Although there isn’t really much of a formula these days for deciding who gets title shots in the UFC, the promotion is in a somewhat strange place where there is a clear-cut number one contender in almost every division. With many of these matches prepared to go down in the coming months, let’s take a look at the challengers who have the best chance of upsetting the respective champions in their division.
Women’s Bantamweight Championship – Challenger: Miesha Tate vs. Champion: Ronda Rousey
Upset Odds: +500
Despite the fact that everyone is laughing at the excuse that Tate won the first two rounds of her fight against Cat Zingano as reason enough to have her getting a title shot, it remains true. It’s probably also true that she’ll be a tougher test for champion Rousey come fight time. In the end, that’s likely going to mean very little as neither one stands a great chance. Tate has been in the cage with Rousey before, so she knows what to expect, unfortunately she knew what to expect the first time but still got arm barred for her troubles. At the end of the day, I think Rousey needs to stop trying to arm bar people at every opportunity. As we saw against Liz Carmouche, the ladies are figuring out how to escape and take advantage of it. Rousey needs to do the same and start throwing some new wrinkles at her opponents, expect it to start against Tate. Takedowns and top control en-route to a punishing stoppage in the second round, then we can all congratulate Tate on being the first woman to make it to the second round.
Flyweight Championship – Challenger: John Moraga vs. Champion: Demetrious Johnson
Upset Odds: +450
Moraga has been openly campaigning in the media and calling the champion “boring.” This isn’t really a bad strategy for him, since getting in the champ’s head is never a bad idea. Unfortunately, I don’t think he’s going to get a fighter as well coached as Demetrious Johnson riled up too much. Moraga is a former NCAA Division 1 Wrestler and is a highly capable grappler, his striking is decent and he’s fast. The champion? He was a standout wrestler in high school, although he never translated that to NCAA success, however his striking is excellent and his hand and foot speed is second to none in the Flyweight division. Add to the fact Moraga has never competed in a five round fight before and Johnson excels in them and it’s going to be a long night for Moraga. Johnson is somewhat deserving of his reputation as a points fighter, but he moves in and out so quickly it’s hard to fault him for the strategy. I expect his output to actual increase as the fight goes on and as Moraga begins to fade late, I expect Johnson to really poor on the offense. Still, this one is probably headed for judge’s scorecards either way.
Interim Bantamweight Championship – Challenger: Eddie Wineland vs. Interim Champion: Renan Barao
Upset Odds: +450
Despite Wineland having a height advantage heading into this fight, he actually doesn’t have a reach advantage as both men possess a 70-inch reach. Wineland got this opportunity more as being the only one available who hadn’t faced Barao yet and is on a winning streak. The most important fights on Wineland’s ledger are his two recent losses to Urijah Faber and Joseph Benavidez. In both of those fights Wineland enjoyed some initial success in the striking department, but he was quickly figured out by the two of them. Against Urijah Faber, Barao was completely dominant. Wineland has proven somewhat susceptible to leg kicks in past bouts and in that fight Barao blasted Faber with kicks. I expect a similar game plan against Wineland. Hobbled and stiff, I expect that Wineland’s offense slows down and Barao starts picking up the pace. Barao wins with an impressive flurry somewhere around round four or so.
Featherweight Championship – Challenger: Anthony Pettis vs. Champion: Jose Aldo
Upset Odds: EVEN
This bout actually has a line on it already and Pettis is currently slated as a +130 underdog. However, I think this bout is close to a true pick ‘em. Against Frankie Edgar, Jose Aldo began to tire and slow down as the fight went on and some people felt that Edgar may have done enough to win that fight. I’d consider Pettis a very competent striker, even more well rounded than Edgar. Pettis also has underrated grappling skills and has fought and excelled in five round bouts in the past. In addition, this will be the first time that the champion Aldo has faced a fighter who may be quicker and more accurate than anyone he has faced before. I actually like Pettis in this fight. He’s aggressive, he won’t be intimidated, he’ll likely have a size advantage and he’s shown an ability to control opponents on the mat before. It’s still a close and dangerous fight for both guys. But I’ll take Pettis via decision.
Lightweight Championship – Challenger: TJ Grant vs. Champion: Benson Henderson
Upset Odds: +250
Grant doesn’t seem to possess any amazing skills or freak athleticism, but he has completely run through the Lightweight division since making the drop. Add to that, no one has really looked at all impressive against him and you have to at least consider the chance that he upsets Benson Henderson in this fight. Henderson is a talented wrestler who employs strong game plans in his fights, however it’s going to be hard to game plan against a fighter who hasn’t looked weak in any of his Lightweight fights. At Welterweight Grant was dominated by smothering wrestlers like Johny Hendricks and Dong Hyun Kim. Despite his stellar wrestling credentials, Henderson isn’t likely going to be able to smother him like those Welterweights, he simply doesn’t have the size to do it. Still Henderson is probably the more technical striker, although Grant hits like a truck, but Henderson’s speed is excellent and he’s going to be very tough to hit. I honestly don’t have a prediction yet, but I’m leaning towards the champion.
