Predicting the Next Champion in Each UFC Division

Dan Hiergesell@DHiergesellFeatured ColumnistMay 8, 2013

Predicting the Next Champion in Each UFC Division

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    Each and every UFC champion commands their own individual amount of respect.  By implementing different techniques, skills, preparations and overall personalities, these elite athletes have transcended their respective weight classes.

    But what makes the most popular titleholders in the world similar is the inevitability that one day they'll relinquish their gold to an aggressively hungry contender.

    Because no matter how good a champion is, they're always susceptible to defeat.  No matter how elusive their striking is or how perfected their ground game seems, someone always has the recipe to knock them off their throne.

    With that said, taking future matchups and potential divisional transitions into consideration, here's the next champion for each of the UFC's nine divisions.


    Remember these are predictions.  Feel free to comment with your own.

Women's Bantamweight: Sara McMann

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    At this point it seems crazy to think that anyone can defeat Ronda Rousey and turn her scorching stardom into a dying flame.

    But if there was any fighter in the UFC women's bantamweight division that possessed the wrestling, natural strength and hard-nosed mentality to stifle Rousey's submission skills, it's 32-year-old Sara McMann.

    McMann is one of the best wrestlers in the division, if not the best, and currently sits undefeated in her professional MMA career at 7-0, just like "Rowdy."

    She recently went three rounds with submission expert Shayna Baszler back in July of last year and dismantled Sheila Gaff by first-round TKO in her promotional debut.

    If Rousey gets past Cat Zingano and McMann can control her next opponent, the classic battle between wrestler and grappler would ensue.

Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez

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    There was a time when Joseph Benavidez was considered one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet.  That was before he met Demetrious "Might Mouse" Johnson at UFC 152 for the rights to the first UFC flyweight title.

    Johnson was simply too fast for Benavidez too handle en route to capturing the eyes of the judges and winning the championship by an iffy split decision.

    In any case, Benavidez is still only 28 years old and has racked up back-to-back wins since that disappointing pay-per-view loss.

    He's become more dominant than ever and seems destined to challenge Johnson for ultimate title rights sometime around the new year.  When that happens, the Team Alpha Male standout should showcase his innate ability to out-pace and out-work a quicker and more versatile opponent.

    Benavidez's UFC journey is simply just beginning.

Bantamweight: Michael McDonald

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    Similar to Joseph Benavidez, bantamweight phenom Michael McDonald has already tasted defeat in a UFC title fight.  It came against the elusively potent Renan Barao at UFC on Fuel TV 7 back in February.

    McDonald stood tall and stayed in the pocket, but it wasn't Barao's striking that stopped the 22-year-old in his tracks—it was his Brazilian jiu-jitsu.

    The loss was only McDonald's second in his 17-fight career and should only shine light on his game and the areas that need improvement from here on out.

    With that said, the kid is still one of the youngest contenders in the world and possesses senseless power in his hands that can leave any opponent stunned.

    Whether he ends up fighting Barao for a second time or Dominick Cruz after Cruz wins back his respect as the true champion, McDonald is the only fighter in the bantamweight division destined to occupy the crown next.

Featherweight: Ricardo Lamas

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    No longer can people look at the UFC featherweight division and count all relevant talent on one hand.  The core group of contenders has expanded beyond belief over the past 12 months and should transform Jose Aldo's weight class into one of the most exciting divisions around.

    Amongst those key challengers sits Ricardo Lamas, a five-year vet who has dominated each and every one of his four UFC fights, finishing three of them by TKO or submission.

    He has destroyed the who's who of contenders and only has one more name to get through before he takes on the champion for featherweight supremacy.

    That name is Chan-Sung Jung.

    Jung is most certainly one of the biggest gamers in the division, but he doesn't necessarily carry the ferocity and sheer primal instinct into all of his fights like Lamas does.

    Should "The Korean Zombie" finish his fourth fight in a row, then he'll be the one fighting for a UFC title, but it's Lamas that possesses the natural power, quick takedowns, heavy hands and dynamite ground-and-pound that will result in the featherweight belt changing hands.

Lightweight: Anthony Pettis

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    Sorry to burst any bubbles, but Anthony "Showtime" Pettis does not possess the capabilities as a 145-pounder to defeat featherweight king and pound-for-pound great Jose Aldo.

    Now while their upcoming fight should produce immediate fireworks until Aldo's strength and speed takes over, it's still a great experience for Pettis and will only help his cause for a future lightweight title shot.

    Because when it really comes down to it, that's where he belongs, isn't it?

    Pettis and current UFC lightweight champion Benson Henderson need their rematch.  Henderson needs a chance to revenge his only loss of the past six years and Pettis deserves the opportunity to prove his first win over "Smooth" wasn't a fluke.

    In any case, whether they meet at the end of the year or after Henderson squeaks his way past the next three lightweight contenders awaiting their own shot, Pettis still possesses the recipe to end Henderson's impressive lightweight reign.

