Mixed martial arts (MMA) is highly unpredictable and championship level MMA shares this sentiment. Simply put, anything can happen in a fight and we learned that throughout 2016, especially in the UFC, the world’s largest mixed martial arts promotion.
Specifically regarding title fights, we saw 10 new champions crowned in the UFC last year and that’s not including the crowning of two interim titleholders. We have seen titles tossed around like hot potatoes and fighters that we never expected to reach the pinnacle with belts around their waists.
It’s certainly an interesting time in the sport of mixed martial arts and 2017 could potentially bring more of the same as the sport continues to evolve and the competition continues to elevate.
With that being said, take a look at who we predicted to be wearing each UFC title by the end of the year below:
Women’s Strawweight: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Reigning UFC women’s strawweight champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk has formed a tight grip on the 115-pound division and in the process she has become one of the promotion’s most dominant champions. The Polish striker has defended her title four consecutive times over the likes of Jessica Penne, Valerie Letourneau, Claudia Gadelha and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, which is second most only behind longtime flyweight king Demetrious Johnson.
While Jedrzejczyk did face some adversity in her most recent fight against Kowalkiewicz at Nov. 12, 2016’s UFC 205, she has been relatively dominant throughout her title reign and she has appeared to improve each and every time out. She doesn’t have her next fight scheduled as of now, but I expect her to continue to improve on her dangerous skill set and end off 2017 with the strap still around her waist.
Women’s Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes
135-pound queen Amanda Nunes was in the discussion for “Fighter of the Year” in 2016, and for good reason, as she scored three victories throughout the year including two brutal stoppage victories over former champions Miesha Tate and Ronda Rousey, two of the very best female fighters of all-time.
The “Lioness” will likely take on the winner of January 28’s bout between surging contenders Valentina Schevchenko and Julianna Pena. Nunes has already beaten Shevchenko and some have argued that Pena is being rushed towards the top. Either way, I’d pick the Brazilian to topple either opponent.
Nunes hasn’t lost since dropping a TKO loss to Cat Zingano in 2014 and she’s won five straight since. Her strong grappling background coupled with her improving footwork and brutal power has made her a force to be reckoned with at 135-pounds and I expect her to continue to thrive in 2017.
Women’s Featherweight: Holly Holm
The inaugural women’s featherweight title will be on the line in the main event of February 11’s UFC 208 from Brooklyn, New York when former bantamweight champion Holly Holm faces off against Germaine de Randamie.
The future of this division is extremely unclear at the moment, as the UFC technically doesn’t have a 145-pound class filled with contenders. Apparently, the plan was to create the title for Invicta FC champion Cris Cyborg Justino to be able to compete in her own weight class rather than fighting at in catchweight bouts, but the Brazilian was recently flagged by USADA (United States Anti-Doping Agency) for a potential anti-doping violation.
Because of this uncertainty, I’m going to base this prediction off of my prediction for the upcoming fight. Both ladies are exciting strikers, and although Holm has hit some rough times as of late, I feel as if she is the more well-rounded and more experienced mixed martial artist. I’ll pick her to get by GDR next month and finish off the year with the title, that is if the division lasts that long.
Flyweight: Demetrious Johnson
This was undoubtedly the easiest prediction to make.
Flyweight king Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson, the only man in UFC history to sport 125-gold, has held the title since 2012, defending it an incredible nine times since.
Johnson most recently scored a decision victory over The Ultimate Fighter (TUF) 24 winner Tim Elliot, but a minor knee injury is expected to keep him on the sidelines until the spring.
When he returns, a trilogy bout with rightful No. 1-contender Joseph Benavidez may be on tap, but Johnson has beaten Benavidez twice already. “Mighty Mouse” has also already beaten six of the division’s top eight contenders.
I simply feel as if Johnson is one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the sport and I don’t see another flyweight beating him anytime soon.
Bantamweight: Cody Garbrandt
This was a more difficult prediction to make, but I’ll stick with current champion Cody Garbrandt.
The bantamweight division is more exciting than it’s ever been, but I also see it being led by a three man race at the top between Garbrandt and ex-champions Dominick Cruz and TJ Dillashaw.
Cruz beat Dillashaw last January to steal the title before “No Love” dominated “The Dominator” at Dec. 30, 2016’s UFC 207.
Garbrandt will likely take on either Cruz or Dillashaw next and while I expect Cruz to come back strong, I’d have to pick “No Love” given the one-sided nature of the first fight. Dillashaw on the other hand has looked impressive since losing to Cruz, but I feel as if Garbrandt would have success against him as well.
