Interestingly, over nine and a half months into 2017, we have only witnessed one UFC title legitimately change hands.
And even this was an interim champion becoming an undisputed champion in the case of Max Holloway defeating Jose Aldo.
For the week that’s in it, with no upcoming UFC events this weekend, we decided to take a look at the likelihood of each current champion holding onto their title for 2017 and beyond while also analysing who their biggest threat is.
In part one, we inspect the top five male weight classes, with the remaining divisions to be evaluated next week.
Current Champion: Stipe Miocic
The Cleveland native is on an unstoppable ascent at the minute and probably isn’t receiving the credit he deserves. The part-time fireman has won his last four fights via first round knock-out. The recently announced UFC 218 co-main event of Francis Ngannou and Alistair Overeem will effectively act as an audition for both men to take on the current champ.
The UFC will surely be hoping Ngannou will come out victorious as it will be a much easier sell than a re-run of the Miocic-Overeem fight last September. This ended with the referee diving between both fighters to stop the contest as Miocic reigned down blows on the defenceless ‘Reem. The heavyweight division is becoming increasingly stale. Even though Werdum put on a Brazilian jiu-jitsu masterclass in his defeat of Walt Harris at the weekend, he is still two and two in his last four outings. Cain Velasquez could offer a fresh challenge for Miocic, but first he must overcome his injury woes.
Don’t expect to see Miocic losing his title any time soon. We will still be talking about who can dethrone the mighty Miocic this time next year and he will go on to become the greatest UFC heavyweight champ to date.
Current Champion: Daniel ‘DC’ Cormier
DC is on the back of a knockout loss to Jon Jones, which was later ruled a no-contest due to a failed drugs test from ‘Bones’ and he has since been reinstated as the champion. Cormier has stated his intentions to come back and show the world that he is the deserving light-heavyweight champion.
DC has taken to Twitter to challenge rising star, Volkan Oezdemir.
This would leave the current number one contender, Alexander Gustafsson, to watch on from the sidelines. The 30-year-old has been unfortunate to have lost to both Cormier and Jones by manner of close decision.
There are no other contenders who are in the discussion for the title right now. Although Anthony ‘Rumble’ Johnson continues to muse over a return to the light-heavyweight ranks, two knockout defeats to DC leaves him with a lot to do before becoming a genuine contender again.
DC and Oezdemir will be an explosive fight if it does proceed as expected. DC has shown he can ride the early wave against big hitters and I see him retaining his belt. My tip is Gustafsson to become light-heavyweight champion in 2018.
Current Champion: Michael Bisping
The middleweight division has been massively impacted by the return of George St-Pierre. To be more precise, he has been parachuted into an immediate title challenge against current champ, Bisping.
Ultimately, the winner of this fight won’t hold onto the belt for a considerable amount of time. If Bisping were to win then perhaps a unification with current interim title holder Robert Whittaker would be on the cards. Although the man from Clitheroe, Lancashire has mentioned retirement plans may not be all that far away. GSP would likely return to welterweight even if he is successful in landing the middleweight strap on November 4.
Other big names in the division include former champions Luke Rockhold and Chris Weidman. Rockhold is on the back of a comfortable victory over David Branch while Weidman overturned a three-fight losing streak by defeating Kevin Gastelum back in July.
Bisping to retain the title in November but ultimately a Middleweight Championship match-up between Whittaker and Rockhold is the fight to make for next year. Rockhold to regain the belt in 2018.
Current Champion: Tyron ‘The Choosen One’ Woodley
The Welterweight division is one of the most exciting at present and is rife with talent. However, Woodley remains the man to beat. Interestingly, all five of the top-ranked contenders have scheduled bouts, which make this division all the more intriguing.
The number three-ranked contender Demian Maia takes on Colby Covington, number two ‘Wonderboy’ Thompson will go up against number four Jorge ‘Gamebred’ Masvidal while number one Robbie Lawler has just been lined up to go to war with number five Rafael Dos Anjos. This makes for some very interesting match-ups before the year is out.
The only problem is that in his last four fights, The Choosen One has already defeated Maia, Wonderboy and Lawler. This will make it difficult for the UFC matchmakers to rush into a repeat of any of these pairings. Woodley has also been very vocal about landing a big pay day and has called out McGregor, Bisping and George St-Pierre among others in recent months.
Expect Lawler to make light work of RDA and this might be enough to land him a title shot. The Wonderboy-Masvidal fight will be a lot closer, although Thompson should get the win with his range and striking variation. If Woodley does not land a ‘money’ fight, then the Missouri man to defend successfully against Lawler next year leading to a trilogy fight with Wonderboy Thompson.
Current Champion: Conor McGregor
Returning from his foray into boxing, it looks like the UFC’s most celebrated champion, Conor McGregor, will return to the world of mixed martial arts. The most likely fight would be a throw down with newly crowned interim champion, Tony ‘El Cucuy’ Ferguson. This would make a clear path forward for the division. However, it is not clear if the Irishman will take this challenge or go with the potentially more lucrative Nate Diaz trilogy fight.
There are a number of other challengers in the 155-pound weight class. Justin Gaethje will take on Eddie Alvarez in December as they go head-to-head in the latest season of The Ultimate Fighter. Meanwhile, number two and three-ranked fighters Khabib Nurmagomedov and Edson Barboza, are both looking to make returns to the lightweight division and offer very healthy competition.
A successful title defence against ‘El Cucuy’ for ‘Mystic Mac’ on his UFC return. An eye-catching Gaethje victory over Alvarez will propel him to the number one spot and a potential Fight of the Year against McGregor in 2018.
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