Every UFC Champ's Nightmare Matchup
The UFC is featuring a run of champions with title defenses. In years past, the adage that it's harder to defend a title than win one has held true. We've seen various fighters fail to defend their crown.
Currently, only three have yet to defend their belt. Every other champion has at least one title defense to their credit.
With several of the champions looking or proving to be dominant, that begs the question of who can end their reigns. Who are the nightmare opponents that could strip them of the gold around their waist? Well, that's where we're here to examine.
Going through each division, from strawweight to heavyweight, we will identify the one fighter who looms for the titleholder—the one man or woman who has the best chance to wear gold next.
From scary strikers to grappling gods, these are the UFC champion's most dangerous and feared contenders.
Champion: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
Nightmare Matchup: Jessica Andrade
Perhaps the right answer is Claudia Gadelha. In spite of going 0-2 against Joanna Jedrzejczyk, she is still one of the most well-rounded and dangerous opponents for the champion. But Jedrzejczyk's UFC 211 opponent, Jessica Andrade, may be just as dangerous.
Andrade isn't as good on the ground as Gadelha, but she's no slouch. Perhaps more importantly, she has a better gas tank, allowing her to utilize her strength deep into the fight. That is something Jedrzejczyk should be concerned about.
Andrade has been excellent since dropping from 135 to 115. She has retained her vicious punching power but also gets a strength advantage in most of her fights.
Jedrzejczyk would still be a sound favorite in this fight, but it's no cakewalk. Andrade's power and cardio will force Jedrzejczyk to be as good as she has ever been. We've already seen her taken to the brink with Gadelha in their first meeting, and we've seen her rocked against Karolina Kowalkiewicz. Perhaps Andrade is the one to finally topple the queen.
Champion: Demetrious Johnson
Nightmare Matchup: Henry Cejudo
Henry Cejudo was no match for Demetrious Johnson in his first title fight last April. Johnson retained with a quick knockout showing.
Still, Cejudo is the worst matchup for the most dominant champion in the UFC.
Gold-medal-level wrestling, good boxing. Those would be key traits for Cejudo in this fight. Johnson stunned him with knees to the body in their first meeting and elbows over the top. He'll be more prepared for the clinch exchanges if they should meet again.
Other fighters in the division lack areas where they supersede the champion. They bring in clear deficiencies that allow Mighty Mouse to run through them like cotton candy. He's just that technically sound in every area. Cejudo brings in skills that make Johnson more weary and develop a more sound game plan.
If folks really want to see Johnson tested, they should be rooting for Cejudo to win a few more fights to get back in contention.
Champion: Amanda Nunes
Nightmare Matchup: Valentina Shevchenko
Yes, another rematch. But it's the worst matchup for Nunes at this point in time.
Had their first meeting a little more than a year ago been a five-round battle, which their title tilt would be, Shevchenko may have gotten the nod. Nunes began to fade in their fight.
That is one big reason why Shevchenko is such a dangerous opponent for Nunes. The pace and tactics in her fights sap the energy from her opponents. She wears on her foes in the clinch, has a good tempo to her striking and can match her adversaries almost anywhere.
For an explosive and dynamic fighter like Nunes, that could spell trouble in the championship rounds.
This is such a stellar fight and one rematch fans should be excited to see.
Champion: Cody Garbrandt
Nightmare Matchup: TJ Dillashaw
Here's another matchup we will see in the near future.
Dominick Cruz may be the obvious choice, but there are two main reasons he is not Garbrandt's nightmare opponent. The first is their recent fight on Dec. 30. It's not just that Garbrandt won, but the manner in which he did. It wasn't a flash knockout. It was a dominant five-round performance shutting Cruz down. The second is Cruz's age (32) and injuries.
Dillashaw has a similar style, but it's tailored to his specific assets. Additionally, he is still in his prime and hasn't suffered major injuries.
Their fight, coming at the end of the latest The Ultimate Fighter season, will be a well-contested title fight between two of the very best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. We'll see what Dillashaw is able to do differently than Cruz, and how Garbrandt adjusts to those differences inside the Octagon.
Champion: Germaine de Randamie
Nightmare Matchup: Cris "Cyborg" Justino
This one is pretty simple. Cyborg. Cyborg. Cyborg.
She is the most feared woman in all of MMA. Brutal power, in-your-face pressure and an unrelenting will.
The featherweight division was created for her, and once she returns to the cage, she'll get a chance to claim UFC gold. Germaine de Randamie has a great kickboxing background, but what Cyborg does in the cage is maul her opposition. It's not likely to be much different here.
