I originally drafted this article before UFC Fight Night 143, in anticipation of TJ Dillashaw beating Henry Cejudo, and that fight changing the landscape of the UFC’s lower weight classes. However that didn’t happen, but what did unfold at Fight Night 143 will still have a huge impact on who the champions of each division will be at the end of 2019. With that in mind I thought it would be a good time to predict who we think will be atop the UFC’s many divisions by the end of the year, so let’s dive right in:
Current Champion: Daniel Cormier
Prediction: Cain Velasquez… if he can stay healthy
This might be the most difficult division to predict, because so much is up in the air. The current champion has openly expressed his desire to retire upon his 40th birthday in March, and yet still has three different fighters scrapping it out for a shot as his belt. We know that DC will put his heavyweight crown on the line at least once more before he bows out of the sport, but we have no idea who that is going to be against. If it’s Brock, the belt is likely going to be vacated after the fight no matter what the outcome. If it’s Jon Jones, the belt is likely going to be vacated after the fight no matter what the outcome (I can’t see JJ hanging around at HW). If he takes on Miocic, and Miocic wins, I think the next defense will come against Velasquez, and I can only see that fight going one way.
The UFC Heavyweight champion at the end of 2019 will be Cain Velasquez.
Current Champion: Jon Jones
Prediction: Jon Jones… barring another USADA failure
Jon Jones made… well yet another long awaited return from suspension at the end of 2018, bringing with him the power of the picogram. Despite that whole debacle, which we can hopefully now begin to put behind us, Jones was in dangerous form as he brushed aside long term contender and rival Alexander Gustafsson. He never really looked in trouble, barely broke a sweat, and that was against the best the division has to offer. He’s lined up to fight Anthony Smith in March, and unless he trips up and fails yet another test. I can’t see him dropping the belt any time soon.
There looks to be a few top guys moving up to LHW from the Middleweight division, in the shape of Luke Rockhold and potentially Yoel Romero. I don’t think Rockhold is anywhere near being on Bones’ level, and could potentially end up becoming another Gustafsson type figure in the division. Romero could pose more of a challenge, the guy would be even more ripped at 205, but his gas tank is already shaky at middleweight and I’m not sure his body could handle the extra muscle mass and fat he would need to fight at LHW. If Jones could survive the first round or two, it would be easy pickings for him. The only person that can defeat Jon Jones is himself.
Current Champion: Robert Whittaker
Prediction: Robert Whittaker
This is another tough one to call. A lot of the guys in the top five of the division are former champions, or have already had a crack at Whittaker. It’s likely we’ll see both Romero and Rockhold move up to 205 this year, opening up at least two spots at the top of the division, which are likely going to be filled by Paulo Costa and Israel Adesayna.
There’s a huge groundswell movement in the MMA community at the moment to get Stylebender a title shot after a huge breakout year, but I think he could do with a couple more fights against the top guys before he takes a crack at Bobby Knuckles. I think we’ll see Whittaker defend his belt twice this year, with one defence already lined up next month against Kelvin Gastelum, and we may finally see Souza get a crack at the title towards the end of 2019.
Current Champion: Tyron Woodley
Prediction: Tyron Woodley
I mean… it’s obvious… right? Though a lot of fans don’t seem to want to accept it, Tyron Woodley may be one of the best fighters the UFC has seen in the past few years. Is he ever going to enter GOAT territory? No. He won’t even be the greatest fighter in the history of his division, however he is head and shoulders above the rest of the current WW talent.
Watching Woodley defend his belt may be more boring than watching paint dry for some more casual fans, but some of the more refined, technical MMA fans will have a great appreciation for The Chosen One. He doesn’t press his gameplan or style onto an opponent. He sets up to neutralise their best weapon, and then has them on the back foot for the rest of the fight. He’ll defend the belt twice this year, once against Usman and once against Covington, then I think he’ll finally get that big superfight that he so desperately wants.
Current Champion: Khabib Nurmagomedov
Prediction: Khabib Nurmagomedov… unless he moves up
Is there much to say on this one? What’s that? Tony Ferguson? If that fight ever makes it to the octagon (which based on past events seems like it’s never going to happen), I don’t think Tony will have anywhere near as much of a chance as people seem to think. Khabib’s stand up game has evolved drastically in the past 12 months, we saw as much when he managed to outstrike Conor McGregor, and there’s no way El Cucuy can stop the takedowns. No-one can. The man is not from this planet.
The only thing that is going to stop Khabib from ruling this division for a long time is an early retirement, or the UFC runs back the McGregor fight until they finally get the result that they want. Conor beats Nurmy, while Khabib has both hands tied behind his back and can only stand on one leg.
Current Champion: Max Holloway
Prediction: Max Holloway… or who knows.
This pick entirely hinges on whether or not Max Holloway wants to stick around in the Featherweight division. There’s a chance we’ll see him move up to Lightweight for a shot at Khabib, likely in a Champ vs Champ matchup, but in that scenario he would likely lose and return to his normal duties, cleaning out the Featherweights. But there’s also a chance that Holloway just decides to abandon his division and make a full time move up to Lightweight. It’s only when you consider this, you realise how odd the landscape at FW really is.
