We haven’t heard the last of John Dodson.
That was the message from Dodson and his camp last weekend in the immediate wake of his unanimous-decision loss to flyweight champion Demetrious Johnson at UFC 191. The 30-year-old Albuquerque, New Mexico, native known for his boundless energy and mammoth grin wasn’t about to hang his head.
“I’m going to make sure I can come back and come back stronger,” Dodson said at the post-fight press conference. “If [UFC president Dana White] gives me the opportunity to beat up a whole bunch of people who seem worthy to fight Demetrious, I will do it. I will make sure that I can make another title run.”
Dodson’s determination is admirable—especially since his second loss to Johnson left him in a most unenviable position for the top-ranked 125-pound contender.
Luckily, he still has options.
In fact, there’s a pretty good one sitting just 10 pounds north of him. It’s entirely possible Dodson could become a breakout star in the fast-rising bantamweight division if he decided he was ready to answer the call.
Remember, Dodson began his UFC career by winning the 16-fighter, 135-pound tournament on Season 14 of The Ultimate Fighter.
He did it in style too—by way of three knockouts and one unanimous decision. His second-round KO of Johnny Bedford in the semifinals earned him the $25,000 award for “Knockout of the Season” on an installment of the show that also included featherweights.
In the finals, Dodson scored a first-round TKO—and scooped up $40,000 more with a KO of the Night bonus—while defeating 2-1 favorite T.J. Dillashaw.
There was every reason to believe he had a bright future ahead of him at bantamweight. Instead, immediately after hoisting the TUF 14 trophy, Dodson dropped to flyweight, where he rattled off an impressive 5-2 record despite missing 11 months with a serious knee injury.
In fact, only one man has defeated Dodson during his eight fights in the Octagon. It’s just unfortunate for him that man is Johnson—the dominant, long-standing champion in his preferred weight class.
Their rematch last weekend was even less competitive than the first meeting between the two in January 2013. It didn’t appear to do land-office business either.
End result? Dodson, his No. 1 ranking and .750 overall UFC winning percentage are likely locked out of the 125-pound title picture for the foreseeable future.
If indeed he wants to “come back stronger [and] make another title run,” then the shortest path may well be at 135 pounds.
Fast forward nearly four years since Dodson beat him and Dillashaw is now the bantamweight champion. The Team Alpha Male product’s recent pair of wins over former champ Renan Barao earned him rave reviews for his improved striking game, and he’s currently ensconced at No. 5 on the UFC’s official pound-for-pound rankings.
If you don’t think that sticks in Dodson’s craw, you’re wrong.
“I’ve already destroyed [Dillashaw] and he’s talking about how he should be up on the pound-for-pound list,” Dodson said at a media lunch in Los Angeles before UFC 191 (h/t MMA Fighting.com’s Marc Raimondi). “I already beat him. I beat him at his specialty.”
On Wednesday, the UFC announced Dillashaw’s next title defense—a bout against past titlist Dominick Cruz on January 17 on Fox Sports 1. If it manages to hang together, that will undoubtedly be the biggest men’s 135-pound championship fight in recent memory. It’s also going down on free TV, which promises to grant the bantamweight title a bigger spotlight than ever before.
It’s not unthinkable that Dodson—if he so desired—could move up to 135 pounds, capture a win over a ranked opponent and be positioned nicely to meet the winner.
Bantamweight has garnered some new attention since Dillashaw won the title, but it remains a struggle to settle on top contenders there. This could certainly be viewed as an opportunity for a marketable and established fighter who has beaten almost everyone matchmakers have paired him with—including the current bantamweight champion.
It’s possible Dodson could make a compelling contender the moment he walked in the door. For all he would give up in size, it might be worth it in exchange for the sheer immediacy.
Consider bantamweight’s other options:
Barao is in rebuilding mode after his own pair of losses in championship fights. Cruz’s career has been snake-bitten by injury for nearly as long as anyone can remember. Urijah Faber seems out of the running for the time being. Third-ranked Rafael Assuncao had his own health-related troubles this year.
Former flyweight knockout artist John Lineker recently arrived in the division, and Bryan Caraway is in the midst of an unlikely 5-2 run, but neither is ready for a title shot. Aljamain Sterling is undefeated at 11-0, though he has only fought once since July 2014.
All in all, the 135-pound class figures to remain slightly more appealing to consumers than its little brother at 125, but there’s still room at the top for some name-brand appeal.
If Dodson could quickly re-establish himself as one of the division’s high-profile top guns, there may be no good reason not to do it—and fast.
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