2020 saw three new UFC champions crowned, with Petr Yan, Deiveison Figueiredo and Jan Blachowicz all claiming gold, respectively. Despite just three changes this calendar year the challengers continued to line up one after the other, proving to be stern and difficult tests.
It would be foolish to try and predict what the sport will look like twelve months from now, but who doesn’t love a trier? Without any further introduction, here is your list of UFC champions by December 31, 2021, part two.
Men’s Featherweight (145 pounds)
Current Champion: Alexander Volkanovski
Many words can be used to describe the featherweight division, with ‘wow’ being my go-to.
From Josh Emmett and Shane Burgos’ epic three-round battle to Brian Ortega’s impeccable comeback, 2020 was a massive year for all in the weight class. In spite of all the fun featherweight produced this year, it goes without saying that Alexander Volkanovski vs. Max Holloway 2 was the defining moment.
In a technical fight of the highest degree, Volkanovski and Holloway delivered one of, if not the greatest showcase of the year, adding another five rounds to their emphatic rivalry. The bout truly deserved no loser, yet it was the champion who left the cage with the win; a close fight, not a robbery like the uneducated often imply.
Volkanovski is reportedly set to defend his title against Ortega, in a fight that should offer him the chance to display his wide skillset both on the feet and the ground. If “The Great” is able to sway this challenger, it isn’t far fetched to imagine matchmakers gifting Zabit Magomedsharipov a shot, in spite of him having no win in the top 5. Will the title change hands? Only time will tell, but I expect the Aussie to keep a firm grip of his strap throughout the upcoming year.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Alexander Volkanovski
Lightweight (155 pounds)
Current Champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov
In the eyes of many the lightweight division is the most talent stacked in mixed martial arts, and currently plays host to numerous of the UFC’s top pay-per-view draws. With Conor McGregor and Dustin Poirier set to clash on January 23, 2021 is shaping up to be an interesting year for the lightweights.
Following Khabib Nurmagomedov’s (apparent) retirement, 155-pounds opened up entirely; Charles Oliveira, the aforementioned Poirier and even a rejuvenated Rafael Dos Anjos are all ready to compete for the vacant crown. As well as these savvy veterans aiming for a title, fringed talents such as Beneil Dariush or Carlos Ferreira could be cracking the top 5 within the next couple of months, with both adding their own dash of flavor to the weight class.
Now, my prediction for which lightweight will wear UFC gold come December 31, 2021, may seem odd, but allow me to explain. I believe Justin Gaethje – despite just beaten by former kingpin Nurmagomedov – will take the title of champion.
It’s clear that Gaethje is one of the superior strikers at 155, with many’s lists including him, McGregor and Poirier. And while he never got to display these skills in his most recent outing (credit goes to his opponent), Justin remains dangerously efficient. Gaethje 2.0; should we call him, is a more patient, precise and polished kickboxer than his early UFC performances would suggest. Realistically, he’ll be looking to rebound against either Charles Oliveira or the winner of Dan Hooker vs. Michael Chandler, as a win over any three keeps him in the title conversation. One way or another, we should be treated to either Gaethje vs. McGregor or a rematch with Poirier (a lot of names are being spilt here – thanks for bearing with me), with one of these fights being for the championship.
Slander Gaethje all you want, but he may be your next lightweight champion.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Justin Gaethje
Welterweight (170 pounds)
Current Champion: Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman competed just once in 2020, where he shut-out Jorge Masvidal over the course of five rounds. Casual fans were upset at his performance – especially off the back of his firefight with Colby Covington last December – causing them to forget how skilled “The Nigerian Nightmare” is.
Usman will enter the new year with another challenge: former teammate and jiu-jitsu black belt Gilbert Burns, who has compiled an undefeated record at 170-pounds. The pair have been scheduled to fight twice already, with the COVID-19 pandemic taking center stage and spoiling those plans. Because of this, 2021 is looking like the year Usman and Burns will lock horns, and I for one cannot wait.
As well as a fight between champion and challenger, fast-rising prospect Khamzat Chimaev has set himself up for a massive year. Previously scheduled to meet Leon Edwards, a dangerous striker currently operating an eight-fight win streak, Chimaev was ruled out of there January 20 meeting due to a positive COVID-19 test; it has since been reported that he is suffering from lung issues as a result of the virus.