You’ve got Brian Ortega who just lost a fairly close fight with Holloway. It’s likely that he would get a shot at the vacant belt if Holloway leaves, but who does he fight? The next logical contender would be Frankie Edgar, but Ortega has already been there and done that. Aldo has announced that he plans to retire at the end of 2019, so that’s a no go. Then you have to look a little further down the list. I wouldn’t be surpirsed if the title shot was given to Alexander Volkanovski, but that might be a little premature. It’s one to keep an eye on.
Prediction: TJ Dillashaw
I’ve been highly critical of TJ Dillashaw following his loss to Henry Cejudo at UFC Fight Night 143. The way he handled the stoppage and his subsequent demands for a rematch are childish and unwarranted. That being said, I do think he is currently the best fighter in the Bantamweight division… excluding prime Dominick Cruz.
Unfortunately I don’t see Cruz being able to string together two fights in the space of a year, given his horrible injury troubles as of late. It’s a huge shame, because he is an incredibly talented fighter and I think UFC fans across the globe would love to see him back in the Octagon as soon as possible.
That being said, I think there are two fights that make sense for TJ in 2019. A rubber match with Raphael Assuncao, who has gone on a four fight winning streak since his loss to Dillashaw back in 2016. The second fight would be Marlon Moraes (who is 16-1 in his last 17 fights), Moraes is currently riding a three fight winning streak against some of the guys at the top of the division. I think both of these guys deserve a shot at the belt before we even think of Cejudo coming up to challenge at 135 or TJ going back down to 125.
Current Champion: Henry Cejudo
N/A Henry Cejudo? Maybe.
I originally drafted this piece before UFC Fight Night 143, and as you can see above, I didn’t have much faith in Henry Cejudo. It’s safe to say I was very much wrong. If Cejudo decides to stay in the Flyweight division, I think he’ll be able to retain his crown. A rematch with Dennis Bermudez would certainly be intriguing, I think Cejudo would edge it.
I’m not sure what would be next for the Flyweight division after that point. Despite Cejudo defeating TJ, everything is still extremely uncertain. I wouldn’t be surprised if the UFC granted Cejudo a shot at Dillashaw at 135 lbs and then used that as an excuse to close the division.
All in all, if the division still exists at the end of 2019, I expect Cejudo to be the man on top.
Current Champion: Amanda Nunes
Prediction: … Cyborg? Or no-one?
Well… this is a difficult one to call. Amanda Nunes decimated Cyborg in under a minute, but has already stated that she has no intention to return to the 145lb division following that victory. That leaves extremely slim pickings at Featherweight. You’re essentially down to either Cyborg or Megan Anderson. Which all feels a little pointless. There’s no depth to the division, it’s biggest star has just been embarrassed in front of millions on pay-per-view, you can’t just give her the belt back… surely? The best thing to do in this case would be close the division, unless they can find some new talent, and fast.
Current Champion: Amanda Nunes
Prediction: Amanda Nunes
After becoming the first woman in the UFC to hold a belt in two different divisions, and the first female to hold two belts at the same time, the sky is the limit for Amanda Nunes. It’ll be interesting to see where she goes from here, as she has already beaten many of the fighters at the top of the division.
There are three matchups that I can see the UFC considering for Nunes in 2019. The first is a title defence against surging prospect Ketlen Vieira, who is currently 10-0 and coming off a win against Cat Zingano in March last year. I would expect Vieira to face another top level contender before she gets a shot at The Lioness, but I wouldn’t be surprised to see her making a run for the title by the end of the year.
The second matchup that I can see being made is Nunes vs Valentina Shevchenko. The Lioness hold two wins over the Flyweight champion, and has already expressed a desire to move down to 125 and take her on for a third time. It would be interesting to see if she could make the cut, and how she would fight at the lower weight. It’s a matchup that I would be quite excited to see.
It’s also possible that the UFC could try and push through a matchup with Aspen Ladd, but I feel like it would be a little premature. Along with her struggles making weight early in her career (which hopefully she’ll be able to figure out as she gets a little more experience under her belt), I think it would be best off giving her a few more fights against top tier opponents.
Current Champion: Valentina Shevchenko
Prediction: Valentina Shevchenko
This is Valentina’s division. It has always been clear that this would be the case, and her win over one of the greatest women’s fighters of all time to claim the crown helps prove the point. It’s certainly a division to keep an eye on over the next 12 months, there are a number of interesting fights that could be made for Bullet.
Current #1 contender is Jessica Eye, who has managed to put together a three fight winning streak, all at flyweight, to end what was previously a four fight slide. She is currently expected to be next in line for a title shot, likely in early spring or summer this year. Then, as mentioned above, I think we may see the UFC run Nunes vs Shevchenko for the third time, towards the end of the year. It has a New Years card type feel about it.
Current Champion: Rose Namajunas
Prediction: THUG ROSE
This is a tough one to predict… we haven’t heard much from Rose Namajunas since her second win over former champion Joanna Jędrzejczyk almost a year ago. However it has been announced that she will be taking on number one contender Jessica Andrade at UFC 237 in May.
This will definitely be a close fight, and it will be interesting to see how Rose will have improved over her year out of the Octagon. The Rose Namajunas we saw fight Joanna was a drastically improved version to the one we saw defeat Michelle Waterson. She seems to progress her game in huge leaps rather than small steps that we see with other fighters. Predicting the winner of this fight could almost come down to the toss of a coin… but currently it’s hard to look past the women who dethroned one of the most dominant champions in the history of women’s MMA.