Holding the UFC World Title carries the stamp of being known as the best fighter in the world at each weight class. The UFC is the premier mixed martial arts organization in the world, minting the belt as the pinnacle of combat sports. Eight men’s weight classes, two women’s weight classes cover the course of the organization. Along with winning the belt comes forth even a greater challenge, defending the belt. A feat which theoretically establishes, or validates the champion as far as those who compete, and are around the sport are concerned.
With every champion of each weight division having contested their belt this year, this will analyze the next wave of upcoming title fights in each division, and what percentage exists that a new champion be crowned. This is the second installment of “Which title changes hands?”.
Heavyweight Division Champion:
At the Heavyweight division sits a newly crowned champion, Fabrício Werdum. The Brazilian stole the belt from defending champion Cain Velasquez with a second round guillotine finish at UFC 188 in Mexico City, Mexico in June. Upon winning the belt, and doing so in such devastating fashion, the response from many was that Werdum can arguably be considered as the greatest heavyweight of all time, as he has secured finishes over two fighters once considered ahead of him, Fedor Emelianenko, and Cain Velasquez respectively. The two are said by Dana White to be pitted in a rematch, though a date and location have not yet been set. Looking at the rematch, it would be hard to say that Cain is going to win the belt back, Werdum beat him on the feet, and on the ground, then to the surprise of many, Werdum negated Velasquez’ biggest asset, his gas tank. Werdum showed that he was the more fresh fighter after a grueling start to the fight, ultimately finishing off the former champion in the second. It will be noted the fight took place in Mexico City, which has an elevation of 7,382 feet above sea level. The second fight will likely take place in less taxing conditions. That being said, there is not enough evidence to suggest that Velasquez reclaims the belt.
Chance of a new champion: 30%
Light Heavyweight Division Champion:
The Light Heavyweight division has undergone some turmoil over the last year, its champion, and number one pound-for-pound fighter, Jon Jones had his legal troubles. This forced the UFC to strip Jones of his title, as there would be a possibility of him not being able to return to action within a year, and by the new UFC policy, a new champion would have to be crowned. Enter Daniel Cormier, once beaten by Jones in the former champ’s last outing, he was awarded a chance to again compete for the belt which eluded him. This time opposite the dangerous Anthony Johnson. Cormier made the most of his second opportunity and defeated Johnson via submission in the third round of the contest. With Jon Jones still handling his legal issues, Cormier is slated to face off against former title challenger Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 192 in Houston, Texas. As a fighter with length, and good footwork, Gustafsson presents an interesting challenge for Cormier, as the talented wrestler has not faced a striker with the movement capability that Gustafsson possesses. That being said, Cormier closes distance very well, and has the grappling ability to take anyone down. Gustafsson has been taken down and submitted early in his career by a wrestler who is of lesser talent than Cormier, Phil Davis. Albeit early in the Swede’s career, Cormier is a much tougher opponent. The current challenger should put up a fair bit of resistance, though the champion should retain.
Chance of a new champion: 40%
Middleweight Division Champion:
Middleweight champion Chris Weidman has been dominant in his three defenses of the title. His most recent defense came at the dismantling of the always dangerous Vitor Belfort at UFC 187 by way of first round technical knockout. Weidman has not garnered the respect he feels he deserves, that is unfortunate as he is one of the true star talents of this sport. His next opponent has looked very dominant himself over his four fight win streak in the UFC. Luke Rockhold has won all of his last four fights by way of stoppage, three via submission, one by technical knockout. Rockhold boasts an exceptional grappling acumen to go along with a serviceable striking game. The issue in this matchup is Weidman also brings with him stellar grappling, and a better striking attack than that of Rockhold, thus effectively cancelling the biggest strengths of the challenger. Sure, there are intangibles which come into play in any contest, yet Weidman looks poised to be the man to hang onto that middleweight strap for the foreseeable future. The two face off at UFC 194 in the Co-main event.
