Dominick Cruz and Renan Barao have separated themselves as the two best bantamweights in the world.
Unfortunately, Cruz may never be the same fighter he once was, having been out of action for 20 months due to knee injuries. When he returns, Cruz will likely have a chance to reclaim his undisputed crown, but that won't be easy to do against Barao after such a long period of inactivity.
In Cruz's absence, Barao has won the interim bantamweight title and has his sights set on defending it until his fellow champion returns to the Octagon. Already, Barao beat Michael McDonald to retain the belt, and the Brazilian is campaigning for a previously scheduled bout with Eddie Wineland to be booked again soon.
Since Cruz and Barao aren't able to settle all disputes right now, we are left to speculate about who the best 135-pound fighter truly is. While we're already fantasizing, why not dream up a fighter capable of dethroning both Cruz and Barao?
By combining assets from the best UFC bantamweights, let's create the ultimate 135-pound fighting machine.
Michael McDonald's ground game failed him against interim champion Renan Barao, but the 22-year-old has the ability to cause problems for elite bantamweights when he stops takedowns.
Prior to losing to Barao, McDonald scored back-to-back knockout wins. While Miguel Torres is fading, he still owns one of the better jabs in the bantamweight division. McDonald slipped that jab beautifully and countered with an uppercut to earn his shot at Barao.
At such a young age, McDonald's striking is only going to get better, and that's a scary thing for the world's top 135-pound fighters.
Renan Barao hasn't scored a knockout inside the Octagon, but his striking has played an important role in his rise to the top of the bantamweight division.
In his breakthrough win over Brad Pickett at UFC 138, Barao dropped his opponent with a knee before locking up a fight-ending rear-naked choke. In his following two appearances, Barao picked apart perennial contenders Urijah Faber and Scott Jorgensen with a varied attack over eight total rounds to claim the interim bantamweight championship.
If he does meet Dominick Cruz anytime soon, Barao's striking will need to be on point. With his awkward footwork and quickness, Cruz is difficult to wrap up and take to the ground.
Brad Pickett tends to get into plenty of wild exchanges, so he's bound to get rocked every once in awhile, as he did against Renan Barao. However, combined with the tools of other top bantamweights, Pickett's chin would easily hold up against any competition.
Against Eddie Wineland, who recently finished Scott Jorgensen, Pickett ate 90 strikes without being stopped.
While he has been hurt, Pickett has not suffered a knockout loss in over eight years.
After nearly two years away from competition, it's possible Dominick Cruz may not have the same ability he once did when he returns to the Octagon.
However, at his best, Cruz is the best wrestler in the bantamweight division.
In his UFC debut, Cruz avenged a loss to Urijah Faber by out-striking and out-wrestling the former WEC featherweight champion over five rounds. Then Cruz defended his belt again with 10 takedowns of eventual flyweight titleholder Demetrious Johnson, who has been utilizing his own wrestling to excel at 125 pounds.
In addition to his diverse striking, Barao is also excellent on the ground.
After knocking down Brad Pickett in November 2011, Barao quickly took the Englishman's back to set up a submission win. Against Michael McDonald, Barao was equally slick on the canvas, threatening to take his opponent's back before locking up an arm triangle.
With such skill when standing and rolling, it's not hard to understand why Barao may not be far from becoming the undisputed bantamweight champion.
When he uses his outstanding grappling to gain a dominant position, Renan Barao usually isn't far away from locking up a submission.
In five UFC appearances, Barao has already forced Michael McDonald and Brad Pickett to tap. With two more submission wins under the defunct WEC promotion, Barao has established himself as one of the most deadly submission artists in the 135-pound class.
At 26 years old, the submission victims are only going to continue to stack up for Barao.
When Dominick Cruz last competed, he was bouncing around the Octagon like a jumping bean. Evading strikes with his footwork and exiting fast enough to avoid being countered, Cruz's quickness is what turned him into the best bantamweight in the world.
If he loses a step from his recent knee injuries, Cruz could head downhill quickly.
For the purposes of creating the unbeatable bantamweight fighter, though, let's assume Cruz makes a full recovery. The champion's evasiveness and agility would be essential assets for the perfect 135-pound UFC fighter.
What's possibly even more impressive than Dominick Cruz's quickness is his ability to maintain constant movement throughout five-round fights.
In his UFC bouts against Urijah Faber and Demetrious Johnson, Dominick Cruz scored three takedowns in the fifth round against both opponents. The ability to save up that kind of energy after 20 minutes of action is crucial in the fast-paced bantamweight division.
Though his conditioning has been great in the past, Cruz is likely to have some doubters in that area heading into his return to the Octagon, as the time away will no doubt have some negative impact on his gas tank.