If he faces Burns, Chimaev, Edwards or even all three, picking against Kamaru Usman is a stern task. He’s slowly but surely making his way up the pound-for-pound rankings, and by the end of the year will have an even more impressive resume.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Kamaru Usman
Middleweight (185 pounds)
Current Champion: Israel Adesanya
It’s no secret that Israel Adesanya possesses the best striking in MMA, with his utter dominance of Paulo Costa portraying this. An undefeated, cocky champion seems to sell well for the UFC, but in the new year, Adesanya will have a whole new task on his hands.
In March, Adesanya will move up to light heavyweight in order to challenge Jan Blachowicz for the crown; with a huge skill disparity on paper, many are expecting Israel to run through the ‘Polish Power.’ With the champion set to move up combined with Dana White’s commitment to not allowing simultaneous champions to defend both titles (unless your name is Amanda Nunes), this writer foresees the 185-pound belt being vacant for a period of time. Who will challenge for the vacant belt? Well, one part of that answer is quite obvious.
Robert Whittaker is doubtlessly the most deserving challenger at middleweight and while many would be in favor of directly handing him the title, he’d need to officially regain it first. Now, this is where things can change drastically as it all comes down to what direction the UFC wishes to head in; if he returns to the win column, Paulo Costa could easily fill the role of Whittaker’s dance partner. Or if rising Italian Marvin Vettori manages to get past Darren Till, the likelihood of him receiving a shot would be high.
Next year will see dramatic shifts in the land of the middleweight’s, with fan-favorites like Kevin Holland continuing to breakthrough.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Robert Whittaker
Light Heavyweight (205 pounds)
Current Champion: Jan Blachowicz
‘Polish Power’ was one of the more used phrases of 2020, and rightfully so. After being disrespected for far too long, Jan Blachowicz smashed his way to the top, destroying both Cory Anderson and Dominick Reyes en route to claiming gold.
By December, MMA fans believed that they were looking at Blachowicz’s first challenger in Glover Teixeira, however, the promotion as opted to overlook Texeira’s win streak and recent efforts, booking middleweight champion Israel Adesanya against him instead. As it stands the pair will trade blows on March 6 and headline UFC 259.
Moving on from the champion, light heavyweight is a pretty poor weight class as a whole. Apart from Jiri Prochazka and Alexsandar Rakic the division’s upper echelon lacks new blood, making it anything but its finest hour. Don’t fear too much, though, as Magomed Ankalaev and Jimmy Crute – ranked #11 and #12 respectively – are two up and comers who produce a ton of fun in every outing.
As you can see below, I believe Israel Adesanya will get his hands on the light heavyweight belt, further intensifying the rivalry between himself and Jon Jones. Adesanya enjoys being active and because of this, we will see him a minimum of two times in 2021.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Israel Adesanya
Heavyweight (265 pounds)
Current Champion: Stipe Miocic
Alas, we arrive on the final and least technical weight class in all of mixed martial arts – heavyweight. For all its qualms, 2020 was a fairly positive year for the division, as we witnessed the end of Stipe Miocic’s rivalry with Daniel Cormier. On top of getting the trilogy out of the way, Curtis Blaydes further asserted himself as a top contender and prospect Cyril Gane claimed the big win he needed.
Although Stipe vs. Cormier 3 was heavyweights most important fight of the year, the news that Jon Jones would be moving up in weight unquestionably stole the limelight; a should-be undefeated, multiple-time world champion finally taking the jump promised for so many years. While he may not have a win as a UFC heavyweight, Jones entering the division changes everything, for better or worse.
As it stands the promotions plan is to book a rematch between Stipe Miocic and Francis Ngannou for early 2021. The winner of this fight would then, in Dana White’s ideal world, face Jones, setting up what could be the years biggest fight. The odds of this changing is high, however, so for those of you that support Jones – don’t get your hopes up.
The writer predicts that Miocic and Ngannou will fight in the early portion of 2021, with the latter exiting the cage as champion. Ngannou will then go on to defend his title once, whether that be against Jones or the previously mentioned Blaydes. Nobody will be able to steal the gold from his waist, and Africa will have its third UFC champion.
Champion on December 31, 2021: Francis Ngannou