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Preview: UFC Fight Night 131 important for Utica, more important for bantamweight title race

Bringing Ultimate Fighting Championship (UFC) and its band of merry men (and women) to the Adirondack Bank Center means more than just quenching the thirst of nearby mixed martial arts (MMA) fans, it also gives the local economy a much-needed shot in the arm.

That’s why the promotion was welcomed with open arms at the UFC Utica press conference earlier this week (see above), just a few days before Jimmie Rivera (21-1) and Marlon Moraes (20-5-1) collide in the five-round bantamweight headliner on FOX Sports 1. The event is part of the “Not just Manhattan” promise Dana White and Co. made when New York legalized cage fighting back in 2016.

It also gives the bantamweight division a more defined outlook for the second half of 2018. TJ Dillashaw and Cody Garbrandt are set to rematch at UFC 227 in August, with “No Love” hoping to reclaim the crown he lost at UFC 217 last November. If he’s successful -- and particularly if he scores a finish — there may be talk of a rubber match.

Whether or not he gets one could depend on the outcome of Rivera vs. Moraes. A boring decision win won’t have too many folks protesting a Dillashaw-Garbrandt trilogy, but a decisive finish for either competitor paves the way for a fresh face in the championship title picture. A victory for Rivera would mark his 21st in a row, whereas a win for Moraes -- a former champion for World Series of Fighting — snaps “El Terror’s” 20-fight win streak.

Of course, a clear-cut win for Dillashaw makes things much easier, based on what’s happening in the top 10 of the division (listed below).

Champion: TJ Dillashaw
1. Cody Garbrandt
2. Dominick Cruz
3. Raphael Assuncao
4. Jimmie Rivera
5. Marlon Moraes
6. John Lineker
7. John Dodson
8. Aljamain Sterling
9. Bryan Caraway
10. Pedro Munhoz

Dominick Cruz needs to prove he can get through a fight camp and compete without injury before getting back into a title bout. Raphael Assuncao — who actually beat Moraes — first has to get past Rob Font at UFC 226 and is probably not the most exciting choice, at least in terms of selling pay-per-view (PPV) buys.

The only thing standing between the winner of Rivera vs. Moraes and the bantamweight title is the outcome of Dillashaw vs. Garbrandt. But no matter what happens at UFC 227, whoever owns the night at UFC Utica is going to be in a very good position. It’s refreshing, too, and certainly beats the old days when Urijah Faber was getting a title shot every few months.

For much more on Friday night’s UFC Utica event click here.

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