Chance of a new champion: 15%
Welterweight Division Champion:
It seems as though, there are many that are quick to pick against Robbie Lawler holding onto his welterweight championship. Lawler defeated Johny Hendricks to capture the belt, and most recently made his first defense in arguably the greatest fight of all time against Rory MacDonald. MacDonald was a popular pick to unseat the champion going into their fight at UFC 189 in Las Vegas. The two battered each for four and a half rounds until Lawler ultimately landed the final blow which sent a shockwave through the challenger, and sent him to the canvas, unable to continue. Lawler has since been penciled in to attempt to defend his belt once more against a fighter coming off a brutal finish in his return fight opposite Thiago Alves, Carlos Condit. Condit has held captured gold before as an interim title holder to Georges St. Pierre’s welterweight title. Condit knows the magnitude of the moment of being in a championship fight, though Lawler has weathered his share of storms. The fight is set for UFC 195 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Both fighters favor to stand and trade, this could be another instant classic and neither holds any qualms against taking, and dishing out punishment. A key factor may potentially be Condit’s movement on the feet. He lands, and circles out of danger very well, and with his long limbs could be a problem for Lawler. Then it goes back to counting out Lawler, Lawler’s power, and crisp kickboxing can end any fight early. His ability to take damage is not in question either. Get your tickets to this matchup.
Chance of a new champion: 50%
Lightweight Division Champion:
Rafael Dos Anjos
Anthony Pettis was supposed to rule atop the lightweight division for quite awhile, the Wheaties box cover, and entertaining fighting style. Rafael Dos Anjos was just to be a second defense of the title on the championship resume of Pettis. That is until Dos Anjos rewrote the books and thoroughly dominated Pettis enroute to a unanimous decision victory at UFC 185 in Dallas, Texas. Dos Anjos has been on the shelf since then, meanwhile, Donald Cerrone has been racking up wins in impressive fashion. Cerrone has now landed himself the gig to challenge for the lightweight championship of Dos Anjos. The two have squared off once before, Dos Anjos getting the best of Cerrone back in August of 2013, securing a unanimous decision victory over Cowboy. Things have changed for both fighters, and they may go very different this time around. Cerrone has looked much more focused, as he has changed his fight week approach to fights to help calm his once overly present nerves. Both very good strikers, Cerrone is likely still the better of the two on the feet, Dos Anjos likely the better wrestler, with submission game being a push. Much like the welterweight matchup of Lawler vs Condit, this fight can be one for the ages, and can be thought to go either way.
Chance of a new champion: 49.9%
Featherweight Division Champion: Jose Aldo / Conor McGregor (Interim)
Jose Aldo has held his featherweight title dating back to his days at WEC, nine consecutive defenses have been made of the featherweight belt between the two promotions. In addition to the nine defenses, Aldo has not been defeated in nearly ten years of competition, his last loss coming at the hands of Luciano Azevedo via rear naked choke in November of 2005 in the Jungle Fight promotion. The fighter who shares the belt with Aldo is a brash, super talent hailing from Dublin, Ireland, Conor McGregor. McGregor burst onto the scene, and has thus talked, and walked his way through every opponent placed in front of him. The two belt holders were slated to square off in Las Vegas at UFC 189, Aldo had to withdraw due to a rib injury sustained in training. The UFC brought into play the interim title where McGregor dispatched of number one contender Chad Mendes inside the second round, just as McGregor had predicted. Now the two champs have another date to dance, December 12th in Las Vegas, Nevada, the featherweight title will be unified. The matchup of the two strikers has fireworks spelled across it. Though they are both strikers, they both boast a very different approach to their attack. Aldo being the more linear fighter, comes forward in a straight line with leg kicks, and tight boxing. McGregor uses a wide karate-style stance to wing flashy kicks to set up his big straights while employing movement cutting off all angles. McGregor has seemingly gotten into Aldo’s head on numerous occasions, and that may play a big role in this showdown.
