We have 7 divisions with 7 champions; all fighters who have shown what it takes to dominant their division and to claim their spot at being at the top. From bantamweight, to heavyweight, all fighters have had to put in their time in the gym, and in the cage, to put everything on the line and fight for their dreams. However, being a great champion means having a giant target on your back, and for most of these fighters, they have many targets on their backs. Each division has certain fighters who are biting at the heels of the champions, and it’s just a matter of time before somebody has what it takes to surpass and take the number one spot.
Champion: Dominick Cruz
1. Renan Barao
Currently set to face Dominick is the undefeated Brazilian who sports the longest current win streak in MMA at 29 wins without a loss. Barao is the current Interim Bantamweight champion in the UFC, and is scheduled to face Cruz sometime in 2013. Renan Barao brings an ever-developing Muay Thai stand up game that he used to out-strike Urijah Faber for five rounds. However that’s not the top of his arsenal. Barao sports one of the most dangerous ground games possessed at 135 lbs. and has shown his lightening quick submission game in past fights. Barao is most likely going to be Cruz’s biggest test when it comes to pure skill and technique, and will make for a very interesting match up.
McDonald is also undefeated in the UFC, and showed everybody his warrior-like spirit in his UFC debut. He showed every one how good of a chin he has, and how he can dish it back just as well. Since his debut McDonald has won three straight fights, putting him at 4-0 in the UFC. McDonald’s most notable win however came in his last outing as he knocked out the former longtime WEC champion, Miguel Torres, in the very first round. McDonald has something that not too many bantamweights possess, knockout power. McDonald’s next opponent is unknown at the moment, but it wouldn’t be much to assume that if he gets past his next test, he could very well be next in line for the title shot.
3. Urijah Faber
While many fight fans have became tired of seeing fighters protest for rematches and title shots, Urijah Faber is not to blame. While he has already challenged for the belt twice, and lost both times (Once for the belt, the other for the Interim), Faber possesses the type of skills that keeps him at the top of the division no matter where he goes. Faber was bested recently by Renan Barao, but that shouldn’t take much away from his claim on the golden spot. Faber gave Cruz possibly his hardest test to date, and despite being defeated, he showed that a rematch could very well go his way. While he wasn’t planning being bested by Renan Barao, Faber should still be held in the conversation at 135. Since he’s coming off a loss, a two fight win streak would most likely be needed before challenging for the belt again.
Honorable Mention: Eddie Wineland
Champion: Jose Aldo
Holding probably the most impressive UFC career to date, Chan Sung Jung is currently 3-0 in the promotion; winning his debut and making history by pulling off the very first “twister” submission, pulling off one of the fastest finishes in UFC history, and then winning fight of the night and submission of the night in a title eliminator bout. Korean Zombie has quickly turned into the icon of Korean MMA in the UFC and is awaiting his chance for the title. Chan Sung Jung brings one of the craftiest ground games imaginable in the lighter-divisions and is no doubt one of the most exciting competitors in the game. His fan base has grown exponentially with all of his recent success and could make a huge impact on the sport if matched up with the featherweight kingpin.
2. Erik Koch
Was scheduled to face Aldo for the title, however pulled out due to an undisclosed injury and is being substituted by Frankie Edgar. While I didn’t list him as number one, I think he is a phenomenal fighter and is really being counted out in this match up. He’s looked great lately and has only lost to the former title-challenger Chad Mendes. Koch is coming off of an impressive KO win over Raphael Assuncao and a UD win over TUF-winner Jonathan Brookins. It’ll be interesting to see if he gets his title shot back, or if he’ll have to face someone else.
Possibly the most exciting thing to have happened in the featherweight division since Jose Aldo’s rise to the title. After Edgar’s repeated title rematches, Edgar has made the decision to move down a weight class where he wasn’t constantly fighting larger opponents. But don’t stop there, with Erik Koch out of his fight with Aldo, Edgar is the man chosen to jump in. Edgar will get an immediate title shot and a chance to go from former champion at one division, to a champion in another. Edgar could very easily stay atop the division based on his success at lightweight, it would seem that he could do even better against smaller fighters.
