Continuing from last week’s evaluation of the current UFC champion’s prospects at maintaining their titles, we take a look at the remaining male and female divisions:
Current Champion: Max ‘Blessed’ Holloway
The 145lb division is set up quite nicely with a huge amount of action set for December which will have a significant impact on the future of the division.
Holloway will face Frankie Edgar as the headliner for UFC 218. The Blessed One is currently riding an eleven-fight win streak, with his last defeat coming at the hands of Conor McGregor over four years ago.
His opponent comes in the shape of a very tough Frankie ‘The Answer’ Edgar. The Answer is one of the most skilled fighters on the roster but has been unable to make the final step up to regain a UFC belt in recent years. The former lightweight champion has come out second best in his last three title fights.
However, a devastating defeat of rising star Yair Rodriguez back in May has earned Frankie another (and probably final) crack at the UFC gold. The outcome here will be very much dependent on where the contest is fought. The more time spent standing, the more likely Holloway will retain his belt.
Elsewhere in the division, Jose Aldo will take on Ricardo Lamas in the co-main event for UFC on Fox: Lawler v Dos Anjos. The victor will certainly demand a title shot against whoever has the featherweight strap after UFC 218.
The number six ranked Brian Ortega could also leap-frog his way into a title shot if he can overcome the number four ranked Cub Swanson on December 9. Swanson is highly skilled and 10-2 from his last 12 fights. However unfortunately for him, he has defeats to his name against the four featherweights mentioned above. Ortega is undefeated and so would be a fresh fight for the UFC brass to put together.
Holloway will successfully defend against Edgar. Aldo to defeat Lamas but overlooked for a title shot in favour of Brian Ortega who is coming off a submission victory Swanson.
Current Champion: Cody ‘No Love’ Garbrandt
Garbrandt is facing a stern test to retain his belt on November 4 as he takes on TJ Dillashaw in the co main event of UFC 217. There is no shortage of bad blood between the two, who previously went toe-to-toe as opposition coaches in The Ultimate Fighter 25.
Drama outside the Octagon aside, this will be a massive test for Cody. TJ is an accomplished all-rounder.
He comes from a wrestling background but has worked hard on his dynamic striking style, even recently sparring with one of the world’s greatest boxers, Vasyl Lomachenko.
Meanwhile, Dominick Cruz is the current number one contender. The former title holder has been forced to take to the octagon to defend his top-ranked position against Jimmie Rivera. If successful, this will guarantee Cruz a rematch with the winner of the UFC 217 bout.
Rivera is undefeated since joining the UFC back in July 2015 and will be hopeful of leap-frogging Cruz for a shot at the title. This will pose a mammoth task for the New Jersey man, especially if Cruz can return to the form which has left many labeling him as the best bantamweight in UFC history.
TJ Dillashaw to inflict the first defeat of Cody Garbrandt’s career and regain the bantamweight title setting up a rematch with Dominick Cruz next summer.
Current Champion: Demetrious ‘Mighty Mouse’ Johnson
DJ has just broken the record for most successful title defences in UFC history. Furthermore, Johnson broke the record with an incredible suplex into armbar move.
The most likely contender to face DJ will be the winner of Sergio Pettis and Henry Cejudo who meet at UFC 218. This is an interesting match-up as Pettis is still developing aged only 24.
Sergio is undefeated in his last four and overcame the number seven ranked Brandon Moreno convincingly back in August. Henry Cejudo is currently ranked second in the division but has lost in two of his last three.
The number one contender, Joseph Benavidez, would be another option. He has not fought in almost a year and is on the back of six successful victories. Unfortunately for Benavidez though, he has twice been defeated by Mighty Mouse which reduces the appetite of the UFC to grant the Texan fighter another crack at Johnson.
The flyweight roster is suffering from a lack of competition at the upper echelons of the division. This in turn is affecting the legacy of the current champ. A super fight against TJ Dillashaw was in negations only for DJ to reject in order to protect the integrity of the division, although many onlookers felt it was a fear of risking his most successful defence record.
