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6/22/16: Top Five Fighters Who May Capture First UFC Title By 2017’s End
With Stephen Thompson poised to challenge for the UFC Welterweight Championship in his next fight, Michael Bisping taking the UFC Middleweight Title, and a number of rising contenders making their way up the ranks, today we look at five fighters who are most likely to capture their first UFC title in the next 18 months.
5. Khabib Nurmagomedov: By virtue of a previous win over current champ Rafael dos Anjos, the undefeated Dagestani lightweight is on the short list of likely challengers in the fall should dos Anjos beat Eddie Alvarez next month. His injury woes are a potential issue, but if he’s healthy enough to compete he’ll get his shot, and he’s got the type of dominant grappling and top game to be a nightmare stylistically for almost anyone. If he gets a crack at the belt, he may just walk away with it.
4. Cody Garbrandt: The undefeated Garbrandt isn’t going to get his chance this year, but after taking out fellow unbeaten Thomas Almeida in an eye-opening first round finish he’s poised to be in the mix 12 months from now. A win over Takeya Mizugaki might just put him into a No. 1 contender fight; then, whether it’s Dominick Cruz, T.J. Dillashaw, or someone else entirely holding the belt, he’ll have a very good chance to take it for himself. His journey into next year will be well worth watching.
3. Alistair Overeem: The only one on this list with a title fight actually scheduled, Alistair Overeem has every chance to beat Stipe Miocic at UFC 203 in September. The longtime veteran has been fighting as smart as he ever has as of late, and he’s got the power to take the newly crowned champion out in his own hometown. That’s what Miocic did to Fabricio Werdum, and if the Reem can find his range early and avoid making mistakes he’s absolutely capable of stopping Miocic to take the Heavyweight Title.
2. Max Holloway: The 24-year-old Hawaiian is riding a nine fight winning streak, and would be likely to fight for the title this year were it not for the absolute mess Conor McGregor’s out-of-the-weight-class endeavors have left behind. Had McGregor fought Frankie Edgar in March, then Jose Aldo this summer, Holloway would be next in line by the end of the year. Instead, he’ll need to win a tenth straight while McGregor is distracted by Nate Diaz, then perhaps an eleventh should McGregor return to fight the Aldo-Edgar winner. Regardless, whenever he gets his shot, he’s shown massive improvements throughout his UFC run, and he can’t be counted out against any of those men when that title fight eventually happens.
1. Stephen Thompson: Thompson’s striking game is so extremely impressive. What he did against Rory MacDonald was masterful, even if it wasn’t his most thrilling victory, and what he does best matches up well against the style of current champ Robbie Lawler. Thompson can avoid brawls, work from range, and do tons of damage from awkward angles. As Lawler’s likely to oblige the desire for a striking battle, he’s also likely to play right into what Thompson wants to do, and I think whenever that fight happens we’ll see a new champion in “Wonderboy.”
[Photo (c) Stephen R. Sylvanie via USA Today Sports]
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