Chance interim unifies: 70%
Bantamweight Division Champion:
TJ Dillashaw has stopped former bantamweight title holder twice. Renan Barao was once arguably considered one of the top fighters in any weight class. In doing so, Dillashaw used a gameplan drawn up by his head coach, Duane Ludwig which showed a style of footwork that had a look to it at an eye’s glance, similar to that of Dominick Cruz. Rapid, fast paced, darting in and out of attacking positions from multiple angles. It worked, and Dillashaw looked great doing it. He now will have to prove he is the superior fighter to the man who never lost his belt, as it was only stripped due to extended time off due to injury. Though no official date or location is set, it would be expected to be scheduled against Dominick Cruz. Cruz is the former bantamweight champion, and he is more determined than ever to claim what he believes is rightfully his. Cruz has the very best footwork in mixed martial arts, it’s not even arguable. There are questions upon his return however, will he be the same? Will his knee hold up? Valid questions those certainly are, but operating off the pretence that the Cruz of old, the Cruz that blasted Mizugaki in the first round of his initial return, is the Cruz that will show up opposite Dillashaw, it would be hard to write that Cruz off.
Chance of a new champion: 75%
W. Bantamweight Division Champion:
Ronda Rousey has walked through each and every one of her opponents, and that might be lightly putting it. There has literally been zero threat, and almost no resistance to her bantamweight title. UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia is the destination for this bout, and without many options to book outside of rematches, the UFC went with a fighter that can possibly give Ronda her biggest test, the mist accomplished technical fighter outside of herself, Holly Holm. Holm is the former two time Ring magazine fighter of the year. A very successful career in boxing has led Holm down the bath to test her skills in mixed martial arts, she entered the UFC holding 7-0 perfect record, and has since continued her undefeated run, boasting a 9-0 mark. Ronda has been said to have made major improvements in her striking, her power was in display in her recent defense over Bethe Correia at UFC 190 in Brazil, as she knocked the Brazilian out just thirty four seconds into the very first round. Holly Holm is on a different level with her hands however, and will be a true test should Ronda decide to stand with her. Holm also receives arguably the best game planning at Jackson’s camp in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and given the amount of time in lead up to the fight, expect a game plan similar to that of Carlos Condit vs Nick Diaz. If Holm can keep this standing in a striking affair, things can be very interesting, should Ronda have her way on the ground, it could be a short night.
Chance of a new champion: 35%
Flyweight Division Champion:
The flyweight division has only had one champion, and that one champion being Demetrious Johnson. Johnson has been so dominant in his run atop the heap that there are some absurd statements that he is boring. Boring is never a word that should be associated with a champion who has rendered his opponents useless, finishing four title challengers in his six defenses. Johnson is arguably the best fighter in the sport at the moment, a very strong case can be made for such a position. Johnson next faces off against a fighter he has already beaten by way of unanimous decision, John Dodson. This will be the first of the championship belts to be contested from now, as the two square off this weekend at UFC 191 in Las Vegas, Nevada. The pair’s first bout went with Dodson actually catching the champion three times, sending Johnson to the deck, only to have Johnson take over in the championship rounds to secure the victory. There is nothing to suggest this will go any different, Dodson has not looked as explosive as of late, whereas Johnson has continued to look better, and better. Johnson is technically sound, great everywhere, and has the energy to look the same in round five, as he had in round one.
Chance of a new champion: 10%
W. Strawweight Division Champion:
The newest division in the UFC, the women’s strawweight division, has already seen two champions. Former champion Carla Esparza, who won the belt in her victory over Rose Namajunas in The Ultimate Fighter Finale of the introductory strawweight division, was knocked out by Jędrzejczyk at UFC 185 in Dallas, Texas. Joanna has since had one title defense over Jessica Penne at UFC Fight Night in Berlin, Germany, Penne suffered the same fate at Esparza, being knocked out by the Polish champion. With her last outing being only viewable on UFC’s Fight Pass, Jędrzejczyk will have an enormous opportunity to showcase her skills opposite Valerie Létourneau on the grand scale as co-main event to Rousey vs Holm, at UFC 193 in Melbourne, Australia. Valerie Létourneau presents a very durable opponent, a fighter who can withstand punishment, and give forth her own. Létourneau’s striking game is kickboxing based, and while she is a purple belt on the ground, she is not likely to threaten Joanna’s impressive takedown defense. With this contest taking place on the feet its most likely scenario, it would hard to pick against Jędrzejczyk.
