Who Will Hold Each UFC Title Exactly One Year From Now?

2016 has already proven itself to be one hell of a time for MMA. The UFC have gone above and beyond themselves and brought us more landmark events crammed into a short time than we’ve ever had before. 

It seems as though titles have been exchanging hands at a remarkable rate these days and with UFC 205 approaching, I feel it’s the perfect time to wonder where the next 12 months will take each and every strap of UFC gold.

Women’s Strawweight 115lbs

Who can look past Joanna Jedrzejczyk for this one? The Polish Muay Thai expert put on a striking clinic against her heated-rival Claudia Gadelha in her sole fight of 2016 but with her upcoming UFC 205 bout against Karolina Kowalkiewicz she will look to defend her title for the 4th time.

It just seems right now that the striking finesse of JJ is leaps and bounds ahead of each and every one in and around the title picture right now. I had up-and-comer Rose Namajunas pegged for title-glory at some point but with her loss against the aforementioned Kowalkiewicz and her relatively young age, maybe look for her to make a push in the coming years instead.

Women’s Bantamweight 135lbs

This one’s a tossup. The women’s 135lb belt has changed hands 3 times since the formerly-dominant Ronda Rousey lost it in stunning fashion to Holly Holm late last year. Dangerous striker Amanda Nunes now sits atop the division and will face off against the returning Rousey later this year.

This is one of the harder ones to pick outright out of the lot. We’ve seen each of the top contenders lose in the last year or two and for me it will be the one who shows the most mental strength who will claw their way back to the summit. It’s a close one to call but since I’m picking one outright I’m going to have to go with Amanda Nunes.

I think if she can overcome the very-real challenge Rousey poses to her I feel she can establish herself as a formidable force for at least another while. We’ve seen her make some questionable decisions inside the octagon in the past but I feel she is maturing as a fighter and has all the tools to be a dominant champ over the next 12 months.

Flyweight 125lbs

Demetrious Johnson. I feel not much needs to be said about the flyweight-kingpin. His dominance in the 125lb division has been nothing short of beautiful to watch in action and his main strength (discounting his speed, technique and fight IQ) is his ingrained ability to keep himself completely outside of the possibility of losing.

Mighty Mouse has only fought on one occasion so far this year but when you consider that in that lone bout he absolutely smoked Olympic-wrestler Henry Cejudo in under 3 minutes, it hasn’t been a bad year for DJ.

For me there’s no one in the rankings right now who can best Johnson. He is yet to face the winner of this season’s Ultimate Fighter but unless he decides to move back up to bantamweight, do not be surprised to see his reign continue well into 2017.

Bantamweight 135lbs

Bantamweight is an interesting one. You have several high-level title-contenders who are all within touching distance of the champ Dominick Cruz (try as they might to lay a hand on him). The former champion TJ Dillashaw is still one of the pound-for-pound best on the planet and in Cody Garbrandt, Jimmie Rivera, Aljamain Sterling and John Lineker you have a very promising future for life in the bantamweight division.

Dominick Cruz for me, is one of the greatest to ever don the gloves. His movement makes him a puzzle that cannot be replicated in preparation, one that must be studied in the heat of battle and conquered in the space of 25 minutes.

Garbrandt, his next opponent just doesn’t have the polished striking needed to best Cruz right now. Make no mistake he is a fantastic fighter but when you face Dominick Cruz you’re already up against it. Should John Lineker get himself into that #1 spot I think it would go down in a similar fashion. If Cruz can overcome his greatest threat, TJ Dillashaw in a rematch, then expect to see him survive the year.

Featherweight 145lbs

Conor McGregor is probably finished at featherweight.

Now that that’s out of the way we can delve into what has become a rich pool of talent in the last year. Former champions Jose Aldo, Renan Barao, Frankie Edgar and Anthony Pettis all reside within this division and the potential of the likes of Doo-ho Choi, Mirsad Bektic and Yair Rodriguez cannot be understated.

Again, this is one of the harder divisions to put one singular name on but for me I have this romanticized idea of the young Hawaiian Max Holloway coming away victorious in his long-awaited shot at the featherweight strap.

The way he strings combinations together is poetry in motion, a truly elegant but brutal striker at work; work that has seen him blast through Charles Oliviera, Cub Swanson, Jeremy Stephens and Ricardo Lamas in recent times and expand his winning streak to a highly-impressive 9. With many of the top contenders approaching the later days of their career, Max Holloway epitomizes the new breath of fresh air that should engulf the division in the coming months.

He faces Anthony Pettis  at UFC 206 in a bid to extend his win streak to 10 on the bounce. Surely he cannot be denied any longer after that?

