Who Will Remain A UFC Champion In 2018?

The Ultimate Fighting Championship’s first title defences of the year saw Stipe Miocic defeat Francis Ngannou in arguably the most anticipated heavyweight fight ever and Daniel Cormier overcame rising star Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220.

2017 saw many new champions crowned, many of whom will make their first defence of their belt this year.

We take a look through the divisions to predict who will remain a UFC champion at the end of the year…

Women’s Strawweight

Current champion: Rose Namajunas
Possible title challengers: Joanna Jedrzejczyk, Jessica Andrade, Karolina Kowalkiewicz

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Rose Namajunas shocked the world at UFC 217 when she knocked out Joanna Jedrzejczyk in the first round, despite a massive underdog, to become only the third UFC strawweight champion. She must prove their first fight was no fluke as she meets JJ again at UFC 223. Should she overcome Jedrzejczyk again, she has potential challengers for her second title defence including Jessica Andrade and Karolina Kowalkiewicz. The former champion is her most significant threat and if she can get through her again, ‘Thug’ Rose should remain as a champion for 2018.

VERDICT: And still

Women’s Flyweight

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Current champion: Nicco Montano
Possible title challengers: Valentina Shevchenko

The UFC crowned the inaugural flyweight champion in December with Nicco Montano defeating Roxanne Modafferi to win the Ultimate Fighter Season 26 and the flyweight belt. Many fighters have already moved to flyweight including Paige VanZant and Valentina Shevchenko. With many more experienced fighters joining the division, I think Montano could struggle to keep hold of the belt. ‘Bullet’ Shevchenko has already called for a shot at the title after her frightening debut at 125lbs at UFC Belem, Montano will have a mountain to climb if she wants to remain as a UFC champion.

VERDICT: And new

Women’s Bantamweight

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Current champion: Amanda Nunes
Possible title challengers: Raquel Pennington, Holly Holm

After defeating Ronda Rousey at UFC 207, Amanda Nunes defended her bantamweight title once at UFC 215 against the aforementioned Shevchenko. There is an evident lack of contenders in the women’s 135lb division which has led Nunes to call for a featherweight title fight. Currently, bar Holly Holm who is a few fights away from another title shot, no-one should give Nunes too much trouble. She is expected to face Raquel Pennington at UFC 224, but a super fight at featherweight could be in store towards the end of the year.

VERDICT: And still

Women’s Featherweight

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Current champion: Cris Cyborg
Possible title challengers: Yana Kunitskaya, Megan Anderson, Amanda Nunes

Cris Cyborg finally added a UFC belt to her collection in 2017 by defeating Tonya Evinger at UFC 214 to claim the vacant featherweight belt. She defended her title against Holm at UFC 219 in the final pay-per-view event of the year. The Brazilian immediately called to be rebooked against Megan Anderson, her initial opponent at 214, but the Australian distanced herself from the bout. A super fight with Nunes was rumoured, but following an injury to Max Holloway, Cyborg will now headline UFC 222 defending her title against UFC newcomer, Yana Kunitskaya. Although her new opponent should match her for size, Cyborg’s skillset is on another level.

VERDICT: And still

Flyweight

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Current champion: Demetrious Johnson
Possible title challengers: TJ Dillashaw, Henry Cejudo, Sergio Pettis, Joseph Benavidez

The most dominant UFC champion in history could face his most difficult challenge yet in 2018 if TJ Dillashaw drops to flyweight to face Demetrious Johnson. ‘Mighty Mouse’ broke the title defence record at UFC 215 fighting Ray Borg instead of Dillashaw. Johnson recently had shoulder surgery which will sideline him for the foreseeable future, but reports suggest his next defence will come against the bantamweight champion. He did confirm to fans of his streaming channel that negotiations have begun with the fight expected to take place at UFC 226. Dillashaw is undoubtedly his biggest test at 125lbs if he can make the weight, but I’m backing the pound-for-pound king to retain.

VERDICT: And still

Bantamweight

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Current champion: TJ Dillashaw
Possible title challengers: Jimmie Rivera, Dominick Cruz, Marlon Moraes, Cody Garbrandt

Dillashaw regained the bantamweight belt at UFC 217 by knocking out fierce rival Cody Garbrandt in the second round. He instantly called out ‘Mighty Mouse’ and all signs point to him dropping down to flyweight. Garbrandt called for a rematch in the wake of UFC 222 losing its main event, but TJ is solely focused on DJ. He would return to a plethora of contenders including Jimmie Rivera and Dominick Cruz and Marlon Moraes. In my opinion, Cruz poses the only threat if he can recover from injury but Dillashaw is a step above the rest.