Chance of a new champion: 5%
Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz in the works for UFC 223
UFC 223 looks to add a variety of intriguing bouts. With Paul Felder vs. Al Iaquinta reportedly set for the unannounced UFC 223 card, the promotion looks to add a high stakes female flyweight match-up. According to MMANYTT.com, sources confirmed a bout between Felice Herrig and Karolina Kowalkiewicz, is in the works for the pay-per-view card.
Assuming the match-up does come to be, both women have much to gain from a victory. For Herrig, she currently sits on a four-fight win streak. A streak in which the strawweight contender defeated Kailin Curran, Alexa Grasso, Justine Kish, and Cortney Casey. The MMA veteran, Herrig, began fighting professionally in 2009. As of late, her issues with the marketing machine that is the UFC have intensified.
After demonstrating her technical prowess over Justine Kish at UFC Fight Night 122: Chiesa vs. Lee, Herrig put her emotions on display. She stated at the post-fight media scrum, “Sometimes, I feel like, I’m not young and beautiful enough for the UFC to want to promote me. And it’s sad because I’ve really worked so hard to be here and it’s hard to see these people who’ve not been through what I’ve been through. Who just got into the UFC at the right time. They’re getting all these opportunities and I see how hard I work to get here and it’s just like, it doesn’t matter. I just feel like, ‘I’m not pretty enough and I’m not getting any younger'”.
A frustrated Felice Herrig then spoke to MMAJunkie.com in December. She claimed, “Aside from (former UFC women’s strawweight champ) Joanna (Jedrzejczyk), I’m the only strawweight who’s gone on a four-fight winning streak. That’s a fact. At this point, I want to fight someone in the top 10. It doesn’t really make sense for me to keep fighting girls that are ranked below me. That’s the whole point. If I want to keep working my way up. I fight the most dangerous girls outside the top 10”. The #9 ranked women’s flyweight has a point. In her UFC career, she recorded one loss in six appearances. Yet, she has one co-main event booking, while fighters like Michelle Waterson, booked the main event in her second UFC bout. In Waterson’s third bout, she received a co-main event scheduling. Understandably, Felice Herrig is upset with her situation.
Later in her interview, Herrig brought up Kowalkiewicz as a potential next opponent. “For whatever reason, I really want to fight Karolina. I just think that would be an exciting fight… Stylistically, I really like that fight. She’s ranked above (me), and it may be a good gauge for me,” she stated. Right now, it looks like Herrig is close to getting what she wants.
Kowalkiewicz last fought in her native country of Poland on the UFC Fight Pass card, UFC Fight Night 118: Cowboy vs. Till, in October. The Polish star defeated Jody Esquibel, after losing consecutive contests to former UFC female strawweight champion, Joanna Jedrzejcyk and Claudia Gadelha, respectively.
A win for either makes a good case for the next or an eventual title challenger. Kowalkiewicz holds a victory over current division champion, Rose Namajunas. While a win for Herrig would further establish her impressive win streak and undoubtedly give her the boost in the rankings she deserves.
Douglas Lima found out about change to co-main event at Bellator 192 from the internet
Bellator 192 fight card has gone through a shake-up over the past week. Bellator president Scott Coker revealed last week that the scheduled welterweight title fight between Rory MacDonald and champion Douglas Lima will now be serving as the co-main event and the heavyweight matchup between Chael Sonnen and Rampage Jackson would instead take top billing. At the time no explanation was made for the change. Monday Douglas Lima was a guest on The MMA Hour with Ariel Helwani to discuss this change.
