Sorting Out Next Number One Contender in Each UFC Division

Riley Kontek@@BigRIlesMMAFeatured ColumnistMay 21, 2013

Sorting Out Next Number One Contender in Each UFC Division

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    The UFC currently has a few divisions where there is a logjam for top contenders to the respective titles. There are a number of top guys who could get the title shot if a number of different scenarios go to plan.

    Of course, title shots are often about timing and luck. If you remember, Erik Koch was set to get a title shot last year before an injury took him out of that spot altogether. For Koch, timing was more of his friend than any sort of impressive streak, even though he was on a roll.

    Here is a look at the next top contender after the current man (or woman) fighting for the title moves out of the way.

Women's Bantamweight: Sara McMann

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    The current challenger to champion Ronda Rousey is Cat Zingano, but she may not be the biggest threat to the former Olympic judoka. In fact, another former Olympian may be the woman to finally get Rousey out of the first round and give her a run for her money.

    Earning a silver medal in wrestling, Sara McMann has transitioned nicely to the UFC using her wrestling and impressive top-game grappling. She is still not the most impressive striker, but nor is Rousey.

    Rousey's whole game involves taking her opponent down and earning a tap out via armbar. McMann may not be that easy to take down.

    She is undefeated like Rousey and coming off an absolute domination of Sheila Gaff in her debut. After the Zingano-Rousey scrap, McMann should be next in line.

Flyweight: Joseph Benavidez

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    Joseph Benavidez has fought twice for the bantamweight title unsuccessfully, as well as the flyweight belt once. However, he is still the second best flyweight in the world and should get the next crack at the championship.

    Right now, John Moraga is challenging for Demetrious Johnson's title at UFC on Fox 8. The winner of that bout would likely have to defend it against the Team Alpha Male animal that is Benavidez.

    Should Johnson retain against Moraga, it would set up an intriguing rematch from UFC 152. If Benavidez won, it would set up an intriguing rubber match that could help the slumping flyweight division.

Bantamweight: Urijah Faber

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    Bantamweight is a complete mess right now. Dominick Cruz is still the champion (even though he has been injured since Reagan was in office); Renan Barao is the interim champion and Eddie Wineland is the current top contender to Barao. You can see quite the logjam here.

    However, the man who is constantly in the title hunt is the next in line after Wineland gets his crack at gold. That man is Team Alpha Male's Urijah Faber.

    Faber has not fared well in title bouts recently, but it cannot be denied that he is still the top contender. He has beaten everyone else put in his path, most recently Ivan Menjivar and Scott Jorgensen (both arguably top-10 bantamweights).

    Whether fans are sick of it or not, Faber may find himself fighting for gold in the near future.

Featherweight: Chad Mendes

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    Three male weight divisions, three Team Alpha Male fighters. 

    Since dropping his title bid to champion Jose Aldo, Chad Mendes has been hellbent to get back to that position. However, he will have to wait until Aldo matches Anthony Pettis at UFC 163 later this year.

    Sure, two of Mendes's opponents have been nothing to write home about—Cody McKenzie and Yaotzin Meza—but he did knock them out in quick fashion.

    Plus, his most recent fight was against fellow top-10 fighter Darren Elkins. All Mendes needed was 68 seconds to dispatch of the formerly undefeated-at-featherweight fighter to stamp his top contendership. 

    He is still a dangerous man in terms of his ability to take the title off either Aldo or Pettis.

Lightweight: TJ Grant-Gray Maynard

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    This matchup is already set for UFC 160, so we won't go much into it. 

    Both TJ Grant and Gray Maynard have proven to be top contenders in the lightweight division. Grant has never seen a UFC title shot, while Maynard had two opportunities to get gold in his epic rivalry with Frankie Edgar.

    Other than this fight, there is no clear No. 1 contender. Therefore, we will settle with the winner of this fight.

Welterweight: Jake Ellenberger-Rory MacDonald

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    This one may be some wishful thinking, but the bout between Jake Ellenberger and Rory MacDonald at UFC on Fox 8 should provide the next challenger at welterweight. That would follow the winner of the title fight between Georges St. Pierre and Johny Hendricks, whenever that finally goes down.

    MacDonald would likely not take the title shot with a win over Ellenberger simply because GSP is his teammate. That has been the consensus, but if Hendricks were to win the title, MacDonald would certainly try to avenge his training partner's loss.

    Ellenberger is the forgotten man despite just one loss in his past nine fights (a knockout loss to Martin Kampmann). He has been a knockout machine who has few chinks in his armor.

    Many would love to see the winner of this bout get a title shot in the near future.

Middleweight: Vitor Belfort

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    Chris Weidman is set to challenge for Anderson Silva's title at UFC 162, but there is already a top contender in many people's minds. That man is Vitor Belfort, a winner at this past weekend's UFC on FX 8.

    TRT talk aside, as it is getting super annoying, Belfort has been ravaging the middleweight division. Take away his recent title losses at 205 to Jon Jones and his home of 185 against Anderson Silva (front kick heard 'round the world), Belfort has been a beast.

    His last two wins have come via vicious head kick. Perhaps that is a message to Silva that he can knockout people out with his feet as well.

Light Heavyweight: Alexander Gustafsson

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    This is likely the most controversial pick of the bunch because there are a lot of people who suggest that Lyoto Machida is the top man to challenge Jon Jones.

    While Machida definitely has an argument, he's had an unsuccessful title shot against Jones. Further than that, his last fight with Dan Henderson was so boring, mutes were yelling at their TVs in frustration.

    As for Gustafsson, he is a budding star coming off a huge victory against former title holder Mauricio Rua. He has the chance to create an incredible rivalry with Jones, as both are young guys, and he has the body dimensions to add intrigue to a fight with the champ.

    Sure, his biggest weakness is wrestling, but how will he get better at it if he doesn't compete against top wrestlers? Either way, this is the man who should challenge Jones next.

Heavyweight: Junior Dos Santos-Mark Hunt

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    This is another one that is pretty much a foregone conclusion.

    This weekend, Cain Velasquez defends his title against Antonio Silva, but the co-main event sees two top heavyweights in Junior dos Santos and Mark Hunt battle it out. It will likely give the Velasquez-Silva winner his next opponent.

    It's Cinderella story (Hunt) against former champion (dos Santos). Who will come out victorious and earn the title shot they both so hungrily crave?