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By: Cameron Lyman, MMATorch Contributor
Currently, the UFC boasts nine weight classes, with talks of adding a tenth (115 pound division) and possibly 11th (145 pound women's division) in the future. As it stands now, there are really only three dominant champions: Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jon Jones, and eventually they too will either vacate or lose their titles. I've decided to take a look into my crystal ball and give my two cents on who I believe will be next to wear UFC gold in each division.
Women's Bantamweight Division (Current Champ: Ronda Rousey) - This division is still so new that picking the next champ is a bit silly. Looking down the list of female employees in the UFC, there is only one name that stands out as the one to dethrone Rowdy Ronda Rousey, and that is Sara McMann. She is a former Olympic wrestler and is currently undefeated in her professional career. As well, she is very well rounded and has proven her ability on the big stage with her dominant win over Sheila Gaff. By most accounts, McMann should have gotten a chance to coach opposite Rousey on TUF 18 when Cat Zingano pulled out due to injury. With another win in the Octagon, it is likely that she will get the chance to scrap for the strap, and she absolutely has the tools to become the second ever female UFC champ.
Flyweight Division (Current Champ: Demetrious Johnson) - Mighty Mouse has twice defended his belt, the first time coming against my pick for the division's next champion: Joe Benavidez. This is an easy pick here. Benavidez put up a good fight in their first match and has shown improvements in his last two showings. John Moraga has a chance at the belt, but I don't see him being able to deal with the speed of Mighty Mouse. If Benavidez can rack up another impressive win, I see him capitalizing on the chance to fight for gold with a victory in late 2013.
Bantamweight Division (Current Champ Dominic Cruz: Interim Champ Renen Barao) - Well the easy answer here is Renen Barao of course, but I will stray from the path of least resistance. If Urijah Faber is able to post another win over a top-five bantamweight, he can't be denied another title shot. Faber has looked increasingly impressive late into his career and absolutely has the best chance of the current bantamweight field of capturing the title. Eddie Wineland does not quite have the well rounded game needed to capture the title from Barao. I see a rematch with Barao and Faber playing out around the new year.
Featherweight Division (Current Champ Jose Aldo) - Things get a little more interesting here as this is a division absolutely stacked with contenders. Cub Swanson, Ricardo Lamas, Chan Sung Jung, and Dennis Siver all have a very real chance at dethroning Aldo. However, I think it will be a lightweight dropping to featherweight who will next wear the featherweight belt: Anthony Pettis. He is an absolute beast in the cage with his unique and exciting striking game that he showed off with knockouts of Joe Lauzon and Donald Cerrone. While his weakness may be fighting off his back, I don't see that coming into play in the upcoming superfight with Aldo. Look for Pettis to shock us all by finishing Aldo in the championship rounds.
Lightweight Division (Current Champ Ben Henderson) - Henderson has not made a great case for himself as a dominant champion. He has gone to decision in his last seven wins, and two of those three were split-decisions. However, to be the champ, you have to convincingly beat the champ, and looking at the current lightweight pool, there is only one name that I believe has what it takes to wear the strap. While T.J. Grant looked impressive against Gray Maynard, he has quite a few holes in his game. As much as I would love to see two Canadian champs, I don't see Grant taking the belt from Henderson. However, Khabib Nurmagomedov has looked absolutely incredible in his four fights in the UFC lightweight division. He has shown that he will fight where his opponent is weakest, a mark of a successful fighter and absolutely manhandled Abel Trujillo in his most recent fight. If he can rack up two impressive wins over a top 10 and then top five opponent, I see him giving Benson Henderson his hardest fight to date.
Welterweight Division (Current Champ Georges St-Pierre) - While GSP's last eleven fights have gone to decision, he has won almost every round. I really don't see GSP losing his belt as he is simply too well rounded of a fighter. He continually puts his opponents where they are weakest, and never stops attacking. I don't see him allowing Hendricks to land that big left and instead will tire Big Rig out by the third round. Look for GSP to defend once or twice more if not move up (or down) for a superfight, vacating his belt. This will set off a tournament of sorts in the division, with the title fight coming between Rory MacDonald and either Carlos Condit, Johnny Hendricks, or Jake Ellenberger. If MacDonald can stay injury free, I see him defeating whoever stands across from him in the cage to become the next welterweight champ.
Middleweight Division (Current Champ Anderson Silva) - I don't believe anyone except Jon Jones has the ability to defeat Anderson Silva. While Weidman does indeed have a decent chance, I really don't see him beating the champ. Silva currently has the potential of fighting ten more times in the Octagon but I don't see him fighting more than four times in the middleweight division, leaving only for potential one-off superfights. I predict that Silva will retire in no more than two years and who knows what the division will look like then. However, I said I will look into my crystal ball and the answer it is telling me is that the next Middleweight Champion will be Ronaldo Souza. I see Jacare beating anyone in the top 10, and believe that he has all the tools needed to become the next Middleweight Champion.
Light Heavyweight Division (Current Champ Jon Jones): Look for Jones to defend his belt against Machida, Gustafsson, and anyone else they put against him before his inevitable move up to heavyweight. After vacating the belt, there are a number of fighters in this division who have the ability to capture UFC gold. However, like featherweight, I see the next champion coming from another division. If Daniel Cormier can successfully make 205, I see him capturing the belt after Jones vacates. He has the ability to control and knockout anyone he faces, and I don't see him staying at heavyweight much longer.
Heavyweight Division (Current Champ Cain Velasquez): Aside from flyweight, this is the UFC's weakest division. There are only two names in this division that have a chance at wearing the UFC strap outside of the current Champ: Alistair Overeem and Junior Dos Santos. I think Velasquez has the game to beat both of these heavyweights and will only lose his belt when Jon Jones moves up to the division. If Jones can put on the mass and continue to improve his game, I see him as being the only one with the current ability to take the heavyweight strap from Velasquez.
So there are my predictions, kids. Feel free to agree or disagree, but remember this is the fight game and anything can happen in the Octagon.
[Cain Velasquez art by Grant Gould (c) MMATorch.com]
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