UFC Heavyweight Champion Fabricio Werdum defends against Cain Velasquez at UFC 196 in February. I’ve questioned whether Velasquez deserves an immediate rematch, but it’s official and ready to happen in a few months. One thing that should definitely be true is that if Velasquez has to pull out due to injury, he should lose his shot. There’s no need to hold up the division anymore than it already has been held up. Werdum dominated Velasquez in their first fight, and it’s very possible that he does it again. I think he does, I think he finishes Velasquez again. There’s a lot of avenues for Werdum to get the win, but this is still a huge fight.
Andrei Arlovski fights Stipe Miocic at UFC 195 and if he wins, it’s very possible that he gets the next title shot. Alistair Overeem is lurking, though, and could possibly get the shot himself. It’s also possible that Arlovski and Overeem have to fight each other to get the next title shot. Either way, things are looking good in the division.
Daniel Cormier is the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion and the UFC plans on holding his next fight, a title defense against Jon Jones, on April 23 in New York. Jones-Cormier 2 is an enormous fight for many reasons. For one, any title fight is a big deal. For two, Jon Jones has been a big draw for the UFC, and his return fight would be one of the biggest fights of the year. For three, it would mean that the UFC has finally gotten New York’s stupid MMA bad lifted. As for the fight itself, I think Jones wins another hard-fought decision.
The next contender will likely be decided in January at UFC on Fox 18 as Ryan Bader fights Anthony “Rumble” Johnson. If Bader wins, you can’t deny him a title shot. If Rumble wins, it would still be hard to deny him a title shot. He did just recently lose to Cormier, though, so the case is there to be made. However, I still think he would be the top contender if he wins.
Luke Rockhold is coming off of a thrilling win over Chris Weidman, but there’s no clear #1 contender just now. Yoel Romero could get the next shot, but the UFC could also go with Weidman getting an immediate rematch. I would strongly disagree with that, but they’ve done this a lot lately. I think a fight between Romero and Weidman would be a much better way to go. if Romero wins, he gets the next shot. If Weidman wins, you can either give him the shot right away or have him fight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza for the next shot if he wins.
Rockhold has said he wants to fight Vitor Belfort, and though I disagree with Belfort getting another title shot, I think I would give Rockhold what he wants while Romero fights Weidman. It’s not ideal, of course, but things rarely are.
UFC Welterweight Champion Robbie Lawler defends against Carlos Condit at UFC 195. After that, things are a little bit murky. Tyron Woodley has been told that he will fight the winner, but until that’s actually signed there’s no guarantee. The UFC has pulled title shots away from people before. I don’t think they will this time, though, because there’s no other big contenders. Johny Hendricks fights Stephen Thompson at UFC 196 and I guess the winner there could get a title shot, but that’s projecting a long way into the future. For now, we’ll just assume that Woodley fights the Condit-Lawler winner.
Rafael dos Anjos just destroyed Donald Cerrone at UFC on Fox 17, but he doesn’t have a clear next fight. I’m in favor of Tony Ferguson getting the next shot, but we’ll have to wait and see what the UFC decides to do. It seems like everyone is angling for UFC Featherweight Champion Conor McGregor, but I don’t think that’s the way to go. Ferguson makes a lot more sense because there’s still fights to have at featherweight.
Conor McGregor is coming off that huge win over Jose Aldo at UFC 194. His next fight should be with either Aldo or Frankie Edgar. That makes the most sense by far. Edgar has a sterling case for a title shot, but I would go with Aldo because of his track record. He hadn’t lost in ten years. An Edgar title shot would be great in its own right, and both of those fights are enormous, in large part because McGregor himself is enormous. To be quite honest, McGregor could be fighting some guy off the street and draw a huge buyrate. Anytime he fights is a big deal. 2016 will be even bigger for McGregor, and the UFC as a whole.
T.J. Dillashaw will defend against Dominick Cruz at UFC Fight Night 81 in January, and this fight is huge. Dillashaw is one of the best fighters in the world, and Cruz never lost his title. I do question how many times Cruz can successfully come back from injury, but he says he feels as strong as ever. I’ll take him at his word on that. I’m really excited for this fight. The fact that it will be on cable makes it an even bigger deal, as hopefully this exposes more and more people to these tremendous athletes.
After that, Dillashaw vs. Urijah Faber would be a big fight should he retain, as would a fight between Dillashaw and John Dodson. Dillashaw lost to Dodson a few years ago and has transformed himself in so many ways that he’s almost unrecognizable compared to where he was in that fight, but it would still be a big deal. At the same time, Cruz vs. Dodson or Faber also has a nice ring to it.
Demetrious Johnson is the longtime champion, and he’ll probably end up fighting Henry Cejudo at the some point. That’s a big fight, but Cejudo’s performances in his last few fights doesn’t fill me with much confidence that he can beat Johnson. Cejudo’s last few wins could be described as okay if you’re generous, and lackluster if you’re not. That’s not going to get it done against one of the best fighters in the world.
After that, things are pretty sparse. That’s a byproduct of Johnson’s dominance, though, as he’s basically cleared out the division. None of these guys look all that good, but that’s comparing them to a guy like Johnson, who is so spectacularly talented that he struggles to be as good as he can be because few can even challenge him.
The UFC wants to have Holly Holm wait until UFC 200 to fight Ronda Rousey again. Holm wants to fight again before that, though, so it’s possible she fights someone like a Meisha Tate or Amanda Nunes before she fights Rousey again, but it depends on how the UFC wants to play things. The smart bet is to have Holm wait and fight Rousey at UFC 200 to preserve that matchup, so that’s probably the way they’ll go.
Rousey-Holm 2 is such an enormous fight that it alone is enough to make you excited for the division. The rest of the division will have to sort itself out before you can too excited about who gets the title shot after that, but it’ll be interesting to see who ends up with it.
Joanna Jedrzejczyk is coming off a tough win over Valerie Letourneau so it’s unclear what’s next for her. It’s been reported that she’ll coach The Ultimate Fighter 23 with Claudia Gadelha, with the two presumably meeting at the end of the season in a title fight. That would be a fight that I’d be extremely excited to see. I hope they don’t keep Joanna Champion on the shelf too long, as she’s too exciting a fighter to not have her in the cage doing her thing. Jedrzejczyk-Gadelha ended in some controversy, as some said Gadelha won, so it’s safe to say that this fight would be highly anticipated. I know it’d be high on my list.
Comments and suggestions can be emailed to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me on Twitter at @hydenfrank
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