Now that DJ has successfully broken the record previously held by Anderson Silva, the UFC may have to impose their will and force DJ to accept a fight with an opponent coming down from the bantamweight division.
Sergio Pettis to defeat Cejudo and gain his title shot. DJ will still have too much skill and experience for the challenger and will continue to extend his title defence record whilst avoiding a super fight with a big name coming from the bantamweight division.
Women’s Featherweight Division
Current Champion: Cris Cyborg
This is the newest division in the UFC of which there has only been two previous bouts. Holly Holm was defeated by Germaine de Randamie before de Randamie was stripped of the title for failure to defend.
Cris Cyborg then defeated Tonya Evinger for the vacated title. The UFC have not released any official rankings for the division and it is difficult to determine which fighters are willing and able to challenge Cyborg here.
Speculation is growing that Holly Holm will meet the Brazilian to headline UFC 219 on December 30 in Las Vegas.
Cyborg will defend successfully before the year is out and continue to rule the division. The division will become increasingly meaningless as the emergence of competition to challenge Cyborg remains stagnant.
Women’s Bantamweight Division
Current Champion: Amanda ‘The Lioness’ Nunes
The women’s bantamweight division is one of the most competitive divisions in the UFC. In the last two years there have been four different title holders.
That being said, the current champ Nunes is on the path to stabilising the division. She successfully wrestled the belt from Miesha Tate with a third round submission and followed it up with a devastating first round KO of former champ Ronda Rousey. Her most recent defence was a highly controversial split decision win over Valentina Shevchenko.
There was much criticism over the score cards with many feeling the Ukrainian was more aggressive and precise with her striking and should have been awarded the victory.
An immediate rematch is unlikely as that was the second meeting between the pair, with the Lioness having taken the first match also by a decision.
Other threats to the current champ include Holly Holm, Cat Zingano and Raquel Pennington. Holm is such a big name that the UFC would be likely to push her for a bantamweight title fight; however she is still being reported with a return to featherweight to challenge Cris Cyborg for the title as mentioned above.
Cat Zingano is another option. She has been plagued by injury in recent years and has been defeated in her last two fights. However her last win, which came back in September 2014, was over the current champ Nunes which could make for a very interesting narrative if she were to return at full fitness.
But ultimately, the favourite to challenge Nunes must still be Raquel Pennington. She has been victorious in her last four outings with her most recent win coming against former champ Miesha Tate.
Nunes will face Pennington and come out on top. A Holly Holm match-up to follow but ultimately I believe it will be Valentina Shevchenko to end Nunes reign at the top of the Bantamweight division at her third attempt.
Women’s Strawweight Division
Current Champion: Joanna ‘JJ’ Jedrzejczyk
Joanna Jedrejczyk is one of the most talented champions in the entire UFC roster. She is also very active, maintaining a minimum of two fights a year since becoming professional back in 2012. This combination has resulted in JJ having faced the majority of the talent pool at the 115lb weight class. In her last three outings she has defeated the top three ranked ladies (Andrade, Kowalkiewicz and Gadelha).
The next challenge for the Polish champ is number four ranked Rose Namajunas whom she will face on November 4 at UFC 217. It is very difficult to see how Rose can ask any questions of JJ which she has not already answered.
Another option to challenge for the gold would be the number five ranked Tecia Torres who is fresh of the back of a Performance of the Night award for her demolition of Juliana Lima back in June.
It appears Jedrzejczyk may suffer from the same problem as Mighty Mouse in the men’s flyweight division as discussed above. They are both victims of their superiority over the division.
Jedrzejczyk had previously volunteered to move up to the bantamweight division to take on Valentina Shevchenko previously when Nunes pulled out through illness. A successful step up to the bantamweight division may be required to provide Joanna with a genuine challenge.
Joanna Jedrejczyk will continue to dominate the division and will still be in possession of the straw weight belt this time next year.
Cathal Geeney, Pundit Arena