The good news is Raphael Assuncao‘s ankle surgery went well. The bad news is he’s not coming back as quickly as originally hoped.

Assuncao—perhaps the only even vaguely viable title challenger right now in the UFC’s injury-riddled bantamweight division—recently tweeted a picture of his newly screw-enhanced right ankle. The news was reported Friday by Mike Bohn of MMA Junkie.

He is not expected to fight again before the end of 2015.

Sitting at No. 3 on the official UFC rankings despite not competing in nearly a year, Assuncao (23-4) originally hoped to miss a maximum of only 10 weeks when he fractured the ankle in late December. He blew through that timetable several times over, and after initially ruling out surgery, opted to go under the knife this week after the injury failed to properly heal.

With the lengthy layoff, Assuncao may have fallen behind Dominick Cruz in the line of challengers to champion T.J. Dillashaw. Cruz said recently he expects to return before the year is out.

However, fans may be forgiven for only believing it when they see it. Cruz, the former longtime division champ, is as electric as they come when healthy, but he has suffered multiple, major, well-documented knee and other injuries one on top of the other, and as a result has fought precisely once in the past four years (after which he promptly re-injured himself and returned to the sidelines).

Either man would be a breath of fresh air to a weight class currently dominated by Dillashaw, an inspiring competitor with no apparent equal among the division’s healthy bodies. Earlier this summer, Dillashaw dispatched former champ Renan Barao for the second time, effectively eliminating Barao as a rival. 

After Barao, Cruz and Assuncao, the next highest-ranked UFC bantamweight is Urijah Faber, who is now 36 years old, has never won a UFC title fight and would likely not be too excited to face Dillashaw, his protege and training teammate.

After Faber is Michael McDonald, who has lost two of his last three and hasn’t fought in nearly two years.

You get the idea.

Assuncao may be the most interesting option now out there, considering that he beat Dillashaw (albeit via controversial split decision) back in 2013. UFC matchmakers have to be hoping the Brazilian’s ankle holds up this time. It’s currently bearing the weight of an entire division.


Scott Harris covers MMA for Bleacher Report. For more stuff like this, follow Scott on Twitter

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