The Case Against Every UFC Champion
Champions are champions for a reason. But they're never infallible, especially in a crucible as intense as MMA.
Reams of pixels, if pixels can truly be said to exist on reams, are regularly generated on what makes each reigning UFC champion great. Still, each man or woman with a belt on his or her mantelpiece has at least one key flaw.
Given what we know about the importance of self-promotion and the current fishbowl nature of our celebrity society and all that stuff, flaws outside the cage can be just as important as flaws inside it.
So let's take a close look at each of the 11 UFC titleholders and tease out one key weakness for each. We will do this not because we're drinking "haterade," but because, hey, we're all human, and until the robots take over, our human weaknesses should be part of the discourse.
Ready? Great, let's get it on.
Weight class: Strawweight
Record: 13-0 (7-0 UFC)
According to her official UFC profile, Joanna Jedrzejczyk has attempted three takedowns in her entire UFC career. Two of them were successful, but still, that's not exactly a strength area, especially when factoring in that she has yet to record a submission, sweep or guard pass in Octagonal competition.
None of this should be surprising for someone with Jedrzejczyk's muay thai background. Her striking—and 82 percent takedown defense rate—have to date been enough to keep the zero on her record intact.
Nevertheless, if an opponent can get her down and work her over, maybe grab a limb, things of that nature, Jedrzejczyk will struggle. That's particularly true against a larger competitor, who could also make her vulnerable in the clinch. Claudia Gadelha has followed this game plan twice, even though the champ edged her out on both occasions.
File this one, and a lot of the others to come, under "easier said than done." Nevertheless, the Polish warrior has an exploitable soft spot on her combat resume.
Weight class: Flyweight
Record: 26-2-1 (14-1-1 UFC)
Demetrious Johnson is the best overall fighter in MMA right now. Pretty soon, that "right now" tag could be replaced by "history."
His recent humbling of Wilson Reis tied Anderson Silva's record with 10 consecutive title defenses. It's hard to see anyone who can stop him from hitting 11.
Unfortunately, none of it has translated to box-office success for Johnson and the UFC. His win over Reis on April 15 in the main event of UFC on Fox 24 netted the lowest TV ratings in the history of UFC on Fox events.
At some point, you throw your hands up. Anyone who has a lick of MMA understanding realizes what a joy Johnson is to watch. Anyone who has a decent understanding of his personality—at least that part he chooses to share with the public—will quickly discern the intelligence and light-hearted charm that lie just below the cliched answers.
The fact persists, though, that Johnson just doesn't have the X-factor, whatever that might be.
Weight class: Women's bantamweight
Record: 14-4 (7-1 UFC)
Weakness: Gas tank
This belt cycled through Ronda Rousey, Holly Holm and Miesha Tate in the span of something like two days. However, it may have found its forever home on the waist of 28-year-old Amanda Nunes.
The Brazilian is the definition of well-rounded and does everything with great speed, power and just overall athleticism. It's just that, sometimes, she flags.
Twelve of her 18 fights didn't leave the first round. When they do, sometimes—not every time, but sometimes—her early-round hyperaggression converts into late-round underaggression.
In those later rounds, her arms and legs start to look awfully leaden. That's a problem that can affect anyone, but when it affects you more than it affects the other person, a fighter is in a bad position.
Weight class: Men's bantamweight
Record: 11-0 (6-0 UFC)
When he took the title from Dominick Cruz at UFC 207, Cody Garbrandt showed he was more than just fast-twitch and punching power. He had defense, footwork, ring craft. His head games were so sharp he might have fooled himself.
It was so good. To not only beat a fighter as brilliant as Cruz but to clown him that way? Almost literally breathtaking.
With a track record like his—both in and out of the cage—a weakness may seem hard to find. But it's not.
No Love has no submission wins to his name, and he has never appeared comfortable on the ground, unless he was on top raining punches.
That said, the moments when he's actually been on the ground are few and far between, so there's a bit of an incomplete scorecard here. But if someone were to get him there, it appears likely that Garbrandt would have a real challenge on his hands.
Germaine De Randamie
Weight class: Women's featherweight
Record: 7-3 (4-1 UFC)
Weakness: Partially self-imposed lack of opposition
Germaine de Randamie might be the least impressive champion on this list.
Look at her record. She's highly accomplished in kickboxing but not so much in MMA. And when she defeated Holly Holm to capture the inaugural strap for this particular weight class, she appeared to potentially possibly do so with the help of some controversial tactics.
