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 the men’s divisions and who will be entering 2022 at the top of each division.
The division finally heated up this year after talks of it being scrapped completely but Deiveson Figuieredo has started to dominate with wins over most of the top contenders. We could see a rematch between him and Brandon Moreno, with their first fight last month being a Fight of the Year contender. That fight was another close one but with Figuieredo having a point deduction and still retaining the belt, the UFC could put that rematch on the backburner.
The champion has also seen off number two ranked Joseph Benavidez twice, so the title shot should jump to Russian Askar Askarov (who took Moreno to a majority draw). Fifth-ranked Alex Perez lost to Benavidez a couple of months back. There were hints last year that we could see Cody Garbrandt moving to Flyweight too.
Is the thirst growing for Henry Cejudo vs Deiveson Figuieredo? I would personally love to see that fight. Both men are 33 and I think we all know that “Triple C’s” retirement is probably are bargaining tool but he is certainly holding out on it at the moment. If he does return, there is no guarantee that it will be in this division. He has already called out names from both bantamweight and featherweight. The showdown he seems to really want is with featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, having expressed his desire for the fight on The Joe Rogan Experience earlier this year. I think he could find his feet in a familiar division before moving up to be the first man to claim titles across three UFC divisions.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Henry Cejudo
Champion Petr Yan is yet to defend his belt after beating Jose Aldo for the vacant strap in July of last year. He is also yet to fight any of the top five.
Aljamain Sterling looks to be the front-runner to get a title shot. He has bounced back from his defeat to Marlon Moraes with an impressive five-fight winning streak, featuring names such as Jimmie Rivera, Pedro Munhoz and most recently choking out number two ranked Cory Sandhagen in June.
Cody Garbrandt is still in the division for now and sits third in the rankings. After losing his way with a three-fight losing streak, Cody came back convincingly with a Performance of the Night, knocking out Raphael Assuncao on the same card as Sandhagen and Sterling.
Much has been made of the return of former champion TJ Dillashaw. He is eligible from the 18th January after serving a two-year suspension for doping. I could be wrong but I can’t see them rewarding TJ with an immediate title shot after such a long and controversial lay-off.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Aljamain Sterling
Current champion Alexander Volkanovski won the title via unanimous decision in his first fight with Max Holloway. The defense against Max was super-closer and ended in a split decision in favour of Alexander “The Great”.
With Max seemingly have had his chance to beat him, the champ’ faces a tough test in a reinvigorated (and possibly still shaven-headed) Brian Ortega. Max didn’t struggle against Ortega but UFC math doesn’t add up most of the time, you can only try and use it to determine who gets the shot and not who wins the fight. We could possibly see the title change hands in another very close fight and with the fight being planned for February, we could see it become an early frontrunner for Fight of the Year 2021.
Dana was planning for third and fourth to fight in the form of Zabit Magomedsharipov and Yair Rodriguez respectively. The boss appears to have put the fight behind him after it was cancelled for a third time. Yair is currently serving a six-month USADA ban and is likely not in the UFC’s good graces at the moment. The fifth-ranked “Korean Zombie” already lost to Ortega a couple of months back, so it looks to clear the way for Zabit. “Honest” Zabe (as he is also known) has not fought since 2019, beating Calvin Kattar by unanimous decision in Moscow. Unbeaten in his six UFC fights, Zabit is a guy that many are rightly excited about.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Zabit Magomedsharipov
I am going to go out on a limb and say that this is the most exciting division in the UFC this year. I see a lot of arguments for Khabib’s fights being “boring”, whether you believe that or not, I don’t think you can deny that dominant champions don’t always make for particularly exciting divisions, as the UFC scramble to find worthy challengers (just look at the majority of the women’s divisions). With Khabib’s retirement looking pretty real, we are highly likely to see a new champion this year but I wouldn’t want to put any money down on who that would be.
Conor returns mid-January with a tough test against Dustin Poirer, which will be fourth against second respectively. “Notorious” will be confident that he can take out “The Diamond” having already beaten him early on in their UFC careers. Both have matured as fighters since the fight in 2014, which ended in a first-round knockout. I don’t see a dissimilar result this time.
