UFC is back people! The McGregor boxing circus is over and the Irishman is sidelined for now, so let’s turn our attention to the sweet art of MMA.
UFC 215 lacks high profile, big names for the casual fan, but there are some insane fights on that card. Cejudo v Reis, Magny v Dos Anjos, Nunes v Shevchenko.
However, the late cancellation of the main event has seriously hampered that card.
Here, we take an in-depth look at each men’s weight division.
Taking into account depth, talent, big names and skills we have ranked and rated each division.
Champion: Jon Jones… for the moment
Jon Jones seems to have chucked his career down the drain despite his ridiculous talent and Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson, perhaps the scariest man to grace the Octagon, has decided to walk away from the sport.
Letting Ryan Bader go to Bellator was equally damaging. This has left the light-heavyweight division seriously depleted.
What is worrying is the lack of up-and-coming fighters. Henceforth, the fighters ranked six to ten don’t have the same momentum or win streaks as in other divisions.
Daniel Cormier is still the greatest light-heavyweight on the planet not named Jon Jones. Alexander Gustafsson looked sublime in his TKO victory over the heavy hitting but ageing Glover Texeira.
Elsewhere, the Jimi Manuwa hype train was derailed by Volkan Oezdemir. Oezdemir himself is perhaps the best indication of the lack of depth in the division.
Despite only having three wins in the UFC, albeit against top opposition, Oezdemir has flown straight into the top three. This is unheard of, and in the lower divisions there are fighters on five or six fight win streaks who are struggling to crack the top 15.
They desperately need some new blood. Karl Roberson from the Dana White Contender Series looked vicious and if Tyson Pedro beats Illir Latifi then he is a legitimate challenger, but that would be clutching at straws. The division is crying out for some new, exciting characters to come and ruffle a few feathers!
Top five quality: 5/10
Hottest prospect: Tyson Pedro (Age 25)
Champion: Demetrius Johnson
It’s tough on the flyweights, because despite there being bags of talent, causal fans want to see big men knocking each other out. This just does not tend to happen because of the speed and skill of the smaller fighters.
No one in the division, not even the pound-for-pound greatest Demetrius Johnson has headlined a UFC card.
Of course this was supposed to happen at 215 but now will not.
The fact that he was due to be fighting Ray Borg is a sign that challengers are few and far between.
Don’t get me wrong, at 24 years old, Ray Borg is an electric, dynamic fighter. However, he’s only on a two-fight win streak and has missed weight twice…
The problem is, Joseph Benavidez is so clearly the best contender in the division, but no one wants to see Mighty Mouse beat him for a third time. Henry Cejudo, the gold medallist Olympic wrestler was dispatched by Johnson, as was Wilson Reis. Which means that the majority of the top five don’t look like championship calibre fighters.
However, Sergio Pettis is on a four-fight win streak at the age of 24 and looks extremely promising. Further down the division, Brandon Moreno, is even younger at 23 and has pulled off some exciting submission victories.
Ben Nguyen is another man who is quietly creeping up the division. There is certainly talent, they just need a few big names. Expect Sergio Pettis to challenge for DJ’s belt if the Champ doesn’t go looking for a super fight.
The flyweight’s are immensely skilled yet under appreciated and ignored by most fans.
Top five quality: 6/10
Hottest prospect: Sergio Pettis (Age 24)
Champion: Stipe Miocic
The land of the dinosaurs. Not just for their size, but their age as well. Brock Lesnar is floating around the peripheries, once his suspension is up, his presence could spike huge interest in the heavyweight division.
There’s also rumblings that Daniel Cormier might return to heavyweight and mix it with the big boys. If those two names join the rankings, it will be a different story.
Sadly we are left with a very thin division. Junior Dos Santos getting popped by USADA is a massive shame, because he is a top competitor and one of the nicest guys in the sport.
The top five are filled with wily old veterans who are UFC royalty such as Fabricio Werdum, Alistair Overeem and Mark Hunt. The fans still love watching them fight and they remain relatively big draws.
The champ Stipe Miocic’s name is growing steadily with his call outs of Anthony Joshua and brutal knock-out wins. The chasing pack has some exciting but untested talent.
Francis Ngannou has so much hype behind him, but his only big name win is Andrei Arlovski. Ngannou is a scary man and has the potential to challenge Miocic for the belt but he must test himself first before he gets his shot.
