15 Fighters Who Could Be UFC Champions by the End of the Year

Tim McTiernan@tmt2393Correspondent IJune 24, 2014

15 Fighters Who Could Be UFC Champions by the End of the Year

0 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    There are six title fights currently scheduled between now and the end of the year. That's six fighters who have a chance to achieve the ultimate goal of being a UFC champion.

    Unlucky for them, there are far more than six fighters who have a shot at being champions by the end of the year.

    There are No. 1 contender matches scheduled, top-level fighters waiting for an opportunity to fight, and others who are waiting on the sidelines for their chance to fight for the title.

    Everyone in the UFC wants it, but only a few will ever get it. Let's check out 15 fighters who could be UFC champions by the end of 2014.

Anybody from The Ultimate Fighter 20

1 of 15

    David Banks-USA TODAY Sports

    The Ultimate Fighter 20 is currently filming, featuring coaches Gilbert Melendez and lightweight champion Anthony Pettis.

    The contestants on the show will be competing in the new women's strawweight division, and the winner of the show will be crowned the first-ever UFC women's strawweight champion.

    The eight fighters on the show are:

    Carla Esparza
    Alex Chambers
    Felice Herrig
    Bec Rawlings
    Emily Kagan
    Rose Namajunas
    Tecia Torres
    Joanne Calderwood

    One of those eight women will be a UFC champ by the end of the year.

Alexis Davis

2 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Alexis Davis is next in line for a shot at the women's bantamweight title, and she'll face off against Ronda Rousey in the co-main event of UFC 175.

    Davis is 16-5 in her career, with seven wins by submission and two by knockout. She has only been stopped twice in her career, against Sarah Kaufman in Davis' first career fight and against Tara LaRosa when the doctor stopped the fight with 37 seconds remaining.

    Davis is 3-0 in the UFC, having earned decision victories over Rosi Sexton, No. 7-ranked Liz Carmouche and No. 6-ranked Jessica Eye.

    Davis is well-rounded, tough and ready for a fight with Rousey. She has just as good of a chance as anyone who came before her.

Zach Makovsky

3 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Zach Makovsky isn't next in line for a title shot or even ranked in the top five of the division. He's ranked No. 9 and is set to face No. 6-ranked Jussier Formiga at UFC 176.

    The main reason Makovsky is on this list is because he's the only person who might still have a fighting chance against the champ, Demetrious Johnson.

    D.J. has had seven fights in the flyweight division, and all seven of his opponents are currently ranked in the top five of the division. He went 6-0-1 against them.

    If Makovsky pulls out the win against Formiga in early August, he could be in line for a fight with Johnson before the end of the year.

Raphael Assuncao

4 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Raphael Assuncao could have fought Renan Barao at UFC 173, but he had a rib injury which caused him to turn the fight down. TJ Dillashaw took his place and won the title from Barao.

    Now, Assuncao should be next in line for a title shot for two reasons. One, because he's on a six-fight winning streak and was offered the title shot; two, because he has a win over the current champion.

    At UFC Fight Night 29, Assuncao took on Dillashaw and earned a split-decision victory.

    Assuncao may now find himself in a similar position to Gray Maynard prior to UFC 125, where the challenger had previously beaten the champion.

    That being said, I'm sure that Assuncao is hoping it turns out better than it did for Maynard.

Dominick Cruz

5 of 15

    Todd Warshaw/Getty Images

    Dominick Cruz having the bantamweight title back by year's end is highly unlikely, and I concede that. However, Cruz is hoping to return in September at the latest, which could possibly give him two fights this year.

    Dana White has said that Cruz can have an immediate title shot upon his return if he wants it, but after being out for nearly three years, that's unlikely.

    Eric Del Fierro, Cruz' coach, has said that Cruz likes Takeya Mizugaki as a possible opponent for his return. Mizugaki is ranked No. 6 in the division and has won five straight fights.

    Should Cruz win a fight with Mizugaki, and assuming he wants to fight again soon, he could fight for the title at the year-end card.

