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What Each UFC Champion Needs to Prove

Dan HiergesellFeatured ColumnistOctober 21, 2013

What Each UFC Champion Needs to Prove

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Every UFC champion currently dictating his or her respective division has successfully and methodically pieced together memorable title reigns.

    But even with the elite athleticism, world-class technique and blazing potential, no single titleholder is perfect.

    It's a realization that each and every one of them takes to heart when grueling training camps commence and hungry contenders take center stage.

    By understanding certain weaknesses and unprecedented quarrels, each divisional king is able to pinpoint the tools needed for greater evolution.

    With that said, here's what each UFC champion needs to prove moving forward.

     

     

     

Ronda Rousey

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Sports

    Evolve her versatility

    It sounds silly to mark Ronda Rousey's first-round dominance as a problem, but it would be nice to see her overcome a gritty Octagon war.

    In the past, the first UFC women's bantamweight champion has fueled her success by snapping limbs and making some of the best women in the world forfeit their will.

    But by doing so, she has categorized herself as a one-trick pony. That's not bad if she continues to win, but world-class champions need to prove that they're capable of winning in any environment.

    Cementing her legend and future rank as a pound-for-pound gem can be done by capturing victories more than one way.

Demetrious Johnson

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    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    Prolong finishing ability

    As one of the quickest athletes in the world, let alone a UFC champion, flyweight phenom Demetrious "Mighty Mouse" Johnson possesses skills that other fighters can only dream of.

    His footwork is menacing, his elusive angling is fascinating, and his conditioning is beyond satisfactory.

    But despite his athletic ability and overall skill set, he has struggled to finish fights. While his last title defense against John Moraga ended via fifth-round submission, that was the first time in his UFC career that the judges didn't decide the outcome.

    Obviously, winning is the most important factor when you're a young champion trying to carry a shallow weight class, but split decisions and controversial draws are no way to pad your resume.

    For Johnson to command respect even more than he has as one of the best pound-for-pound fighters on the planet, he needs to start finishing fights any way he can.

Renan Barao

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    Anne-Marie Sorvin-USA TODAY Sports

    Beat Dominick Cruz

    There hasn't been a more dominate champion over the past year-and-a-half than bantamweight striker Renan Barao.

    He has highlighted three straight title-fight victories by crushing Urijah Faber, submitting Michael McDonald and destroying Eddie Wineland with a spinning back kick. It's been one heck of a run that can only be attributed to his perfect combination of speed, versatility and timing.

    But no matter what the Brazilian does inside the Octagon, he's always going to be considered the division's fill-in titleholder until he gets a chance to dethrone the always injured Dominick Cruz.

    To begin with, interim belts are simply silly, but that's an argument better left for a different day. In any case, that asterisk is going to hold Barao back from earning big money and big opportunities until he defeats the true champ.

Dominick Cruz

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    espn.go.com
    espn.go.com

    Stay healthy

    Nothing can be said about Dominick Cruz to patch his perennial absence from the bantamweight title scene over the past two years.

    He has endured some serious injuries in gruesome succession, forcing him to be sidelined from a division once depicted by his every action.

    It's going to be tough for him to maintain any sort of prolonged health at this point, but until he gets back into the cage—hopefully early next yearhis dominance will continue to fade each and every time that Renan Barao captures victory.

Jose Aldo

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    Jason da Silva-USA TODAY Sports

    Beat Chad Mendes again

    As of right now, Mendes is the quintessential top contender to challenge Jose Aldo for featherweight supremacy.

    The only problem is that his defeat to the 145-pound king at UFC 142 is still fresh in everyone's mind. It's nearly impossible to resell a championship rematch at this moment.

    But after dismantling four tough opponents by TKO or knockout, including the hard-headed Clay Guida, Mendes has to be given another title shot.

    That means that Aldo once again will have to ward off the wrestler's quick and powerful takedowns in order to utilize his elite striking. 

    However, after taking on Duane Ludwig as his new head coach, Mendes has developed serious stand-up skills. As a matter of fact, his precision, power, angling, footwork and patience have never looked better.

    Once the UFC feels the time is right, Aldo will have to beat a rejuvenated version of "Money" for a second time in a matter of years.

Anthony Pettis

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    Benny Sieu-USA TODAY Sports

    Defend his title

    The UFC lightweight division has a new king. His name is Anthony "Showtime" Pettis, and he has what it takes to remain champion for a long time.

    He's young, versatile and precise. He establishes himself early and often in marquee fights and rarely seems to take on more damage than he can handle.