Honorable Mention: Chad Mendes
Champion: Benson Henderson
1. Nate Diaz
For Nate Diaz it’s been a story about whether or not he can string wins together for long enough before he faces someone who can just hug him for 15 minutes. Diaz is probably one of the most talented fighters in the division and has finally made his way to a title shot. Diaz is no stranger to top competition as he’s been in there with top competition before, at both 155 and 170, but the champion Ben Henderson could possibly be his strongest test to date and has the exact style that he has been defeated with in the past. Diaz will no doubt be there to bring an intense fight for Henderson, and the lightweight champion will be crowned.
2. Joe Lauzon
After seeing his performance against Jamie Varner, Lauzon has shown everybody that he has what it takes to fight the best of the best, and finish them. Lauzon’s ground game has never been in question, and he proved again why it shouldn’t. Very few fighters in lightweight division could survive on the mat with Joe Lauzon, however that alone has not been enough to bring Lauzon to the top, his stand up game and his cardio has lacked in the past. After seeing the Varner fight, I think it’s safe to say that Lauzon has done his homework, and is beginning to turn himself into the complete package. After going hard rounds against Jamie Varner, Lauzon stood in the pocket and exchanged shots, and eventually got the fight to the mat where he was able to end the fight. Lauzon has the type of skill set to finish anybody, even the top ranked fighters in the division.
A real slugger in “Cowboy” Cerrone. Donald entered his most recent contest with a bit of question as he fought his former team mate, however that didn’t stop Cerrone from knocking Melvin Guillard out in the first round. Cerrone brings some of the most powerful and technical strikes in the division and has a solid ground game to go up behind it. Cerrone has only tasted defeat once in the Octagon, but he has rebounded since then and has shown everyone that he has what it takes to be champion. Having already competed against the current champion in the past, Cerrone knows that he has what it takes to defeat the champ and is starting to prove to everyone that he means to do so fairly soon as Cerrone is on the rise to that number one contender-spot.
Champion: Georges St. Pierre
Condit is among some of the fastest rising stars in the sport, being in the welterweight division, but he has catapulted ahead of all of them after his brilliant display of striking ability and footwork in his decision victory over former number one contender Nick Diaz. Condit is scheduled to face GSP at UFC 154, and possesses all of the tools needed to spring an upset.
While Kampmann has had his fair share of ups and downs during his MMA career, he is arguably at his prime right now. After back-to-back controversial decision losses, Kampmann sprung back into action and has strung together three straight victories, all over top 10 competition. Kampmann has one of the biggest hearts in the sport and has the ability to finish the fight where it goes. Scheduled to face Johny Hendricks for top contention, Martin Kampmann will be looking to put a lock on his shot at the title.
3. Erick Silva
While I don’t think Erick Silva is third in line for title contention, I think he is one of the most promising rising-stars as of late. Getting ready to face his biggest test in Jon Fitch, Erick Silva will look to add Jon Fitch to his list of victories. Having already beaten former top ten fighter, Charlie Brenneman, Erick Silva just needs one or two more wins in order to be applicable for top contendership.
Champion: Anderson Silva
1. Chris Weidman
Another one of 2012’s fastest rising stars is named Chris Weidman. Weidman sprung to top of the division after his absolute destruction of formerly 3rd ranked middleweight contender, Mark Munoz. Weidman showcased a fast-paced, highly aggressive grappling game, and some much improved striking techniques. After watching Chael Sonnen‘s success against the champion, one could not hesitate to wonder what a guy like Weidman could do. A guy who has a much better submission game, and a reach that Silva has yet to be contended against.