Chad Mendes

6 of 15

    Matt Roberts/Getty Images

    Chad Mendes is set to fight Jose Aldo for the title at UFC 176 in August. Mendes has previously fought Aldo, but he lost by knockout in the first round. A grab of the fence may or may not have impacted the outcome, but putting that aside, it's clear to see that Mendes is a completely different fighter.

    In 11 fights before facing Aldo, Mendes went 11-0 with seven decisions, two knockouts and two submissions. He only scored one finish in the UFC and WEC.

    Now, since Mendes has lost to Aldo, he's gone 5-0 with four knockouts, three in under two minutes. Mendes is a much more aggressive fighter, a much stronger fighter and a much better fighter overall.

    He has a chance to finally take down Aldo.

Gilbert Melendez

7 of 15

    Valerie Macon/Getty Images

    Gilbert Melendez is the current No. 1 contender in the lightweight division and will face the champion, Anthony Pettis, at UFC 182 on December 27. Melendez is the former Strikeforce lightweight champion and was the first-ever WEC lightweight champion.

    Melendez is currently coaching opposite Pettis on The Ultimate Fighter 20 featuring the new women's strawweight division, which begins airing on September 10.

    Melendez has only had two fights in the UFC, but his first was a title shot—a split-decision loss to Benson Henderson—and his second was a unanimous-decision win over Diego Sanchez, in what was later named Fight of the Year for 2013.

    Melendez was going to sign with Bellator, but the UFC had matching rights which they exercised. Part of his deal to come back to the UFC included the title shot and his stint coaching The Ultimate Fighter.

    His fight against Pettis is going to be another contender for Fight of the Year.

Robbie Lawler or Matt Brown

8 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    In just over a month, we might see the best fight ever.

    In late July on Fox, "Ruthless" Robbie Lawler and Matt "The Immortal" Brown will face off, with a shot at Johny Hendricks and the welterweight title on the line.

    Lawler is 4-1 in his current stint with the UFC, and of those four wins, he has won three by knockout, one each in the first, second and third rounds. His other win was a split-decision over Rory MacDonald.

    His sole loss came in a fight for the vacant welterweight title against Johny Hendricks. The final scores were 48-47 on all judges' scorecards, and the fight earned Fight of the Night.

    In four years in the Octagon, Brown was never looked at as a serious title contender. He had been a contestant on The Ultimate Fighter 7, and between 2008 and 2011, he went 5-5, being submitted four times and scoring four finishes.

    Then, in his first fight of 2012, Brown started a win streak that has now reached seven, including his last five in a row by (T)KO. Brown has quickly become a fan favorite for his tenacity, spirit and finishing ability.

    I don't think I've ever been more excited for a fight than I am for the fight between these two.

Rory MacDonald

9 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Another unlikely possibility, but it is still a possibility.

    MacDonald has been highly regarded by nearly everyone for a long time now. MacDonald is 8-2 in the UFC, with his only losses coming from Carlos Condit in 2010 and a split decision against Lawler last year.

    Since the loss to Lawler, MacDonald has won two straight by decision, over Demian Maia and Tyron Woodley. He is currently ranked No. 2 in the division, behind only the champ, Hendricks, and Lawler.

    Dana White made it clear that the winner of the upcoming Lawler and Brown fight would receive the next title shot, but should the winner sustain an injury, it's more likely the title shot would be given to MacDonald rather than someone coming off a loss.

Lyoto Machida

10 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Lyoto Machida is set for a middleweight title shot against Chris Weidman in early July. Machida has gone 2-0 since dropping to middleweight, scoring a first-round knockout of Mark Munoz and a unanimous-decision victory in a five-round, Fight of the Night against Gegard Mousasi.

    Machida dropped to middleweight after going 3-4 between 2010 and 2013, only scoring victories over Randy Couture, Ryan Bader and Dan Henderson.

    Machida will have one edge going into the fight with Weidman, that being, his teammate, former champ Anderson Silva, has faced Weidman twice. Even though Weidman won both matches, there is plenty that Machida can learn from Silva's experience.

