2023 was a crazy year at the top of the UFC, and with 2024 showing no signs of calming down, let’s look ahead at who will be champion when the year comes to an end.
In 2023 there were 21 title fights in the UFC, with nine of them resulting in new champions being crowned.
With shock upsets like Alexa Grasso submitting long-time champion Valentina Shevchenko and Sean Strickland dismantling Israel Adesanya in a unanimous decision, MMA proved that it is a hard sport to predict.
That being said, it’s great fun to try so here are my picks for each UFC division’s champion.
Flyweight – Alexandre Pantoja
While there are plenty of top contenders in the 125 division at the moment, I think Alexandre Pantoja will continue his reign as champion throughout 2024.
Even though I think Muhammad Mokaev will be the champion of this division, I think 2024 will be too early for him and it’ll be next year before we see him become 125 champ.
With that in mind, I think the next flyweight title challenger in 2024 will be Amir Albazi – who remains undefeated in the UFC – and has shown he has the tools to challenge the champ.
However, the Iraqi showed flaws in his controversial decision over Kai Kara-France last time out and I think Pantoja will be better positioned to expose these flaws and add another ruby to his championship belt.
Bantamweight – Merab Dvalishvili
Now that Aljamain Sterling is moving up to featherweight, the bantamweight division is open and ready for Merab Dvalishvili’s time as champion.
But before that, we have two big fights in the next couple of months in the division that will shape the championship.
Obviously, we have champion Sean O’Malley facing Marlon Vera at UFC 299 in March, I think O’Malley will get through that and will be the champ for most of the year.
Before that though, we have Dvalishvili vs Henry Cejudo as the co-main event of UFC 298 next month and surely the winner of that is next in line for a title shot.
Although it’ll be a tough fight for Dvalishvili I think he will get through Triple C and set up the fight with O’Malley towards the end of the year.
Featherweight – Alexander Volkanovski
Even though I rate Alexander Volkanovski so highly, this was a really hard one to call.
Volkanovski faces Ilia Topuiria next month and I think that it will be a really close fight. It feels like Topurira is coming good just as Volk seems to be having a bit of a dip and that is dangerous for the champ.
Add to this the fact that the Australian turned 35 in September and fighters aged 35+ have a record of 2-28 in UFC title fights, it could be a bad night for the reigning champion.
That being said though, I’m not quite ready to count Volk out yet.
He has been so dominant at featherweight and until I see anything to suggest otherwise, I can only assume he will continue to do so.
Lightweight – Islam Makhachev
The pound-for-pound king will remain on top in 2024.
However, with Makhachev fasting for Ramadan, we unfortunately won’t see him fight until the summer, meaning there will be limited opportunities for the belt to change hands this year.
The champ disputed this claim though as he recently shared his plans for 2024 on social media.
Makhachev plans to face Justin Gaethje in June and then the winner of Charles Olivera vs Arman Tsarukyan in November.
However, Gaethje has just had a fight booked against former featherweight champion Max Holloway at UFC 300 in April.
If Holloway comes away from that with a victory, he could leapfrog ” The Highlight” and secure a lightweight title shot.
I think Makhachev, quite comfortably, will beat Gaethje or Holloway and Olivera if he gets through Tsarukyan in April.
If Makhachev is matched up against Tsarukyan however, I think it could be a much tougher matchup for the Russian champion.
Tsarukyan improved significantly since his last fight with Makhachev back in 2019 and dominated Beneil Dariush in his last fight to really establish himself as another top contender in the division.
That being said, I would still expect Makhachev to get the job done and continue his reign at lightweight.
Welterweight – Leon Edwards
In the welterweight division, I’m sticking with the current champion once again but although, I think this may be an unpopular pick due to a certain man from Kazakhstan who looks almost undeniable.
But before we talk about Shavkat Rakhmonov, we have to mention the ever-popular Belal Muhammad as it sounds like he will finally be getting his title shot at UFC 300.
When the pair met in 2021, Edwards was dominating Muhammad and, If I’m honest, I think a second meeting would be the same and Edwards would beat Muhammad comfortably and set up a fight with Rakhmonov at the end of the year.
Rakhmonov is an incredible fighter, he is unbeaten and has finished his opponent in every fight, but I think Leon Edwards is slept on by a lot of UFC fans.
I believe that Edwards’ elite striking and the improved takedown defence that he demonstrated against Kamaru Usman and Colby Covington will be enough to beat Shavkat should the pair meet in 2024.
Middleweight – Israel Adesanya
Middleweight is a really hard division to pick with the championship being blown open when Sean Strickland beat Adesanya at the end of last year.