Champion: Jose Aldo
Nightmare Matchup: Max Holloway
Frankie Edgar poses threats to Aldo, but Aldo is 2-0 against the former lightweight champion with a more convincing performance in their second meeting. Chad Mendes has gone to war with Aldo twice as well. Conor McGregor may be the correct answer, but he is no longer in the division. That leaves one person.
UFC 212 will play host to Aldo's nightmare matchup. Max Holloway, the interim champion, meets Aldo in Brazil on June 3.
Holloway's length will be an interesting challenge for Aldo. Creating and establishing distance against the longtime figurehead of the division will be important for Holloway. His length also gives him submission opportunities from a variety of positions.
The rising star of the 145-pound division may be its best fighter, and he'll have to prove it against Aldo in hostile territory.
Champion: Conor McGregor
Nightmare Matchup: Khabib Nurmagomedov
This will come as no surprise, but Khabib Nurmagomedov is Conor McGregor's nightmare scenario. He is almost every lightweight's nightmare opponent.
Nurmagomedov has an elite grappling skill that punishes his opponents. His striking isn't the most pristine, but it's effective enough to allow him to do what he does best. However, he is not unbeatable.
Michael Johnson clipped Nurmagomedov early in their 2016 meeting, showing that he can be hit and hurt. McGregor is certainly capable of connecting and putting Nurmagomedov out like a light. Don't discredit the champion of the division.
But his grappling shortcomings have been on display before—chiefly against Nate Diaz. If Nurmagomedov can take him down, it will be a more punishing series of events for McGregor. McGregor wants no part of that life.
Champion: Tyron Woodley
Nightmare Matchup: Demian Maia
Demian Maia is the worst matchup possible for Tyron Woodley, but Maia is scheduled to meet Jorge Masvidal at UFC 211. If he gets by Masvidal, hopefully this fight happens.
Why is Maia a worse matchup than Stephen Thompson who took Woodley to the limit?
Maia is the best jiu-jitsu practitioner in the UFC today and maybe ever. It almost completely eliminates Woodley's wrestling because he won't want to go to the mat with Maia. That forces him into being a striker where, although he's a big knockout threat, he has limited options. More importantly, Maia is excruciatingly patient on the feet.
Maia won't give Woodley many openings, and once he can get into the clinch, it may be all she wrote for the champion. Grappling with Maia is like trying to avoid sickness in a crowded emergency room.
Champion: Michael Bisping
Nightmare Matchup: Yoel Romero
Michael Bisping may be defending the title against Georges St-Pierre next, but the true nightmare waiting for him is Yoel Romero. Or Jacare Souza. Or a rematch Luke Rockhold.
All three are terrorizing for Bisping, but Romero tops the list.
The former Cuban Olympic wrestler holds insane KO power and unmatched athleticism. Bisping would be a massive underdog to the potential challenger. Romero's abilities make it difficult to imagine a scenario in which Bisping wins. His volume striking and takedown defense are at a big disadvantage for how Romero matches up with the current champion.
It's probably a good thing he'll get GSP next, possibly July 8, according to Bisping on his podcast (h/t Ryan Harkness of Uproxx). That's a more manageable matchup.
Champion: Daniel Cormier
Nightmare Matchup: Jon Jones
As much as I would have liked to have been creative here, it would have been a lie. The nightmare matchup for Daniel Cormier, or Anthony Johnson should he win at UFC 210 on April 8, is Jon Jones.
Jones is one of the greatest fighters of all time and the greatest light heavyweight ever.
Jones' length and fight IQ propel him to the top of the food chain. In their first meeting, Jones had little issue with Cormier. He beat him on the feet and outgrappled him. Jones has truly only been tested one time in his UFC career (against Alexander Gustafsson).
Jones is the shadow hanging over the light heavyweight division because he is, quite simply, the best.
Champion: Stipe Miocic
Nightmare Matchup: Fabricio Werdum
Fabricio Werdum is whom Stipe Miocic dethroned to claim the UFC heavyweight championship, but it is still his most dangerous matchup.
In their initial meeting at UFC 198 last May, Werdum fought uncharacteristically. He charged at Miocic with his hands down. A clean shot by Miocic at an oncoming Werdum sent him crumbling to the canvas. A rematch would likely be much different and more difficult for the champion.
Werdum's stand-up has consistently improved. A more measured approach to fighting Miocic on the feet would see him have chances at landing his own offense while allowing him to get in close for grappling exchanges. There lies the true test for Miocic.
Werdum is a world-class submission specialist. The totality of Werdum's game still makes him Miocic's toughest task.