    If Machida is able to avoid the wrestling and dictate the striking range, he has a good chance of bringing the middleweight title back to Brazil.

Ronaldo Souza

11 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    At UFC 176 in August, the co-main event is a middleweight fight between former DREAM and Strikeforce light heavyweight champion Gegard Mousasi and former Strikeforce middleweight champion Ronaldo Souza.

    Souza is 3-0 in his UFC career and is currently on a six-fight win streak overall. In his UFC career, Souza has scored a technical submission of Chris Camozzi, a TKO of Yushin Okami and a unanimous-decision victory over Francis Carmont.

    If he adds a win over Mousasi to his resume, he avenges an earlier career loss, while also proving that he is a top-level middleweight. He is currently ranked No. 4 in the division, and depending on what happens in the Weidman and Machida fight, Souza could be in line for a title shot before the end of the year.

Vitor Belfort

12 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Vitor Belfort was supposed to face Chael Sonnen at UFC 175, but after Sonnen failed a random drug test and was subsequently retired, Belfort was removed from the card.

    Belfort has won three fights in a row, all by knockout and all with head kicks. Belfort has always been scary but now—watch out.

    Belfort doesn't have a fight scheduled anymore, as he is likely already next in line for a shot at the middleweight title. Even Machida thinks so.

    Belfort will likely be content to watch the fight between Weidman and Machida, knowing that he is next in line for a shot.

    Whichever guy he ends up fighting is going to have some serious work cut out for him. Belfort is dangerous on the feet, on the ground and in the clinch. 

    With Anderson Silva not in the picture, it may only be a matter of time until Belfort has the title.

Alexander Gustafsson

13 of 15

    Gregory Payan/Associated Press

    Alexander Gustafsson is next in line for a shot at the light heavyweight title, even if Jon Jones doesn't think so.

    Gustafsson is 8-2 in his UFC career, with four wins by (T)KO, two by submission and two by decision. His losses have come against Phil Davis in 2010 and against Jones for the title in 2013.

    Gustafsson's fight against Jones was the closest fight of Jones' career, as the final scorecards were 48-47, 48-47 and 49-46. No other opponent has won two rounds against Jones.

    Since the loss to Jones, Gustafsson beat Jimi Manuwa by knockout and earned both Knockout of the Night and Performance of the Night for his win.

    Now he will face Jones in a rematch at UFC 178 in September, with the best chance against Jones that anyone has had yet.

Daniel Cormier

14 of 15

    Isaac Brekken/Associated Press

    Daniel Cormier is 15-0 in his MMA career and 3-0 in his UFC career, with 10 career finishes and two in the UFC.

    Cormier is one of the most skilled competitors in MMA today, as he was an Olympic wrestler just six years ago. He was going to be the captain of the 2008 American wrestling team in Beijing before a kidney issue forced him out of the Olympics entirely.

    In Cormier's last fight, he was thoroughly dominating Dan Henderson before finally submitting him and putting him to sleep in the third round.

    Cormier does not currently have a fight scheduled, but should an injury occur to either Jones or Gustafsson, he would likely step up to take the fight.

    There's also a small chance of the winner of Jones and Gustafsson fighting again before the end of the year, but that would be a very quick turnaround.

Fabricio Werdum

15 of 15

    USA TODAY Sports

    Fabricio Werdum is set to face Cain Velasquez for the UFC heavyweight title at UFC 180, currently scheduled for November 15 in Mexico City, Mexico.

    Werdum has won four fights in a row, over Roy Nelson, Mike Russow, Minotauro Nogueira and Travis Browne. In his most recent fight, against Browne, Werdum looked better than ever. 

    He absolutely obliterated Browne in the fight, scoring a 50-45 on two judges' scorecards, while one judge somehow gave Browne a round.

    As if that wasn't enough, in Werdum's win over Nogueira, he submitted him. The only people to ever submit Nogueira are him and Frank Mir.

    Werdum and Cain are currently filming the inaugural season of The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America, which begins airing in August.

    Cain had better make sure he's ready, because he'll be facing the best Fabricio yet.