Former champion Dominick Cruz, who was stripped of his belt during a nearly three-year absence due to injury, was next in line for a shot at Dillashaw. He returned from his previous injury stretch at UFC 178 in September by knocking out Takeya Mizugaki and earning a shot at getting the belt back.
Cruz’s hopes were dashed on Monday when he revealed via Facebook that he had suffered another anterior cruciate ligament injury, this time to his right knee. The ACL injury that kicked off his original absence was to his left knee.
Raphael Assuncao was immediately on Cruz’s heels, riding a seven-fight winning streak, and looking to be the next likely contender. But within minutes of Cruz announcing his injury, Assuncao dropped a bomb of his own, letting everyone know that he had broken his ankle in training, taking a spot next to Cruz on the bench.
Barao is the man that Dillashaw defeated to get the belt. They were already supposed to have rematched at UFC 177, but Barao had to withdraw from the fight on the day of weigh-ins, leaving Dillashaw to instead defend against last-minute replacement Joe Soto.
Urijah Faber is a perennial contender on a two-fight winning streak, but he is a teammate of Dillashaw’s, plus Barao has a win over Faber and just defeated Mitch Gagnon at UFC Fight Night 58 on Saturday night. It would seem much more likely that the UFC would turn to the Brazilian for Dillashaw’s next defense than a teammate who has publicly stated his reluctance to fight his friend.
Aside from being the last man standing, Barao is also ready, willing and able.
“I have one thing to say: I want my belt back,” Barao said after submitting Gagnon. “Dillashaw, I have two gifts for you, my left hand and my right hand. I’m going to shut up your mouth.”
There had not yet been a timetable announced for Dillashaw to defend against Cruz, and, as of late Monday night, UFC officials had yet to address the bantamweight title situation, but Barao stands at the ready.