Michael Chandler is making his debut against number six ranked Dan Hooker. It looked at first as if the UFC was going to fast-track Chandler straight to a title fight but business sense has prevailed and they are starting him against a lower-ranked fighter. Hooker is no pushover though and could easily upset the former Bellator man.
Many are calling for Tony Ferguson’s retirement and the simple fact that he has lost his last two means he is unlikely to be getting a title shot anytime soon. This likely leaves the continually impressive (and now third-ranked) Charles Oliveira to fight the man who was last to have a shot at the title, Justin Gaethje.
I think Conor fights Gaethje for the title in the second half of the year. This is one of the most exciting fights the UFC can put on in my opinion but it will be terribly exciting to see how this division plays out. I know who the UFC would like to see wearing the strap…
Champion on 1st January 2022: Conor McGregor
“The Nigerian Nightmare” Kamaru Usman has been pretty solid at the top of the welterweight division after dominating Tyron Woodley to win the title back in 2019. He stopped number one contender Colby Covington and beat fan-favourite and number four ranked Jorge Masvidal (be it on short-notice).
It looks like the title shots this year will go to Gilbert Burns and either Leon Edwards or bizarrely number 15 ranked Khamzat Chimaev should he fight and beat Edwards. Burns is ranked number two so should get a shot in early 2021. Edwards was removed from the rankings but accepting a fight with Khamzat is seemingly enough to see him reinstated at number three in the rankings. The UFC appears to be reluctant to offer Edwards a title shot but it will be hard to deny him one after Burns gets his shot.
Colby and Masvidal have to fight this year, so Stephen “Wonderboy” Thompson is an outside shot for the title. He already beat Jorge in 2017 and has looked impressive in his last couple of fights. He could possibly sneak in another title shot at the end of the year if he gets another win or two before then.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Kamaru Usman
Another dominant champion is Israel Adesanya. He has Easily disposed of number one contender Robert Whittaker and number two Paulo Costa. Jared Cannonier is third and Darren Till fourth but Whittaker beat them both after he lost the title, leaving this division in a bit of a mess.
Whittaker looks to be the man to get the next title shot but it may not be against Adesanya, who already has his title shot at light heavyweight booked in. We could well see “The Last Stylebender” vacate the belt in this division if he wins the title in the weight above. Adesanya has cleared out the division and Robert Whittaker has beaten the guys immediately below him in the rankings too. We could well see Italian Marvin Vettori fight Whittaker for the title at some point this year, as Adesanya further seeks his super-showdown with Jon Jones.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Robert Whittaker
Men’s Light Heavyweight
I do see Israel Adesanya beating Jan Blachowicz for the title, although it certainly won’t be a walkover. Does Izzy move up again to heavyweight to fight Jones (With Jon recently expressing no desire to move back to light heavyweight)?
Glover Teixeira looks to be the only other reasonable argument for a title shot at the moment. I think they have to put the 41-year-old in against Dominick Reyes early this year. Jiri Prochazka could be an outsider, as he looks towards bigger challenges but is untested against the elite in the division. Putting him in with Thiago Santos could see another contender emerge.
The rest of the division looks a league below and who holds the championship in this division will depend on Jon Jones’ decision. If he doesn’t move down, then I think Israel moves up again (should he win against Jan). I doubt that the UFC will allow Izzy to defend belts across three divisions. Light heavyweight looks like the best place for him to be, with plenty of fresh challenges if he does dethrone Jan.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Israel Adesanya
This is really a three-horse race if we do not ponder on Adesanya’s arrival.
Stipe has been the most dominant heavyweight champion ever and has already seen off the man we are all terrified of, Francis Ngannou. “The Predator” has worked his way to another title fight and this will likely happy early in the year. Ngannou has much more experience now and I think this time he knocks Stipe out.
This leads to Jon Jones vs Francis Ngannou. Take my money. One of the most technical fighters ever against definitely the most powerful fighters the UFC has ever seen. The “experts” will argue technique wins every time but Jones has started to get hit in a way he never used to. I do see Jones moving back down to fight Izzy after this fight but it could well be Izzy moving up again and if we are very lucky, we could see Jones vs Izzy this year.
Champion on 1st January 2022: Francis Ngannou