Derrick Lewis is a massive personality, hilarious when he’s on the mic and throws bombs. Then there is the ex-Bellator champ Alexander Volkov, who at 28 is probably the youngest prospect in the heavyweight roster.
His wins against seasoned old heads like Roy Nelson and Stefan Struve are evidence that he could threaten the top five. Junior Albini is an outside bet at 26, after knocking out Andrei Arlovski.
The heavyweights are always popular with the fans, but the next generation needs to emerge soon.
Top five quality: 7/10
Hottest prospect: Alexander Volkov (Age 28)
Champion: Michael Bisping
The top five is murderer’s row. If the UFC had re-signed Gegard Mousasi, then the middleweight division would perhaps have the best top five out there.
We are talking some of the scariest fighters in the sport. There’s Yoel Romero, a complete freak with muscles where there shouldn’t be muscles. There’s Jiu-Jitsu master Jacare Souza, who is a complete nightmare on the ground.
Then comes along Robert Whittaker from Australia and picks apart the pair of them with his crisp striking and impeccable takedown defence. Chris Weidman has fallen on hard times, but his win against the ridiculously talented Kelvin Gastelum (Still only 25 with eight wins against top opponents) means he is back on track.
Finally there’s model, come killer Luke Rockhold, who looked invincible until he took Michael Bisping for granted and got knocked out.
Depressingly these guys are being shelved to allow Georges St. Pierre to jump the queue for a title shot. Outside the top five it’s a little bit confused.
The legend that is Anderson Silva is slightly over the hill, and seems to be damaging his legacy by continuing to fight.
The same goes for ‘The Phenom’ Vitor Belfort, who since the USADA testing has not been himself. Their presence in the top 12 of the division points to a lack of new young blood coming through the ranks.
Watch out for the muscular frame of Brazilian Paolo Borrachinha. If he can add Johnny Hendricks to his list of finishes, then we might just have the next great Brazilian knockout artist on our hands.
Top five quality: 9/10
Hottest Prospect: Paolo Borrachinha (Age 26)
Champion: Cody Garbrandt
Cody Garbrandt could be the UFC’s next superstar. Young, hungry, hits hard and looks the part. The top three of the Bantamweight division all have history.
This will aid the UFC massively when they try and market the fight. The fight between The Ultimate Fighter coaches and ex-teammates, Garbrandt and number two ranked TJ Dillashaw is perhaps the most anticipated fight booked this year.
Dominick Cruz is great at building interest in a fight and one of the best movers in the game. Jimmie Rivera is circling hungrily, waiting for his shot with his perfect 5-0. Further down there are a few great wildcards.
Raphael Assuncao beats everyone outside the top three but fails against the elite, John Linekar is the wild man of the division with genuine knockout power and Aljamain Sterling talks a great game on social media and backs it up with his funky image and slick Jiu-Jitsu.
But the main threat for me is John Dodson. A two-time title challenger against Demetrius Johnson at flyweight, Dodson’s speed will cause the fighters in the Bantamweight all kinds of problems. All talents to watch out for.
The Frenchman Tom Duquesnoy only has one fight in the UFC, but has already been named the number one prospect in all of MMA in 2017.
Finally there’s Sean O’Malley, who put on a clinic in the Dana White Contender series and has a lot of people excited about him at the age of 22. A great top three, with some entertaining fighters further down the ranks.
However the lack of fighters on genuine hot streaks without losing damages the division’s chances of ranking higher on this list.
Top five: 7.5/10
Hottest prospect: Tom Duquesnoy (Age 24)
Champion: Tyron Woodley
Tyron Woodley has been receiving a lot of bad press for being too boring or cautious in his last two fights, but fans should be reminded that he has only lost once in his last nine bouts.
Stephen ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson remains one of the best strikers in the UFC. A match-up with the always exciting Jorge Masvidal should deliver sparks, with both men happy to exchange. Thompson’s two shots at Woodley’s belt mean he has to hope someone like Robbie Lawler dethrones the champ, because a trilogy fight is not what the fans want to see.
Speaking of Lawler, his war with Donald Cerrone was a showcase of two of the old guard slinging leather and reminding the young guns that they aren’t done yet.
Damian Maia is universally hailed as the best Jiu-Jitsu practitioner in the game, bar none. What makes this division stand out though, is the lower ranked fighters. A bulked up Rafael Dos Anjos, who doesn’t have to cut weight is a great all-rounder and a nightmare to deal with.
