Predicting Every UFC Champion One Year from Now
2019 has seen two titles change hands and two more interim champions crowned, and we are not even halfway through the year. That gives an idea of just how quickly things can change at the top of the sport in a matter of a few months.
So what will happen by this time next year? By next May, after a full slate of events, which fighters will stand atop their weight classifications as the champion?
The current schedule will play a major factor in determining the answers to those questions. Several amazing title fights are already lined up, and it will also help determine how many more title fights they can compete in before the end of May 2020.
So, who can earn those title shots, win the championship bouts and get their hand raised while Dana White puts the legacy title around their waist? Let's get to work answering that right now.
Here are the predictions for each weight class and the fighter who will wear the gold around their waist.
Strawweight: Tatiana Suarez
Tatiana Suarez is the future champion of the strawweight division. Period.
She'll fight in a title eliminator at UFC 238 against Nina Ansaroff. After winning that bout, her title opportunity awaits. No matter if the UFC decides to award her the title shot immediately or make her wait for the winner of a possible Jessica Andrade vs. Rose Namajunas rematch, Suarez will end up the champion by next year.
She is a terrible matchup for everyone in the division. The worst part for the women of the 115-pound division is that Suarez is only getting better by the day as she rounds out her skills.
Suarez was an undefeated amateur, undefeated on The Ultimate Fighter and undefeated as a professional. Her wrestling and strength gives her the ability to control nearly every fight she is in, and few women have proved to offer resistance to her pressure.
Former champion Carla Esparza was her last victim, and Suarez made it look easy.
There is no sure bet in the MMA game, but Suarez is almost as close as it comes in 2019.
Men's Flyweight: Henry Cejudo
Picking Henry Cejudo to be the champion of the flyweight division this time next year is not surprising, but predicting the division to exist may be.
After Cejudo successfully defended the belt against T.J. Dillashaw in January, it appeared he saved the division. Instead, he immediately made a play for the bantamweight title. He gets that opportunity at UFC 238 against Marlon Moraes.
What happens if Cejudo wins? Does he just move up? Will the UFC close the doors of the 125-pound division?
It's not a deep division and Cejudo's main competition was Demetrious Johnson. The UFC completed a trade to send him to ONE Championship. Now, Cejudo has few fighters on his level in the division. He should hold the belt for the foreseeable future.
The remaining flyweights are likely cheering for Moraes to win and send Cejudo back to 125 for good.
Women's Flyweight: Valentina Shevchenko
Valentina Shevchenko won the vacant UFC flyweight title against Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Now she looks to be a long-reigning queen of the division.
Former world No. 1 Jessica Eye will be her first defense of the title at UFC 238. That is a challenge, but the stylistic matchup favors Shevchenko by a wide margin. Past Eye, the flyweight division lacks the elite-level competition to truly challenge Shevchenko.
It is not a bad thing. It is a new division that is fostering talent, and with Shevchenko reigning on top of the mountain, the women chasing her are forced to continually improve.
There are a bevy of prospects entering the UFC and working their way through the all-women's promotion Invicta FC to show that the future of the flyweight division looks bright.
But in one year's time not much will change at the top. Shevchenko should hold it down and start etching her name in the history books as one of the longest-reigning champions in UFC history.
Men's Bantamweight: Marlon Moraes
Unlike a few of the past divisions, bantamweight is tricky to decipher. There are a lot of ultra-talented title contenders to choose from.
It all starts at UFC 238 when Marlon Moraes and Henry Cejudo meet. The winner of that fight will likely have to defend the belt twice by this time next year.
I'll take Moraes in the fight at UFC 238 and to be the champion next May.
He is the hottest fighter in the division with fantastic grappling and shocking power for his size. His run with finishes over Aljamain Sterling, Jimmie Rivera and Raphael Assuncao is impressive. He'll have his hands full with Cejudo, but he'll get a rare size advantage in that fight.
After winning at UFC 238, Moraes' two defenses will likely come against competition he has either already beaten or would be favored against.
There are three or four fighters in the division who could easily be the champion in a year's time and that makes the 135-pound class one of the most interesting to watch.
Women's Bantamweight: Amanda Nunes
Amanda Nunes slowly established herself in the division before finally getting a slot in primetime against Miesha Tate. After grabbing the title by vicious stoppage, she obliterated Ronda Rousey into retirement.
After two more successful title defenses, Nunes took on her biggest challenge to date: the seemingly unbeatable Cris Cyborg in a featherweight title fight. She knocked her out in under a minute.
The awe-inspiring stoppage instantly make the Brazilian the greatest female fighter of all time, and made it difficult to imagine who could beat her.
The fighter with the best chance is former champion Holly Holm. The two will meet at UFC 239.
Holm's striking acumen will be a big test for Nunes, but she has been able to combat similar technical phenoms like Valentina Shevchenko, so these are not uncharted waters for the champion.
If Nunes defends once more, there aren't many more realistic threats waiting for the remainder of 2019 and into 2020. If she is going to lose, it'll happen at UFC 239, and I just don't see that happening.
Men's Featherweight: Max Holloway
Max Holloway has ascended to be a dominant featherweight champion, but he recently made a failed bid to nab the interim UFC lightweight crown. Now, he'll return home to try to continue his dominance.
First up will be Frankie Edgar, as first reported by ESPN.com's Brett Okamoto.
Edgar is a threat to anyone in the division, but he has been out of action for over a year. And to return against the champion is a tough task.
Beyond Edgar, other challengers are Alexander Volkanovski and Brian Ortega. The latter has already failed to dethrone Holloway.
In the next year, these are the only likely names to challenge Holloway. While a loss is possible, it's difficult to predict him dropping a fight to any of them given how he has controlled the division.
