Looking into our collective crystal balls can be a fun experience.
I've never been all that great at long-term predictions, and anyone who tells you they are—especially in a volatile sport such as mixed martial arts—is probably a liar.
So I'll just skip straight past that pretense and tell you that today, I'm going to try and predict who will close out the year 2014 as the champion of each UFC weight class. I'll throw some curveballs in there and I'll be predictable at other times. But mostly, I'll have fun trying to pretend I know what the UFC landscape is going to look like 12 months down the road.
Let's get started, shall we?
If you and I are being honest with one another—and I would hope we are nothing if not honest by this point in our relationship—there probably isn't a heavyweight in the world that can beat an uninjured, healthy Cain Velasquez.
That's the truth. Junior dos Santos is a really damn good heavyweight. He's still the second best heavyweight in the world, and this despite Velasquez owning him for the better part of 10 consecutive rounds. Think about that for a second, if you will: Dos Santos, a terrifying force of nature, was completely stifled for 50 straight minutes by another man.
That's an incredible truth. It probably isn't an easy one for Dos Santos or the people around him to hear. But it is a truth nonetheless. Velasquez is not going anywhere, except he's going to be on the shelf until the end of 2014 at the earliest. Which makes this the easiest forecast I'll do today; Velasquez may fight one time or he may fight no times at all.
If he does fight come next December, I suspect Fabricio Werdum will be nowhere to be found. Werdum, the current challenger for the title, is being nudged towards a bout with the winner of the UFC 168 fight between rising prospect Travis Browne and Josh Barnett. I think Barnett will beat Browne, and then he'll beat Werdum next summer, which sets up a year-end bout between one of the most grizzled heavyweights in mixed martial arts and its current and future king.
And, needless to say, I don't think Barnett wins that fight. Velasquez will hold this title for a long time.
It's almost a given that Jon Jones will eventually move to heavyweight. It's been rumored and suspected and bandied about ever since Jones obliterated Shogun Rua to capture the UFC light heavyweight championship, and it will continue until the day he steps in the cage for his first heavyweight fight. Jones occasionally fans the flames, too, but he still has at least three bouts remaining at 205 pounds: Glover Teixeira, Alexander Gustafsson and Daniel Cormier.
Which means that heavyweight move ain't happening in 2013. My crystal ball says we'll see Jones face Teixeira (obviously) and Gustafsson this year, then Cormier in early 2014. Jones will beat Teixeira and Gustafsson and end the year as champion; whether or not he keeps that belt after Cormier makes a play for it remains to be seen. I suspect he won't, but I've been wrong before. Many times, actually. And often.
Here's how this one goes: Anderson Silva will beat Chris Weidman in their UFC 168 rematch later this month. That's not a guarantee. It's just my gut feeling, though I did mention in the previous slide that I'm often wrong and the blame for that goes straight to my gut.
But I firmly believe that if Silva doesn't fart around—and there's obviously no guarantee Silva won't fart around because he farted around the first time—he's a vastly superior fighter to Weidman. I'm not being disrespectful to Weidman. I just believe Silva, even at 38 years old, does not lose his UFC 162 fight to Weidman if he isn't auditioning for a role in Jabbawockeez. He's the better fighter right now, and still is.
But there's another man waiting around the corner for Silva who might just have his number. Hell, he has everyone's number, at least since he discovered the government would allow him to shoot pure testosterone into his backside while preparing for fights. He's Vitor Belfort, and he's going to finish 2014 as the middleweight champion of the world.
I realize Silva beat Belfort a few years ago. He did it with one of the most spectacular finishes in UFC history, in fact. You've seen it: the front kick straight to the face that left Belfort with a permanent imprint of Silva's foot in and around his mouth and nasal area.
But this is a different Vitor. This is a new Vitor. This is an enhanced Vitor, a Vitor that is actually quite a bit scarier than the Vitor of the late 1990's. And he's earned his title opportunity at the right time, because he's getting younger and more physically awesome while Silva does things the right way and ages gracefully.
Belfort is nothing short of terrifying, and he'll put an emphatic stamp on his return to the top in 2014. And if you think the questions surround his usage of testosterone replacement therapy are bad right now, just wait until he has UFC gold around his waist.
Georges St-Pierre's departure from the UFC changes a lot of things, but not really. Johny Hendricks beat St-Pierre (not technically of course) at UFC 167, which means he should be the rightful welterweight champion. He'll get the opportunity to claim the belt in an official manner at UFC 171, when he faces Robbie Lawler (!) for the vacant championship.
After that, Carlos Condit might get an opportunity. Or the UFC might do the inexplicable thing and give Nick Diaz a title shot despite two consecutive losses and retirement. We might see Rory MacDonald finally assume the Canadian throne left behind when St-Pierre took off.
No matter who comes in as challenger, I don't see Hendricks being dethroned this year. He has to win the belt in the first place, of course, but he'll do that. I mean, yeah; part of me loves the idea of Robbie Lawler as the UFC welterweight champion in 2014. I get chills just thinking about it. But it's far more likely that Hendricks captures the belt and takes it back to Texas, where he'll keep it until St-Pierre either returns from his hiatus or doesn't.