    He's simply too athletic at 155 pounds and believes he can become one of those anomalies that actively occupy two UFC belts at one time.

Welterweight: Carlos Condit

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    The UFC welterweight division is one of the trickiest weight classes around to depict and predict for various reasons.

    First, it comes down to the fact that Georges St-Pierre appears to be as dominant as ever and should continue his reign for as long as he fights at 170.

    Secondly, once GSP decides to take on Anderson Silva and leave the division, he'll presumably vacate his championship throne forever.

    What this ultimately means is that until the current champion leaves his title behind for greener pastures, nobody is going to beat him.  This includes the powerful and offensively gifted Johny "Bigg Rigg" Hendricks.

    But once St-Pierre leaves, everything is up for grabs.  That means the top five contenders in the division will be battling for supremacy until one comes out on top.  That fighter will be none other than Carlos Condit.

    Sure, Condit has already had his time in the spotlight and lost his only true title fight opposite GSP, but "The Natural Born Killer" nearly knocked out the champion with a devastating head kick.  He also nearly ended Hendricks' iron-clad stampede atop the division.  He ate everything that kid had to offer and still landed his own shots.

    At the end of the day, Condit is still the second-best welterweight in the world.  He's too well-rounded to sit by and watch someone else grab UFC glory once the most dominant champion in welterweight history decides to take on an unbeatable Brazilian freak of nature.

Middleweight: Luke Rockhold

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    All it's going to take Luke Rockhold to gain the respect and divisional momentum to launch him into a title fight opposite current UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva is a decisive victory over legend Vitor Belfort.

    Now, while that's easier said than done, Rockhold isn't a pushover.  He isn't going to sit back and let the primal striking of Belfort take over.  He's going to tee off himself and showcase a knack for turning world-class kickboxing skills into Octagon dominance.

    Belfort just isn't ready to take on a more well-rounded and athletic fighter like Rockhold.  That's why the former Strikeforce champion should get past one Brazilian in order to throw his hat into the cage to take on another.

    Now, many people believe Silva's UFC career is going to end one of two ways: either he never loses and his contract runs out, or Chris Weidman wrestles his way to the biggest upset of all time.

    Well, this writer believes there's a third option if Rockhold can outwork Belfort later this month at UFC on FX 8.  People aren't necessarily accounting for that, and it's a shame considering Rockhold is 28, hasn't lost since 2007, has finished seven of his last nine bouts and is currently ranked No. 5 in the middleweight division without making his promotional debut.

    This could all be a malevolent mirage and Rockhold may not even stand a chance against Silva, but that's highly unlikely.  A 10-1 career record, with three title fight victories, speaks for itself.

Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson

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    It's borderline mind-splitting to entertain the idea of Jon Jones ever losing, but the fact of the matter is that the UFC light heavyweight champion and arguably greatest fighter on the planet has never been matched physically.

    Jones has always fought high-caliber contenders who in an alternate universe would be champions in their own right, but he's never tested his budding skill opposite a physical specimen similar to his own stature.

    So it's intriguing to picture Jones square off against a guy like Alexander Gustafsson.  The formidable Swede has practically bulled his way over every light heavyweight he's ever faced en route to a 7-1 UFC record.

    Gustafsson possesses a different sort of arsenal compared to other title contenders that "Bones" has tore through.  He's physically towering, capable of launching devastating strikes from any position, utilizes excellent angles and can adapt to any environment during a fight.

    A recent injury has derailed Gustafsson's immediate title hopes, but it wasn't like he was guaranteed to win over a promising UFC title threat like Gegard Mousasi.

    In any event, "The Mauler" is on the fast track to a championship bout opposite the seemingly unstoppable Jones.  If he can take away Jones' range, impose his will inside and take the fight to the later rounds, the light heavyweight division may have an international champion within the next year.

Heavyweight: Junior dos Santos

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    Considering Cain Velasquez has already dismantled Antonio "Bigfoot" Silva, Alistair Overeem is better suited for a runway shoot than Octagon battle and guys like Mark Hunt and Roy Nelson are physically outmatched, former UFC heavyweight champion Junior dos Santos is the only intelligent choice to take back what's rightfully his.

    Beating Velasquez for a second time isn't going to come easy, especially considering the Brazilian has to punch his way through the hard Samoan skull of a resurgent Hunt, but dos Santos has all the available tools to make another run at the biggest title in mixed martial arts.

    For "Cigano," getting back to his roots is going to be key in order to redetermine and reevaluate his game plan when facing Velasquez for a third time.  Dos Santos has to hone his submission skills, evolve as a wrestler and understand that boxing isn't everything.

    If he can do that, as well as keep his distance and circle away from any and all takedown attempts, the 28-year-old has a realistic chance to finish Velasquez some time around New Year's and turn back the clock to the good old days.


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