VERDICT: And still

Featherweight

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Current champion: Max Holloway
Possible title challengers: Frankie Edgar, Brian Ortega, Josh Emmett

Featherweight has a new king in Max Holloway who twice defeated Jose Aldo in 2017 both by third-round TKO. ‘Blessed’ is currently riding a 12 fight win streak and was set to defend his title for the second time at UFC 222 against his original UFC 218 opponent, Frankie Edgar, but a leg injury forced the bout to be scrapped yet again. Instead, ‘The Answer’ will face Brian Ortega with the victor likely to get the next shot at dethroning Holloway. Josh Emmett could also enter the title picture, but Holloway will be one tough nut to crack.

VERDICT: And still

Lightweight

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Current champion: Conor McGregor
Possible title challengers: Tony Ferguson (IC), Khabib Nurmagomedov

The UFC lightweight division is a mess following Conor McGregor’s ventures into boxing during 2017. Tony Ferguson holds the interim belt after defeating Kevin Lee and is scheduled to face Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed title at UFC 223 despite McGregor still not being stripped of his. It’s highly likely the Irishman will be stripped in the build-up to the event meaning a new lightweight king will be crowned. Ferguson will no doubt be a tough opponent, but I’m backing the Russian to claim the gold.

VERDICT: And new

Welterweight

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Current champion: Tyron Woodley
Possible title challengers: Rafael Dos Anjos, Georges St-Pierre, Colby Covington, Darren Till

After four fights in 12 months, Tyron Woodley recently went under the knife to address a torn labrum in his shoulder during his title defence against Demian Maia. Despite the injury, he stuffed every takedown attempt to take a dominant decision win. Welterweight is arguably the most stacked division in the UFC, and he has plenty of suitable challengers. Woodley has been vocal in attempting to set up a super-fight with Georges St-Pierre in the near future while also calling out Nate Diaz. It’s likely his next defence will come against Rafael Dos Anjos, but I believe only GSP can threaten Woodley’s title reign.

VERDICT: And still

Middleweight

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Current champion: Robert Whittaker
Possible title challengers: Yoel Romero, Chris Weidman, Kelvin Gastelum

Similar to the lightweight, the middleweight title has become a complete and utter mess. Michael Bisping’s reign finally came to an end at UFC 217 when he fought GSP, despite Robert Whittaker holding the interim title. GSP later vacated the belt meaning Whittaker was promoted to the undisputed champ. An injury to the Australian forced him out of his UFC 222 with Luke Rockhold who instead was beaten by Yoel Romero for the interim belt; who was ineligible to win the title due to missing weight. The Cuban’s win sets up a rematch with the only man to beat him in the UFC, but I think ‘The Reaper’ retains.

VERDICT: And still

Light Heavyweight

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Current champion: Daniel Cormier
Possible title challengers: Alexander Gustafsson, Glover Teixeira, Ovince St Preux, Jon Jones

Cormier made a triumphant return to action at UFC 220 by winning via TKO against Oezdemir in the second round. DC proved there were levels to the sport and looked fantastic as he retained his title. Despite an unwillingness to move up in weight, the UFC offered fresh terms meaning Cormier will challenge Miocic at UFC 226 for the heavyweight crown. If unsuccessful, he will likely fight once or twice before retiring. A rematch with Alexander Gustafsson could be next while rumours persist that Jones could be cleared of doping before the end of the year to set up another huge rival fight. Nevertheless, the odds are in favour of Cormier retiring on top.

VERDICT: And still

Heavyweight

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Current champion: Stipe Miocic
Possible title challengers: Daniel Cormier, Cain Velasquez, Fabricio Werdum

By defeating Ngannou at UFC 220, Miocic became the only man in UFC history to defend the heavyweight title three times. Not long after the victory, his next fight was booked along with the announcement he will coach The Ultimate Fighting alongside Cormier. It should be an intriguing matchup between two of the best fighters in the world. If Miocic can get past Cormier, former heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez poses the biggest threat to his title reign. However, question marks remain over his fitness casting doubt over his return later in the year. It’s more than likely that Miocic remains the baddest man on the planet in 2018.

VERDICT: And still

Who do you think will become UFC champion in 2018? Comment below

Follow me on Twitter – @MarcusBanks7 – Visit my blog The Beautiful Game for more

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Posted in: MMA

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