“I was little bummed, but it is what it is, it’s business you know. I was pretty excited you know? Being the main event, having Rampage fight as the co-main event, I was happy there. Then I was bummed out that they changed it back to the co-main event. It’s not going to change a thing for me, I’m just focusing on the fight.”
Lima has been notoriously looked over in the eyes of fight fans. A longtime member of Bellator and a two-time champion has not gotten the notice he deserves and hopes to get.
“I found out through the internet, nobody tells me anything, I didn’t know. the same thing happened in New York, I thought my fight would be before the two main events there, but it ended up being the first fight of the night on Pay-Per-View. Hopefully, it doesn’t take anything away from the fight, you know spotlight and stuff.”
Lima is looking to make all the naysayers take notice at Bellator 192 that takes place at The Forum in Inglewood, Califonia on January 20th.
“This is the fight I’ve been waiting for for a long time. To get my name out there, to get people to know who I am. I’ve been delivering a lot of good fights, fights fans like to watch but no attention yet. I’m hoping though that after a win over Rory this week it will really put my name out there and show all these welterweights out there that I am for real.”
Al Iaquinta vs. Paul Felder rescheduled for UFC 223 in April
MMA fans around the world wept in deep sorrow when Al Iaquinta withdrew from a bout scheduled for UFC 218 against Paul Felder. Weep no more, for Paul Felder faces Al Iaquinta at UFC 223. Rumblings behind the match-up, first reported by FloCombat.com, came Sunday night before MMAFighting.com confirmed the bout scheduled for unannounced pay-per-view card, later in the evening.
The original bout fell through due to a severe knee injury to Iaquinta. He spoke to BJ Penn Radio about the injury nearly a week before the December 2nd, PPV event in Detriot. The Long Island real estate agent claimed, “I tore my PCL and my MCL maybe three or four months ago… for me to really put in a full training camp and do what I need to do, I would’ve had to just focus on fighting and physical therapy… it was the kind of thing where all roads led to me not kind of taking a risk and fighting on December 2nd”.
Iaquinta went on to say, “I kind of accepted the fight, but I never signed a bout agreement… I was kind of told I had to give them an answer pretty quick. It was a fight I thought I really wanted. I thought it was a good stylistic match-up for me, so I accepted the fight, and then thinking about it over the course of a day, we realized it probably wasn’t a smart decision for my health, for everything”.
An outspoken lightweight, he is not the first of his kind. Al Iaquinta is no stranger to idly waiting on the sideline for the UFC to make a move. Contract disputes and other bad strokes of luck left the Serra-Longo with three octagon appearances since 2015. The feud between Iaquinta and the promotion comes as a surprise when looking at the credentials of the aforementioned fighter. With an octagon record of 8-2, he earned notoriety as one of the best lightweights in the world. During his time in the UFC, he defeated Kevin Lee, Ross Pearson, Joe Lauzon, Jorge Masvidal, and most recently Diego Sanchez.
His opponent, “The Irish Dragon”, Paul Felder, holds an impressive UFC record of his own. At 7-3, Felder defeated tough competition as well. His record notes wins over Daron Cruickshank, Jason Saggo, Stevie Ray, and Charles Oliveira. Even more impressive than his record, his knockout ratio. At this stage of his career, Felder knockouts 55% of his opponents (10 knockouts in 18 career pro bouts).
Like his opponent Iaquinta, Paul Felder has a separate career outside of fighting. As many should notice, Felder found a role as a color commentator with the promotion he fights for. Following the footsteps in a long line of fighters before him, Felder announced multiple events alongside another new addition to the UFC broadcast team, Brendan Fitzgerald.
PPV card, UFC 223 and its location are not official yet. Despite a lack of an announcement, the event takes place in Brooklyn, New York at the Barclays Centre, according to multiple reports. Currently, the card features no official bouts. Reports state Felice Herrig vs. Karolina Kowalkiewicz (per Jim Edwards), and Evan Dunham vs. Mairbek Taisumov (per Farah Hannoun) are both in the works for UFC 223.
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