Strickland vs Dricus Du Plessis this weekend will no doubt have a massive impact on who is champ come the end of the year, especially if the winner only fights one more time this year which is highly likely.
But, I think the next to fight for the belt after Strickland v Du Plessis will be… Israel Adesanya
I know Adesanya has said he is going to be out of the sport for a while, jokingly suggesting we won’t see him until 2027, but I can’t see that happening.
I think he’ll come back in the middle of the year, beat a top contender (probably Khamzat Chimaev) and then there will be a ready-made narrative for a title shot set up with either the Strickland rematch or the back-and-forth about African heritage with Du Plessis.
Light Heavyweight – Jamahal Hill
I think Alex Pereira vs Jamahal Hill is next on top of the light heavyweight division but if so, this forces Pereira to wait for Hill to recover from the Achilles injury which forced the former champion to vacate the belt in July.
If this is the case, then the fight won’t happen until summer this year and therefore, I think that it would be likely that we would only see one light heavyweight championship fight this year.
However, there’s no guarantee that Hill is next in line and if not, then Magomed Ankalaev is another solid option for a title shot after his dominant win over Johnny Walker last weekend.
Pereira’s coach and former champion Glover Teixeira added fuel to this possibility after he took to X (formerly Twitter) to respond to Ankalaev’s victory, saying: “Great knockout. We will see u soon.”
It’s not even impossible to imagine a Pereira v Adesanya trilogy fight at 205lbs as the main event for UFC 300 to put to bed that rivalry and offer Adesanya another opportunity to become a two-weight UFC champion.
But whatever way it goes, one thing is for certain, Jamahal Hill will get an opportunity to win back his belt this year and regardless of when this is or who it is against, I think he’ll come out on top once again.
Heavyweight – Tom Aspinall
It’s got to be Tommy Aspinall, doesn’t it?
Although there are some roadblocks ahead of Tom Aspinall in his pursuit of the undisputed heavyweight championship in 2024.
Despite Aspinall being the interim champion, it is clear that the next title fight in the division will be the legacy fight between current champion Jon Jones and former champion Stipe Miocic.
But, as frustrating as this is for Aspinall, it could work in his favour.
It has been widely speculated that, regardless of the result of the fight, both Jones and Miocic will retire and give up the heavyweight belt.
If this were to happen, the interim champion would automatically be elevated to undisputed champion
Even if not, I think Aspinall would beat either Jones or Miocic should they choose to stay on as champion, the only issue would be that I think it would be unlikely that this fight would be made in 2024.
But all of that is out of Aspinall’s hands and between now and then it is likely that the UFC will expect him
I’d favour Aspinall in either of those fights and so, regardless of what happens with Jones and Miocic, I think we will go into 2025 with the first-ever British UFC heavyweight champion.
Women’s Strawweight – Tatiana Suarez
Last week, we had the first women’s flyweight title fight announced as Zhang Weili faces fellow countrywoman Yan Xiaonan in the first-ever all-Chinese UFC title fight.
I think Weili wins that fight in dominant fashion, and will face off against Tatiana Suarez at the end of the year.
But, Suarez has her own fight to deal with first, facing number 4 contender Amanda Lemos, but I think she has that in the bag and set up the fight with Weili and defeat the champion.
With wins over three champions, including current flyweight champion Grasso, it feels like Suarez is undeniable.
Women’s Flyweight – Erin Blanchfield
I’m all in on the Blanchfield hype train.
Although I’ve been really impressed with Alexa Grasso in both of her fights with Valentina Shevchenko – who is obviously a world-class fighter and one of the best women in the history of the sport – I just feel that Blanchfield is undeniable.
Blanchfield has a tough fight coming up against Manon Fiorot and the winner of that will surely get a title shot against the winner of Grasso v Shevchenko 3 which will most likely be the next women’s flyweight championship fight.
Fiorot is a challenge but I think Blanchfield will get through her and continue her flawless streak in the UFC and set up the title fight at the end of the year where I expect her to become the new flyweight champion.
Women’s Bantamweight – Mayra Bueno Silva
For my final championship prediction for 2024, I’m backing Brazilian Mayra Bueno Silva to win the vacant belt this weekend and hold onto it for the remainder of the year.
That being said, it feels like there is a real possibility that in the post-Nunes era, we will have a similar situation to the post-Rousey era where the belt switches hands regularly.
But, if someone is to emerge as the clear champion at 135, I think it is Bueno Silva.
I slightly favour her against Raquel Pennington and I think that she will probably fight again this year against former champion Julianna Pena, who I expect her to dominate after taking the fight to the ground.