Lightweight 155lbs

Another stacked division, arguably the most stacked on the roster right now. In my eyes current champion Eddie Alvarez won’t be in power for too long. Whether he loses by the hand of McGregor, or in a rematch against Rafael dos Anjos or even Tony Ferguson, I just can’t see him ruling this weight class with an iron fist.

I’m still an Eddie fan don’t get things mixed up; but when I look at the rankings I just see too much danger for the Philly native to get through the next 12 months unscathed.

That being said – and it kills the McGregor fan in me to admit it – the guy who should be the main man at lightweight for the next year is the genuinely frightening Khabib Nurmagomedov.

Should Khabib stay injury-free, I don’t think that there’s anyone who has an answer for the sambo mastery he possesses. At 28 he will only continue to grow and if you have seen what he’s done to the likes of the former champ dos Anjos and the mauling he gave Abel Trujillo, you’ll know this guy is no joke.

Welterweight 170lbs

Another sea of sharks this time around. Welterweight has proven itself to be among the most thrilling divisions of the past year, with several very-realistic potential champions in the title-mix right now.

Despite the uncertain future of Carlos Condit and the departure of young-gun Rory MacDonald for Bellator there still remains no shortage of talent at 170lbs. Champion Tyron Woodley picked up a career-defining win over former-champ Robbie Lawler at UFC 201 but let’s be frank, he faces a very tough task when he takes on Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson at UFC 205.

Wonderboy is my pick to hold the belt a year from now, despite the threat of jiu-jitsu extraordinaire Demian Maia. Indeed you have the former-king Lawler and the devastatingly impressive Lorenz Larkin and Donald Cerrone looming around the outskirts but as far as technique and sheer fight-winning ability goes, I can’t look any further than Stephen Thompson.

Middleweight 185lb

If Michael Bisping is still champion in 12 months time, this writer will eat his shoes.

In the past 12 months Bisping did the unthinkable by beating Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson and the former-champion Luke Rockhold; shocking the MMA world in the process.

To be honest though I don’t like his chances as a long-term champ. There’s too much talent beneath him and between the likes of Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold, Yoel Romero, Gegard Mousasi and Jacare Souza I think we have a future champion.

With Weidman facing Romero next, look for the winner of that bout to break into the discussion. Luke Rockhold was recently forced to pull out of his rematch with Jacare but with neither attached to a fight, we may see Bisping (should he recover) with an opponent in the near future. Gegard Mousasi will have to put a halt on his title aspirations as he is set to face Uriah Hall next, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see him in the mix in the next 18 months.

The champion at middleweight in 12 months though should be Luke Rockhold. I feel like he possesses the best overall game in the 185lb division and despite the fairytale-esque nature of his loss to Bisping, he was a victim of his own over-confidence.

Light Heavyweight 205lbs

Another one that’s up in the air right now. Current champ Daniel Cormier faces knockout artist Anthony Johnson at UFC 206 but regardless of that contest there still is a shadow cast over the division by the absent Jon Jones.

It’s between those three for me. There’s not much happening outside of the top-3, or at least not enough to suggest that any imminent threat exists. Jon Jones has proven himself to be among the greatest of all time already and should he return, would look to extend his run a bit further before his seemingly inevitable run at heavyweight.

Daniel Cormier is one of the greatest 205lb-rs of all time. Anthony Johnson – in his right hand – possesses possibly the most lethal weapon in all of mixed martial arts. And yet, should he resolve his personal issues, I can no look further than Jonny Bones Jones.

Jones is the perfect athlete. 6 foot 4, impeccable striking, amazing grappling, a ludicrously long-reach and an ability to keep himself out of harm’s way at all times. At 29 he has time to grow and if he can keep his head screwed on tight, he should remain champion for a long time.

Heavyweight 265lbs

Another ageing division. Current champion Stipe Miocic stopped elite-striker Alistair Overeem in the first round recently in his hometown of Cleveland and will be looking for a fresh challenge once Cain Velasquez and Fabricio Werdum lock horns at UFC 207.

Werdum, – the former champ – bet Velasquez in Mexico at UFC 188 to steal the title away from him but in his first title-defence made the ridiculous decision to chase Miocic, a decision that caused him to run straight into a heavy handed counter.

In this match-up I feel Cain gets the win. He’s the best heavyweight in the world in my eyes and should he get his chance at Stipe, I would expect him to take it with both arms and re-establish himself as the unstoppable force at 265lbs.

Cillian Cunningham, Pundit Arena

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Author: Cillian Cunningham

Lead mixed martial arts writer who can be contacted at cillian@punditarena.com. View all posts by Cillian Cunningham