But that's not enough. After the fight, she said she had to get surgery done. Or maybe not. It just came down to one key factor—whether Cris "Cyborg" Justino was going to be her next opponent.
That's all still in a holding pattern, and a thin UFC field at this weight class doesn't help too much. It looks like a rematch with Holm might be next up, if only by some kind of elimination process.
It's all a great way to spark interest in a brand-new division, with a brand-new kind of champ—the running-away kind.
Weight class: Men's featherweight
Record: 26-2 (8-1 UFC)
For the sake of simplicity, we'll take a look at Jose Aldo here and not interim champ Max Holloway, who is scheduled to face the Brazilian in June for the undisputed belt.
In any case, Aldo has competed seven times in the past five years. That's not a lot of times, relatively speaking, especially when you have a belt to defend. It's why Holloway recently called him "Jose Waldo" and why Conor McGregor said, well, all that stuff he said.
Sure, injuries are beyond anyone's control to some extent. All I know is, if Aldo doesn't get credit in line with his massive talent—and he doesn't—some of it may be attributable to his extended inactivity.
Weight class: Lightweight
Record: 21-3 (9-1 UFC)
Weakness: Takedown defense
At 73 percent, according to UFC stat keeper FightMetric, Conor McGregor's takedown defense really isn't all that bad.
But when you add in the assumption—as most people do—that McGregor's untested ground game is untested because he wants it that way, it becomes more of an issue.
Never forget that the Irishman's three professional losses all came by way of submission. Never forget that Chad Mendes had him in tough straights because of takedowns McGregor couldn't stop.
There is a path to defeat McGregor, and it starts by going low and staying there.
Weight class: Welterweight
Record: 17-3-1 (7-2-1 UFC)
Weakness: Action of any kind
The book is out on Tyron Woodley.
He looks for you in the first round. He tries to land the big right. There are feints involved, as is the occasional kick. It's all just enough to keep you backed up and guessing.
If you get sucked into playing that game, as Stephen Thompson did in that famously awful snoozer at UFC 209, the champ is going to win. If you don't sufficiently respect the big right, as happened with Robbie Lawler when he faced Woodley, you will also lose.
But if you keep off the cage and stick and move and refuse to lose to that H-bomb on the end of his right arm, you have a chance—maybe a very good chance. Woodley is not an infallible champion.
Weight class: Middleweight
Record: 30-7 (20-7 UFC)
Weakness: Yoel Romero
I don't blame Michael Bisping one bit; Yoel Romero frightens the beans out of me, too.
That's why I'm glad I'm not wearing the UFC middleweight belt right now. That little fact takes me out of Romero's path, and it makes me feel much better about my otherwise terrible career choices.
Bisping has been cagey about when, where or whether he'll ever face the top contender in his division. As it stands, he'll face Georges St-Pierre next, probably some time at the end of the year—must be nice.
Meanwhile, the wrestling titan that is Romero is waiting for his chance to try and manhandle Bisping, whose physicality and wrestling have always stood as hallmarks of his MMA limitations.
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Record: 19-1 (8-1 UFC)
Daniel Cormier may be the best wrestler in MMA today. His pure greatness in that phase makes it easy to say "oh, well, his weakness must be striking."
So, that's what I'm doing.
It's not that easy, though. Cormier's a pretty solid standup fighter, and his hands are legitimately heavy. He can throw them in combinations, and he sprinkles in a few kicks for good measure.
But he's an undersized guy for his division at a stubby 5'11". His reach is 72.5 inches—compare that with the 78 inches of Anthony Johnson or the 79 inches of Alexander Gustafsson.
There's only so much he can do in this phase. We all know he's trying to get inside. Until he gets inside so he can use that world-class wrestling, he's potentially vulnerable, especially during exchanges from the perimeter.
Weight class: Heavyweight
Record: 16-2 (10-2 UFC)
Stipe Miocic might be the hardest person on this list to pin down from a weakness perspective.
He's a great boxer with great takedowns and top control. He doesn't seem to lack for weapons, no matter where the fight goes or how long it lasts.
If you have to pick one, though, you have to go with submissions. Jiu-jitsu is not his calling card, and he has only one submission win on his ledger—and that was a tap to leg kicks back in 2011.
Miocic can hold his own on the ground and then some, but if a submission opportunity presents itself, it's an open question whether he can take advantage.