Kamaru Usman is the dark horse of the division. At 5-0 in the UFC, Usman is one of those grinders that people find impossible to get rid of.
In two fights time he could be a serious contender. Colby Covington is on a similar trajectory with his record of 7-1. Both men will have to surpass the insanely consistent Neil Magny and hold off the fiery Argentinian striker Santiago Ponzinibbio.
Mickey Gall is my rising prospect, because he already has a name after beating CM Punk and Sage Northcutt and has the skills to match. All in all everyone from 1-15 look like they could beat each other, which makes the division extremely watchable.
Top five: 7.5/10
Hottest Prospect: Mickey Gall (age 25)
Champion: Max Holloway
The featherweight division is a mix of talented young cats and experienced legends. This makes for a great blend and some entertaining match ups. Let’s start with the talent.
They don’t come much more gifted than 25-year-old champion Max Holloway, who hasn’t lost in 11 fights.
Those statistics are staggering. He could feasibly be the champion for the next 10 years.
Brian Ortega is flying under the radar but remains unbeaten and his fight with fellow up and comer Renato Moicano was a crazy exhibition of mad submission attempts and scrambles. Both men look lethal and could threaten the top five with a couple more wins.
‘The Korean Zombie’, Chan Sung Jung is a cult hero amongst fans for his rare submissions, his fights rarely go the distance.
A mention for Doo Ho Choi who won a legion of fans for his insane slug fest with Cub Swanson. His stock only rose after that loss. Swanson himself, along with Ricardo Lamas beat anyone outside the top three. Both are knocking on the door of the top five in the division.
Then there are the two legends of the sport. Hall of famers, easily. Poor José Aldo. It was all going so well before that Irish left hook from Conor McGregor landed.
People should not forget that before, Aldo hadn’t lost since 2006. He is still a pound-for-pound giant.
Then there’s Frankie Edgar. He’s beaten the who’s who of the UFC and he’s still schooling young high flyers like Yair Rodriguez.
Rodriguez himself is one of a kind. His arsenal of spinning kicks, wheel kicks, or whatever kick you can imagine could launch him to superstardom.
All in all, a classy top three with some brutes just behind them and an army of flashy, young fighters chomping at the bit behind them.
Top five: 8/10
Hottest prospect: Too many! Arnold Allen (23), Shane Burgos (26), Mirsad Bektic (26), Jason Knight (25)
Champion: Conor McGregor
The Notorious One’s division.
The one true superstar in the UFC and the rest of the division isn’t bad either. It is stacked not just with incredible fighters, but also with potentially marketable stars.
Conor is arguably the biggest name in all sport. It seems fruitless to repeat his achievements as they are already part of UFC folklore.
Of course there is Nate Diaz, who himself has only elevated his status and reputation being linked to McGregor.
Let’s not forget he beat Conor. The trilogy has to happen and it would almost certainly break the UFC pay-per-view record.
Then there’s Kevin Lee, who I personally see as the UFC’s version of Floyd Mayweather. He’s just 24 years old and already in the title picture. The way he has embraced the ‘villain’ role could be the best move he ever made.
He has the skills, the trash talk and the image to go all the way.
It’s hard to remember a top three as competitive as the lightweight trio of Conor McGregor, Tony Ferguson and Khabib Nurmagomedov.
Between the three of them, they have just two losses. Just to see any one of them fight each other is any MMA fan’s dream.
Their contrasting styles, personalities and images would make for intriguing build up and an even better fight. If the MMA gods are merciful, we will see them fight one day.
We haven’t even mentioned the two brawlers coaching The Ultimate Fighter this season, Justin Gaethje and Eddie Alvarez. Both men are as game as they come and love to stand in the pocket and scrap.
I predict fight of the year nominee. There’s almost too many fighters to mention.
Watch out for Mairbek Taisumov who is obliterating anything in his path. ‘Ragin’ Al Iaquinta is 8-2, Beneil Dariush 8-3 and James Vick 7-1. In any other division they would be top five contenders, however the talent pool is so deep that they will have to settle for lower rankings.
If that weren’t enough to contend with, we have Edson Barboza who is waiting in the shadows waiting to strike with his deadly Muay Thai and brutal leg kicks.
By far the most competitive division, I would love to list off more fighters on hot streaks, but I fear we would be here all day.
So much talent, so many good fights to make.
Top five: 9.5/10
Hottest prospect: Kevin Lee (Age 24)
Max Hamid, Pundit Arena