opponents while fighting in the UFC.  While victories are something that the promotion loves to see, coming in overweight for your fight is something that they hate.  Before his last fight, “The Pride of El Salvador” weighted in two pounds over the allotted 136-pound weight limit for non-title bantamweight fights.  Even though he won the fight, he looked bad in doing so because of the weight issues.  Menjivar has to redeem himself in his next fight by both making weight and winning in order to enter into any conversation bout the championship.

Chris Cariaso (11-3, lost last fight)

Cariaso has gone a par 2-2 while fighting with Zuffa.  He has beaten fighters that he should have beaten in Rafael Rebello and Will Campuzano, but he has lost to fighters who are towards the top of the division.  “Kamikaze” is scheduled to take on UFC newcomer Vaughan Lee in his next fight in Lee’s backyard of England at UFC 138.  The Californian needs to string together a couple of victories in order to earn the right to prove himself against another top fighter, and if he can do all of this he will be moved up the ladder.

Brad Pickett (20-5, won last fight)

“One Punch” has fought four times for the WEC and won three of them.  The lone loss came by the hands of Jorgensen while he was amidst his own run at the title.  In fact, the British fighter is the only person to ever hand the current No. 1 contender a loss.  While all of this is well and good, Pickett has been on the shelf for an extended period of time and has not fought since the final WEC card last December, all of which keeps him on the lower tier.  He has the opportunity to put a halt on the hype behind Renan Barão, get rid of the ring rust and move himself back to the top of the division by defeating Barão at UFC 138, a fight that takes place in England.

Photo: Dominick Cruz on his way to the cage (Donald Miralle/Zuffa LLC)