    The only problem for the 26-year-old phenom is that there's so much pressure to become this generation's lightweight destroyer that anything short of perfection could be considered failure.

    It also doesn't help that he is already making the wrong kind of enemies by calling out Jose Aldo. That's not to say the new lightweight titleholder couldn't dethrone the pound-for-pound king, but it's important that he stays the course.

    So even though Pettis desires a superfight with one of the most prolific champions of the past five years, defeating a hungry and resurgent Josh Thomson should be the only thing on his mind.

    Thomson is no joke these days; he's a serious kickboxer with great submission skills. Beating around the bush isn't going to end well for Pettis, so he needs to defend his newfound glory at least once before he begins his ascent of the world ranks.

Georges St-Pierre

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    Eric Bolte-USA TODAY Sports

    Withstand Hendricks' power

    Whether it's his crisp striking, athletic demeanor or unrivaled takedowns, Georges St-Pierre has successfully utilized world-class talent in becoming one of the greatest champions in the history of the sport.

    Sure, he has taken much criticism over the past few years for not finishing fights, but he's a professional fighter to the core, and that's why he does what he has to in order to remain the welterweight champ.

    However, despite his dominance against a handful of skilled contenders, he has never shown the greatest of chins. 

    It's a minor flaw for an athlete of his caliber, but it cost him a title in the past and could cost him heading into the future, especially as age takes its toll.

    With that said, if you could create a perfect specimen in a secret mixed martial arts lab to defeat GSP, Johny Hendricks would be the final product. He's built like an armored tank, possesses elite wrestling skills and has the knockout power to derail nine locomotives.

    So it's important that Canada's golden child not only put an end to the runaway momentum of "Bigg Rigg" for the sake of his own well-being, it's key in order to quell any speculation about the champion's lone weakness, his chin.

     

     

     

     

Chris Weidman

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    Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

    Silence the critics

    When you knock out the greatest fighter of all time with one looping left hook while he was toying with you, people are going to have their doubts.

    That doesn't mean that Chris Weidman doesn't possess the wrestling skills, evolved footwork and elite grappling to subdue Anderson Silva's iconic Octagon prowess, but he's going to have to show it one more time.

    If, and that's a big if, he can defeat "The Spider" at UFC 168, then his spot on this generation's Mt. Rushmore of mixed martial arts will be cemented.

    Until that happens, the new middleweight champ has to understand that what he did was unbelievable. Most fans don't trust what they saw, and most media members chalk it up as a universal tear in time and space.

    Whatever the case may be, Weidman needs to repeat history. It's that simple. Beat Silva one more time, and the rest is cake (well, sort of).

     

Jon Jones

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    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sport

    Regain dominance

    Whether it was his overall physicality or elite level of striking, Alexander Gustafsson made Jon Jones look like a mere mortal at UFC 165 last month.

    The current pound-for-pound king still found a way to win a five-round battle of sheer guts and moxie, but he looked ordinary while doing it.

    Don't get it wrongordinary in this instance isn't anything close to being regular. He defeated arguably the best technical striker in the division and a guy who mirrors the champ inch for inch.

    Instead, Jones' performance seemed ordinary because we're so used to seeing him dominate his foes. We're used to seeing him pick apart top contenders like he was flicking flies off a turkey sandwich on a midsummer day.

    That's why a closely knit decision opposite a hungry and formidable Swede seemed pedestrian. We're not used to seeing somebody tag the champ so frequently and make him work for a victory.

    Whether Gustafsson exposed something in Jones' technique or not has yet to be determined. Either way, "Bones" needs to reclaim his inhuman status as an untouchable phenom in order to calm uneasy minds.

Cain Velasquez

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    Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

    Break the curse

    After battering one of the best strikers in UFC heavyweight history for a second straight time, there isn't much for Cain Velasquez to prove.

    As a matter of fact, he looks to be the most dominant champion on this list. Due to the division he fights in, the high motor he possesses and the way he goes about training and preparing for each opponent, nobody stands directly in his way of prolonged success.

    However, obstacles aren't always visible.

    For some reason, no heavyweight in UFC history has ever defended the title more than twice. This includes the great Randy Couture, Brock Lesnar and Tim Sylvia, who all failed to end the curse at three.

    Now whether Velasquez has what it takes to snap a supernatural streak better left for the Chicago Cubs has yet to be determined, but he poses the biggest threat of all time to do so.

    Fabricio Werdum seems to be the next guy in line to take on the baddest man on the planet, but if Velasquez can utilize his wrestling to keep the fight away from the Brazilian's nasty ground game, then history should write itself.

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