Jose Aldo fights Ricardo Lamas in early 2014. He'll win that fight without much of a struggle. And after that, I suspect Aldo will look at a featherweight division full of contenders and decide that he's had enough, at which point he'll pack on a few pounds (or cut a few less) and move up to lightweight.
And then Aldo will win the lightweight title. I picked him to beat Anthony Pettis when the two were scheduled to square off in August, and I'll pick him again. Aldo is already the second-best pound-for-pound fighter in the sport; moving up a weight class and immediately dethroning the champion will only serve to solidify the notion that Aldo is a terrifying man.
If Chad Mendes and Jose Aldo fought one more time, I'd probably give the edge to Mendes. That's how far the avid hunter has come since being knocked a few millennia over by Aldo back at UFC 142. Even last week at UFC on Fox 9, a Mendes depleted by the flu or a sinus infection (it is hard to figure out which, since there are conflicting stories and I am not a doctor) easily handled a very tough and durable Nik Lentz.
In the previous slide, I predicted that Jose Aldo would leave the featherweight division. He'll do so before he faces Mendes again, and that's probably a good thing for him because Mendes would beat him the second time around. His departure will leave that divisional championship vacant, and Mendes will immediately claim it. They might as well just give it to him; it'll be a lot easier, physically-speaking, on the other featherweight contenders if they just hand the belt to Mendes.
With all apologies to Renan Barao, who is indeed a scary man, he's going to lose to Dominick Cruz on Super Bowl weekend. Yes, Cruz has been out of action for 54 years now, but he still represents a puzzle that has yet to be solved during his championship reign. His movement, sheer awkwardness and style will prove to be too much for Barao, who will be left trying to punch Cruz and only hit air instead.
But there's one man who can beat Cruz. He's done it before, and he'll do it in 2014, and he'll finally take a UFC championship back home for Team Alpha Male. Urijah Faber is on the roll of his life after finishing Michael McDonald at UFC on Fox 9, and his next fight will be for the title. Yes, again. Despite those of you sick of Faber title shots, the simple truth is that he's been unbeatable in non-title fights. And by that I mean he has actually been unbeatable in non-title fights. As in, he has never lost a non-title. In the entirety of his career.
I'm sorry, but when you're that good, it doesn't matter how many title shots you've had. If you keep winning against everyone else they throw against you, well, you are going to get title shots.
The next time is the charm, though. Faber has all the momentum on his side, and he'll finally vanquish Cruz and end the year as champion.
When Demetrious Johnson knocked out Joseph Benavidez at UFC on Fox 9, he essentially cleaned out the division.
The man who usurped Benavidez in the rankings, John Dodson? Johnson already beat him. John Moraga? Already beat him? John Lineker? He can't make weight. Zack Makovsky? He's an interesting choice, but he just made his UFC debut.
In reality, there's nothing left for Johnson at 125 pounds. Not right now, anyway. Which is why I believe he'll make a temporary move back to 135 pounds for a bantamweight bout or two. It makes sense. Johnson can take a few fights against top bantamweights and let things shake out in the flyweight division rather than go through retreads of previous bouts.
Contrary to popular belief, Miesha Tate has a chance to beat Ronda Rousey at UFC 168. Lots of you are probably hoping she does pull off the upset, given how unpopular Rousey's stint on The Ultimate Fighter seems to have made her.
But if Tate can't beat Rousey the second time around, who can? Anyone can lose on any given day, but Rousey would be heavily favored against any fighter currently in the UFC's bantamweight division. And we can hope for Cris Cyborg to make that cut and finally make a dream fight happen, but let's be honest: If she were going to make the cut, she would've done so already.
Beyond Tate (and with the exception of Cyborg), there are two women who I believe can give Rousey the best run for her money. Neither one are in the UFC. They are Holly Holm and Marloes Coenen. I'm sure Holm will sign a UFC contract at some point. Coenen, I'm not sure.
Needless to say, if Tate doesn't beat Rousey, I think it's pretty fair to say she'll hold the belt through the end of next year.
This one is a bit of a crapshoot. This championship is vacant, after all, and will be decided at the conclusion of next fall's season of The Ultimate Fighter. Which means we won't have a resolution or a champion until next December, so the first-ever women's strawweight champion will, in fact, conclude the year as the champion. So what we're essentially doing here is picking a tournament winner.
Invicta champion Carla Esparza will likely go in as the house favorite, but I'm going to think outside the box here and go with Glasgow striker Joanne "JoJo" Calderwood. The undefeated Dinky Ninjas strawweight is currently ranked seventh on MMARising's Unified Women's MMA Rankings, and she won't have the best odds of winning. But weird things happen in these Ultimate Fighter tournaments, and so I'm going with the charming and deadly Calderwood to emerge as the first-ever UFC strawweight champion and a potential superstar in the making.