“No Love’s” deep background in wrestling and boxing paired with his brutal knockout power and electric footwork have made him a top fighter in the division and I expect we’ll see more of the same from the 25-year-old this year.
Featherweight: Max Holloway
This is one of my more bold predictions, in my opinion.
After suffering a brutal 13-second knockout loss to Conor McGregor in Dec. 2015, reigning 145-pound champion Jose Aldo bounced back with a dominant decision victory over Frankie Edgar last July. While Aldo is arguably the best featherweight of all-time, he’ll face a stiff test when he meets interim champion Max Holloway, which is a bout that is expected to take place in the coming months.
Holloway has won an incredible 10 straight and he has improved tremendously over time. Having already beaten five of the division’s top 10 contenders, “Blessed” has proved himself as a legitimate title threat. If he can indeed get by Aldo, which is no easy task, I see him holding onto the strap for the foreseeable future.
Lightweight: Conor McGregor
The lightweight division has long been considered to be amongst the best in MMA and after winning the 155-pound title last November, Conor McGregor will have a plethora of hungry challengers awaiting him.
The Irishman, however, is expected to take time off due to the birth of his first child with his longtime girlfriend Dee Devlin. With that being said, it’s currently unclear how many times he’ll fight this year.
When he does return, McGregor will likely take on either Khabib Nurmagomedov or Tony Ferguson, two men who are expected to fight for an interim title in March at UFC 209. Both men present difficult stylistic challenges for the “Notorious” one, but with McGregor’s constantly improving takedown defense and his already elite level striking and power, I see him keeping his title.
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson
No. 1-contender Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson nearly walked away with the title at UFC 205 and many felt as if he should’ve, but after five rounds of battle with champion Tyron Woodley, the judges deemed the bout a draw.
There have been talks of a potential rematch between Woodley and Thompson taking place in the coming months and if it does indeed take place, I’d pick Thompson to be victorious. Woodley did indeed have his moments in the first bout, rocking and hurting Thompson. In fact, many believe that “The Chosen One” deserved to win as well.
In my opinion, “Wonderboy” is the most technical striker in the division and perhaps in the sport as a whole, but I feel as if it took him too long to adjust his range and timing against Woodley. Perhaps he underestimated Woodley’s speed and explosiveness as well.
I expect Thompson to refine his skill set and strategy as well as continue to improve his wrestling heading into a rematch. The welterweight division is stacked, but there are very few fighters like “Wonderboy”, and I wouldn’t be surprised to see him with the title at the end of 2017.
Middleweight: Yoel Romero
Middleweight champion Michael Bisping is expected to defend his title against surging contender Yoel Romero this spring, and I simply see this being a difficult fight for “The Count”.
I’m not sure Bisping’s crisp striking, notable toughness and endless cardio will be enough to topple Romero’s Olympic level wrestling and super-human like knockout power, although the champion has surprised us before. “The Solider of God”, however, has won eight straight and he already owns victories over top contenders Chris Weidman and Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, although his win over “Jacare” was a bit controversial.
I expect Romero beat Bisping and take over the reigns at 185-pounds.
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones
Former UFC light heavyweight champion and former pound-for-pound king Jon “Bones” Jones never lost his 205-pound title inside the Octagon, but he was stripped of it due to various legal issue instead. Putting his issues outside of the cage aside, however, I feel as if Jones is the best fighter on the planet.
With that being said, he is currently serving out a year long suspension due to a failed drug test, but he will likely return this July. When he does return, I’d have to assume that it’d be in an immediate title fight.
Jones has already beaten current champion Daniel Cormier in dominant fashion and he’s come dangerously close to cleaning out the division. If “Bones” can clear up his issues away from fighting, I expect to see him reclaim his throne at 205-pounds.
Heavyweight: Stipe Miocic
This was a somewhat difficult prediction to make.
A week prior to Dec. 30, 2016’s UFC 207, I was picking Cain Velasquez to beat Fabricio Werdum and go on to fight Stipe Miocic for the title in a bout where I may have picked him to win as well. Velasquez was pulled from UFC 207, however, and recently underwent surgery. Because of this, it’s hard to tell whether or not he’ll even fight for the title in 2017.
In fact, it’s unclear who exactly Miocic will defend his title against next. The Croatian already owns victories over Werdum and Alistair Overeem and he proved he could compete against Junior Dos Santos when the two went back-and-forth for five rounds in Dec. 2014.
Miocic has continued to improve and although I feel as if Velasquez would give him his toughest test, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him beat any top heavyweight these days.
Who do you see wearing UFC gold in each division by the end of the year?