The UFC is the elite of the elite and is packed with more fighters than ever before. All have one thing on their minds: being crowned champion of the world.
Very few accomplish the feat but that doesn’t stop every one of them from trying. It is not all about who is the biggest and the baddest in this sport, it takes a great mind and a strong determination to earn the belt and even more to keep it.
Today we look at who will be entering 2022 at the top of each division,
Many argue that Weili Zhang’s fight with Joanna Jedrzejczyk was Fight of the Year in 2020 and that gets no argument from me. Fights of the Year are always super-close and this was no exception. Joanna looks to have shaken off the cobwebs that saw her lose the belt and has come back strong. I expect we will see a rematch with these two in the first half of the year. The sequels never usually live up to their predecessors but we should be in for another very close fight and one we all want to see.
Dana has also been throwing Rose Namajunas’ name into the mix for a title shot too, although that seems to be up in the air at the moment. It makes sense to do Joanna vs Zhang first, with Rose fighting the winner. There is still something about the interview Rose gave when she lost the title that sticks in my head. After that and unless she has completely changed her mindset, I can’t how she wants the title more than the other two.
Another Chinese fighter who has been on a streak and could sneak in a title fight towards the end of the year is Yan Xiaonan. Undefeated in her six fights in the UFC and having already beat Claudia Gadelha and Angela Hill, Yan could possibly be at the top of the mountain at the start of next year.
In what is probably the most exciting women’s division, I think we see a true re-emergence this year and a new champion in the flyweight division.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Joanna Jedrzejczyk
The only person that can stop Valentina Shevchenko appears to be Amanda Nunes, having already beaten her in 2016 and 2017. Fortunately for Valentina, Nunes doesn’t fight at flyweight, allowing her to reign supreme in the division. She convincingly beat Katlyn Chookagian and Jennifer Maia in 2020, as well as Liz Carmouche and Jessica Eye in 2019. The challenges in 2021 are likely to come from Lauren Murphy and former strawweight champion and recent flyweight arrival Jessica Andrade.
It’s highly probable that we don’t see a new champion crowned in this division.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Valentina Shevchenko
A two-weight division champion inevitably offers less opportunity to challenge for the belt. You would hope to see a champion defend three or four times a year but a two-weight division champion is more likely to be one or two. There isn’t much competition left for Amanda. She beat Germaine De Randemie and Holly Holm in 2019. Holm did beat number five ranked Irene Aldana in October, so I only see Amanda defending the bantamweight belt once in 2021 and it will likely be against Aspen Ladd. De Randemie handed Ladd her first defeat inside 16 seconds in July 2019 but she came back with a win in December and now sits third in the rankings. She did not fight at all in 2020 but with the UFC likely wanting to see a fresh face in a division that is a bit of a mess, she is likely to be fed to “The Lioness”.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Amanda Nunes
The only fighter on the official UFC site ranked in this division is Amanda Nunes as champion. This is probably an error on their site but it is ironically accurate. Megan Anderson is next for Nunes in March, having originally been planned for December just gone. Having already beat number one contender Felicia Spencer by unanimous decision in June last year, Anderson looks to be the only real challenger left for the Brazilian champion. Megan has already lost to Spencer by first-round submission in 2019 and I don’t see anything other than a dominant Nunes win.
Unless Nunes vacates the belt to focus on the stronger division or has a bad night at the office due to sheer exhaustion from late nights with her recently born baby, I don’t see anyone else getting close to either of her belts this year.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Amanda Nunes