Welterweight Championship – Challenger: Johny Hendricks vs. Champion: Georges St. Pierre
Upset Odds: +225
Knockout power, that’s probably the one reason that most people think that this fight is so close. Hendricks has knocked out a high number of the Welterweight contenders and many people think that he’s going to be able to do that to GSP. Still St. Pierre is one of the most dominant champions of all time in the UFC and is a master tactician who will certainly have a plan to avoid the big power punches of Hendricks. It’s also important to note that Hendricks himself is an accomplished wrestler, who GSP may have a hard time wrangling to the ground. The other thing going for the champion is that in his most recent bout against Carlos Condit is that Hendricks faded in the third round and looked incredibly hittable, if he fades like that against GSP it’s going to be tough for him to win. I usually root against GSP, as I might be the one Canadian guy who isn’t a fan of the champion, so I’ll definitely be doing so again. But I’m not so sure Hendricks has it in him to take this one.
Middleweight Championship – Challenger: Chris Weidman vs. Champion: Anderson Silva
Upset Odds: +200
I think this might be one of the closest title fights of the summer. Anderson Silva has looked like an unbeatable champion for most of his UFC career, save for the couple of bouts against Chael Sonnen. The good news for Weidman, is that he’s a highly capable wrestler and grappler who is capable of pulling off a similar game plan. Anderson is capable from his back and has pulled off a number of submissions from his guard, but Weidman is much more submission savvy than Chael Sonnen and won’t be easily caught in a triangle. Anderson Silva is still one of the best technical strikers in the world bar none, and with every round starting on the feet, the onus will be on Weidman to drag the champion to the mat at least once a round. If he can avoid the punishing clinch game of Silva, he has a shot, but he’s still facing Anderson Silva and you can’t consider him to be an underdog.
Light Heavyweight Championship – Challenger: Alexander Gustafsson vs. Champion: Jon Jones
Upset Odds: +400
This bout isn’t yet confirmed, but the young and talented Swede is looking like the most likely challenger to Jon Jones’ title. Gustafsson has only one loss in the UFC and in his entire career and it came against Phil Davis, who himself is a highly talented wrestler. Gustafsson is a talented striker, one of the best in the division, but one of his greatest strengths is his height and reach, which he uses to excellent effect. Against champion Jones, he will actually be at a significant reach disadvantage, likely for the first time in his career. Against a striker as talented and as unorthodox as Jones is, I could see this being a problem for Gustafsson. One of his other strengths has been his improving wrestling and grappling skills, which he has been working on since switching his training to Alliance MMA with Phil Davis and company. However, against a dominant wrestler like Jones, his improvements aren’t likely to be enough to win the ground battle. It could be an exciting bout, but I think another dominant win for the champion is in store.
Heavyweight Championship – Challenger: Junior dos Santos vs. Champion: Cain Velasquez
Upset Odds: +175
Out of all of the Heavyweights in the world, Junior dos Santos probably has the best chance of dethroning Cain Velasquez, in fact he’s done it once already. However, in the rematch he was soundly beaten by Cain and was dominated over five full rounds. I am of the belief that the second fight is more closely linked to both fighters full potential than their first encounter and I envision the rubber match going in similar fashion to the second. Cain’s wrestling is top notch and he’s one of the most athletic fighters in the Heavyweight division, with the ability to physically control and impose his will on many fighters who are significantly larger than him. His striking has also made vast improvements, to the point where he is definitely one of the top strikers in the division as well. Dos Santos still holds the edge in a pure kick boxing bout, but the threat of takedowns and clinch games, swings the advantage back to Cain. The one lingering issue is that Cain’s chin hasn’t looked overly impressive throughout his career and he’s been rocked in some of his past fights, dos Santos is a big time heavy hitter, who can knock out even the toughest of fighters, as he recently proved against Mark Hunt. So you always have to consider dos Santos live in the fight if he’s standing, I just don’t think Velasquez will give him much room to operate. I think he crowds and controls dos Santos en-route to another dominant performance.
GSP – The Way of the Fight Book
Anderson Silva – MMA Instruction Manual: The Muay Thai Clinch, Takedowns, Takedown Defense, and Ground Fighting
UFC shirts and videos on Amazon.com