He will be forever known as the “UFC Saver” following his heroic act of volunteering as a substitute fight light-heavyweight champion Jon Jones. Belfort could very well become the champion, and not even have to worry about anything going on at middleweight but regardless, Vitor Belfort will have a slot within in the top ranks of the middleweight division with his name on it. He had one chance against Silva, and he was humiliated, but he has grown since then and has showed some of his skills lately in his most recent bouts, and one could imagine that Belfort could very well get another shot at Anderson.
While he may be the most hated fighter in the UFC, Michael Bisping can back most of what he says up. Yes, we all wish for him to be knocked out every single fight he gets in, but reality is that Bisping is a solid competitor and has been looking great lately. We may see just exactly what Michael Bisping is capable of following his match up with Brian Stann that will take place this Fall, and we will see whether Bisping does indeed have a shot of becoming champion. He has heart, he heart skills, and he definitely has the mouth to make his way to a champion crown.
Champion: Jon Jones
Being credited for “doing the best against Jon Jones” (Despite being finished in the second round), Lyoto Machida has some of the best skill sets in the division. Following his stunning second round KO over Ryan Bader, Machida will look to see what he can do in order to get back to contesting for the title. Machida’s style has been evolving ever since it was figured out against Shogun Rua, and will has possibly evolved into something that could very well be used to defeat everybody in the division. Machida had his chance against Jon Jones, and will be looking to get a second chance once there is an opening for him.
Formerly scheduled to fight Jon Jones, Dan Henderson isn’t just looking for a UFC strap, but a label that says “GOAT”. With Fedor being out of the sport, and all of the hate for Anderson Silva, Dan Henderson is the only other possibly name to put “GOAT” on. Henderson is a fighter at heart, and even at 40 years of age, he is still able to kick butt and may be able to capture a UFC crown. After winning a controversial decision against Shogun Rua (Which was voted as Fight Of The Year), Henderson was looking to face off for the UFC Championship, now with a knee injury forcing him out of the bout, he was replaced by middleweight Vitor Belfort, and will be looking to get back into action sometime next year.
It’s about time someone from Sweden gets some recognition in the MMA world. Alexander Gustafsson has been hyped up recently and rightfully so. Gustafsson has only tasted defeat once in the Octagon, and has improved tenfold since then. Gustafsson most recently took out former top-10 contender Thiago Silva in his home town, and will look to be adding another big name to that list in Mauricio Rua, whom he is expected to face at UFC on FOX 5. Gustafsson has some of the slickest boxing skills in the division, and has yet to be out struck in his UFC career, will that come to end by facing one of the best strikers in the division, or will Gustafsson be able to cement on his lock on top contention by moving his UFC record to 7-1, and his win streak to 6?
Champion: Junior dos Santos
While he may have been out of action this whole year due to his failed drug test, Overeem is one of the most dangerous fighters in the division and has shown that he possesses the skills to out-strike anybody on the feet. With a successful K-1 background, Overeem most notably took out Brock Lesnar on New Year’s Eve and sent a strong warning to the rest of the division. Looking to get back into the cage early 2013, Overeem could very well be next in line for a title shot once he is licensed to do so.
After shutting out Strikeforce prospect Antonio Silva in devastating fashion, Velasquez will look to get his second chance against Cigano as soon as possible. While dos Santos may not be interested in the match up, Velasquez is about the only fighter in the heavy weight division who you can give the shot to. This time around Velasquez may try to take a different approach to his fight and not get knocked out in the opening minute of the first round.
Another fast rising prospect, Fabricio Werdum has reached arguably his most successful time in his MMA career as he moves to 4-1 in last five, and is on a two fight win streak in the UFC. After much work on his stand up game, Fabricio Werdum shocked all of those watching as he put on a Muay Thai display against Roy Nelson, and Mike Russow. Now, Werdum will be looking to move to a three fight win streak in the promotion, and possibly get another fight against dos Santos, who defeated Werdum in his UFC debut.
Honorable Mention: Travis Browne
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