By: Alex Metalis | 11.2.16
In this current era of parity and instability in the UFC, there’s been a lot more champion turnover than in years past. Barring any unforeseen circumstances, 2016 will end with a record total 22 title fights. With the growing mainstream popularity of the UFC, we’re bound to see even more in 2017. There are many sharks lurking. Who will emerge as a belt-holder by this time next year? Without further ado, here are my predictions for each weight class.
Women’s Bantamweight: Ronda Rousey
Holly Holm exposed weaknesses in Rousey’s game. However, there aren’t too many women in the weight class who have the skills to employ a similar gameplan.
Expect the superstar to return rejuvenated after a year off. Despite her maligned head coach, Rousey has the strength to match up well against Amanda Nunes and reclaim her long-held bantamweight title at UFC 207. Furthermore, I’d anticipate an entirely fresh plan of attack if Rousey were to square off with Holm again next year.
Women’s Strawweight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
This division is still young. A clear stratification hasn’t been shown yet. Joanna has shown vulnerability against elite grapplers, but her gas tank, aggressiveness, and potent Muay Thai have vaulted her to the top.
“Joanna Champion” will enter her title defense against Karolina Kowalkiewicz as a big favorite. There are few worthy opponents waiting in the wings. WMMA has proven to be unpredictable, but Jedrzejczyk won’t have too much resistance in the near future until better challengers emerge.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
Johnson is peerless in his dominance at flyweight. The New Mexico native has vanquished all comers since securing the title in 2012; defending his title eight times without any close calls.
There are no promising challengers waiting. “Mighty Mouse” has cleaned out his division. It’s unfortunate that his sovereignty at 125 is overlooked due to his perceived lack of competition and people’s misguided dislike of smaller weight classes. Regardless, Johnson will continue his reign for a long time unless he decides to quit fighting or he gets caught by an out-of-the-blue technique.
Bantamweight: Dominick Cruz
Dominick Cruz’s career has been somewhat smeared by injuries, but he has been in very few close contests. “The Dominator” is true to his nickname and he may continue his dominance for years to come — Cruz is only 31.
Cruz is slated to fight power-punching youngster Cody Garbrandt at UFC 207. The champ opened as a 2-1 favorite. His footwork, timing, and defensive prowess should serve him well against the slugging challenger. T.J. Dillashaw remains the biggest threat to Cruz’s bantamweight crown.
Featherweight: Jose Aldo
Who knows what Aldo is going to do? He’s been talking about leaving the UFC and MMA behind. Perhaps it’s a bluff or a shrewd negotiating tactic. If he decides to stick with the UFC, he has a great chance to become the undisputed champion once again.
The biggest obstacle is McGregor, who knocked out the Brazilian in 13 seconds last year. If they rematch, it would be a fight; Aldo could showcase his entire MMA arsenal. Perhaps McGregor will just relinquish the belt to Aldo to pursue other ventures.
Lightweight: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Lightweight is a shark tank brimming with talented destroyers. There’s going to be frequent belt turnover in this division given its depth and variety of styles.
Of every elite lightweight, Nurmagomedov’s game seems the hardest to stop and the most reliable. His striking isn’t the most crisp, but his wrestling, until further notice, is the most dangerous tool in the division. If he can avoid injury, expect “The Eagle” to win the title within the next year.
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson
The future of the welterweight division is hard to call, but it’s not hard to envision Stephen Thompson reigning for a while.
“Wonderboy” has been impeccable since losing to Matt Brown in 2012; winning seven fights in a row in dominant and often spectacular fashion. His takedown defense has been shored up (he hasn’t allowed a takedown since Matt Brown) and his stylish striking arsenal is as effective as ever. If Thompson gets past Tyron Woodley at UFC 205, he’s liable to defend multiple times. Granted, the potential return of Georges St.-Pierre complicates the picture.
Middleweight: Jacare Souza
Second only to the lightweight division, middleweight is the toughest division in the UFC. Only a true seer could forecast the future of 185. That said, I think Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza has as good a shot as anyone of claiming the crown.
It’s been a fun romp with Michael Bisping as champion. He’s defied our expectations and put forth some gritty, entertaining fights. That said, the belt feels misplaced on his waist. The Brit will probably get soundly beaten by the next fighter he faces in the top three. Souza matches up well against Bisping and the rest of the division, despite his close loss to Yoel Romero.
Light-heavyweight: Jon Jones
If Jon Jones is active, there’s no question who the best fighter in the world is. It seems as if Jones will be back in the Octagon sooner than later after his USADA violation earlier this year. “Bones” may return in time to face the winner of Daniel Cormier and Anthony Johnson.
Jones has been inactive for long stretches of time before and it hasn’t ruined his performances. He can still whup the top challengers: Cormier is knocking on 40-years-old, and Jones has a much wider skill-set than Johnson. Despite himself, Jones is an amazing fighter and will be the champion if he can land himself in the Octagon.
Heavyweight: Cain Velasquez
Most fans recognize that Velasquez is the most talented heavyweight on the roster. He’s durable, well-rounded, and very technical. Despite his altitude-impelled loss to Fabricio Werdum, Cain is simply the best.
A win over Werdum at UFC 207 will propel Cain to another shot at the title. Stipe Miocic is a juggernaut, but he’s basically a weaker version of Cain. Velasquez will have his way with the champion if he’s able to win the rematch with Werdum.