It will be interesting to see if the beating at the hands of Dustin Poirier has any long-term effects on Holloway. That could have been a fight that changed him forever. He sustained significant damage in the bout.
We'll get more answers when he steps in to defend against Edgar, but I will stick with the champion in that fight and against the next likely contenders through 2020.
Women's Featherweight: Nobody
That's right, I said nobody.
So, do I think the UFC will strip Amanda Nunes of the featherweight title? No, not really. I think the UFC will close the doors of the division altogether. That is my prediction.
The UFC essentially created the division for Cris Cyborg. She is a talented, fun fighter and one of the world's best. But there weren't really any other elite level featherweights. After Nunes stopped her in under a minute, what else is there at featherweight?
Megan Anderson could have built a case. She was seen as a legit featherweight with a bright future. Then she lost to Holly Holm, another bantamweight, and recently to Felicia Spencer.
In a two-fighter division, bantamweights Holm and Nunes have defeated those two fighters. Is there any reason to keep propping up this division? It may be a different story if it were laden with prospects like flyweight, but it's not. It's barren.
The UFC could, and should, close its doors and allow Invicta FC to slowly cultivate the talent pool before re-entering the featherweight market.
Lightweight: Khabib Nurmagomedov
I am going to go out on a skinny limb for this one, folks. Khabib Nurmagomedov will be the UFC lightweight champion this time next year.
What's that? That's not bold and completely predictable?
Well, sometimes predictions are just that. Nurmagomedov is, without question, the best lightweight in the world. He'll unify the belts against Dustin Poirier and then have some options for his next fight after that, but no matter who it is, there is little chance they upend Nurmagomedov.
He is a special kind of fighter. It's not flashy. It's just very effective.
Nurmagomedov may be the champion until he decides to retire. He's that good.
Welterweight: Kamaru Usman
Welterweight is one of the most talent-filled divisions in the UFC, and for that reason alone, it is a difficult division to predict. I will stick with the newest champion, Kamaru Usman, but I am not confident in the pick.
The first title defense is likely to be against Colby Covington, and that is a major reason I am taking Usman to be the champion by next May. That is a fight that is firmly in his control. He is a much better fighter than Covington and should be able to dominate at will.
It is what comes after which is difficult to predict.
A rematch with Tyron Woodley? Does Ben Askren earn his shot? Maybe Rafael dos Anjos gets another crack at gold?
Woodley and Askren, specifically, are major threats to Usman's reign. Askren more so than Woodley, but both have styles that can give Usman trouble. If Askren had a title fight lined up this year, I may take him. But I think he won't get his title shot until after May of next year.
The calendar plays a major role in predicting Usman to retain the belt for the next 365 days. I am less certain he will be the champion by the end of 2020.
Middleweight: Israel Adesanya
If you thought predicting bantamweight and welterweight was difficult then you are best off grabbing some darts and launching them at a board to pick the middleweight champion.
The biggest reason for that is the upcoming unification bout between Robert Whittaker and Israel Adesanya is a complete pick 'em bout. It is a ridiculous matchup that will excite every fight fan around the world, but accurately predicting that fight is almost impossible.
And the winner coming out of that fight may have to deal with Yoel Romero, Paulo Costa or Kelvin Gastelum. And that could be another bout where you just spin the wheel of destiny to pick a winner.
The top of the middleweight division may be the best value for fans. The previous bouts we've seen with Adesanya vs. Gastelum and Whittaker vs. Romero (twice) have been off-the-charts amazing. And the matchups are not slowing down.
Due to an advantage in technique, I'll take Adesanya to beat Whittaker. I am not comfortable in making that call, but it is the best I can do. After that, I don't know what's next. I feel less confident with Adesanya against Romero but would feel more comfortable picking him against Costa or Gastelum.
Without having a clear idea of who comes after Whittaker, I'll stick with Adesanya retaining the belt through May 2020.
I suggest everyone tune in to every big middleweight bout because they have proved to be the most fun to watch.
Light Heavyweight: Jon Jones
We go from the toughest division to pick to the easiest. Jon Jones will be the light heavyweight champion next year and the year after that.
It isn't simply that the division is shallow. While that certainly helps, it is just the simple fact Jones is the best fighter in the world.
Next up for him is Thiago Santos. Santos is a middleweight who has performed well at light heavyweight, but he doesn't really have anything Jones hasn't seen before. It should be another dominant defense.
Dominick Reyes could be a future champion and Jones' next great foil, but he is still young in his career. It's too early to know if he'll realize his potential.
Jones should not have much trouble with the current slate of contenders.
Unless he decides to go to heavyweight, Jones will remain the king of 205.
Heavyweight: Jon Jones or Francis Ngannou
Daniel Cormier is the reigning champion, but his time in the sport is drawing to a close. However, his status as champion will play a massive role in who is the titleholder next May.
That is why I have slightly cheated and given two possibilities as an answer.
If Cormier loses to Stipe Miocic in August, Francis Ngannou will get his rematch and claim the belt. Ngannou's performance against Cain Velasquez was terrifying. He still has much development to go through, but he will show much better against Miocic in a rematch and take the gold.
If Cormier defeats Miocic, that sets up a trilogy fight with Jon Jones. And it'll be at heavyweight.
It's difficult to see how Jones won't dominate that fight for a third time. There wasn't much there to suggest Cormier will win. It will be his best chance to defeat Jones, but it is just a matchup that he has struggled with and the length of Jones will still be an issue. Jones wins that fight and becomes a two-division champion.
Without Cormier as champion, Jones isn't moving up a division. That's the basis for choosing Jones or Ngannou. Regardless, the winner of August's title fight is just holding the belt for Jones or Ngannou. A new era of the heavyweight division will be in effect by next May.