As we know, UFC champions are an elite group of competitors. We saw a number of belts change hands in 2021, from the heavyweights to the flyweights, we crowned new champions. The most shocking of these certainly came on the last PPV of the year when Amanda Nunes lost her belt to Juliana Pena via submission. We take a look at each division and predict who will end the year with gold around their waist.
Current Champion: Rose Namajunas
Champion at the end of 2022: Marina Rodriguez
Marina Rodriguez is a phenom at 115lbs and is certainly being slept on. 5-1-2 in the UFC, Rodriguez had a phenomenal 2021, going 3-0 and notching a big finish over Amanda Ribas as well as two five-round main event victories. She matches up well with the current champion, Rose Namajunas and is one to watch in 2022. She’s scheduled to face fellow top contender Yan Xiaonan at UFC 272 in March. If she gets past Xiaonan, it will be hard to deny her a title shot.
Current Champion: Valentina Shevchenko
Champion at the end of 2022: Valentina Shevchenko
Unless she relinquishes the belt, Valentina Shevchenko will hold it for as long as she chooses to. No one that can make 125lbs on the planet beats the dominant ‘Bullet’. Not only is she well-rounded, but she dominates her opponents at their own games. Jessica Andrade was dominated on the ground, Lauren Murphy on the feet. Unless Shevchenko gives up the belt due to lack of competition, she will continue to be the flyweight champion at the end of 2022 and for a long, long time after that.
Current Champion: Juliana Pena
Champion at the end of 2022: Amanda Nunes
As we mentioned, Amanda Nunes losing to Juliana Pena was MMASucka’s upset of the year for 2021. With that being said, they are set for a rematch in 2022 at some point. ‘The Lionness’ arguably got overly excited after dominating Pena in the first round and went looking for the knockout, gassed out and paid the ultimate price. She was able to do well against Pena on the ground in the first round, but struggled massively in the second, leading to the finish.
In the rematch, Nunes rights the wrongs and makes Pena pay for stealing her belt in December. She goes about her work in a more calm fashion, picking Pena apart on the feet, using better defensive movement as to not get caught in the pocket and ultimately wins the rematch, reclaiming her belt. Maybe a third fight is made, but again, Nunes is likely to win the rubber match.
Current Champion: Amanda Nunes
Champion at the end of 2022: Kayla Harrison
This one is more one for the ‘outlandish predictions‘ article, however, Kayla Harrison will be the UFC women’s featherweight champion entering 2023. We know that Harrison and Nunes were going to face off had Nunes defeated Pena at UFC 269, however, this never came to fruition. Harrison will likely still sign for the UFC and be thrust straight into a featherweight title shot. Using her superior grappling and size, she wears on Nunes, gassing her out and finishing her via TKO.
Current Champion: Brandon Moreno
Champion at the end of 2022: Askar Askarov
Brandon Moreno put on the performance of a lifetime when he won the belt back in June. We predict that he will again defeat Deiveson Figueiredo when the two men meet again at UFC 270 later this month. He will then go on to rematch Askar Askarov after Askarov defeats Kai-Kara France in March. There is no doubt that the first meeting between the two men was highly competitive and everyone would certainly be excited for a rematch. After three battles with Figueiredo, Moreno narrowly loses to Askarov.
Current Champion: Aljamain Sterling (Interim Champion: Petr Yan)
Champion at the end of 2022: TJ Dillashaw
As it stands, Aljamain Sterling resides as the bantamweight champion. There is plenty of contention as to the legitimacy of Sterling’s reign as he captured the belt via DQ at the hands of Petr Yan. The two are set to clash in a rematch in March at UFC 272. We predict that, like the first bout, Yan will dominate the fight, potentially finishing it via knockout late on.
He will then go on to face TJ Dillashaw at the end of the year and lose a unanimous decision. Dillashaw has competed at a much higher level than Yan and this will pay dividends when they face off.
Current Champion: Alexander Volkanovski
Champion at the end of 2022: Max Holloway
Also announced for UFC 272 is the trilogy bout between Alexander Volkanovski and Max Holloway. The two have faced off twice previously, with the Australian picking up two victories. Since they last fought, Volkanovski put on a fight of the year against Brian Ortega in September 2021. Holloway proved that he’s more than deserving of another shot at the belt having dominated Calvin Kattar in January before putting on a fight of the year contender against Yair Rodriguez.
Holloway will finally get the better of Volkanovski the third time around. He will then face either Giga Chikadze or again face Volkanovski, defeating both. This means we could potentially get a five-fight rivalry between Volkanovski and Holloway.
Current Champion: Charles Oliveira
Champion at the end of 2022: Justin Gaethje
Charles Oliveira had a brilliant 2021 going 2-0, capturing the belt before defending it in the final PPV of the year. Next up for ‘Do Bronx’ will be Justin Gaethje. Gaethje only competed once last year, in a phenomenal fight with Michael Chandler, coming away with a unanimous decision victory.
Gaethje and Oliveria will clash with Gaethje knocking Oliveira out. Gaethje has superior power, a superior chin and solid wrestling. Although Oliveira has flawless technique, impressive elbows and knees and unrivalled BJJ, he’ll likely get caught in the pocket with Gaethje.
Rounding out the year, Gaethje will either beat Islam Makhachev or be scheduled to face him in early 2023.
Current Champion: Kamaru Usman
Champion at the end of 2022: Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman, like Valentina Shevchenko, is dominant as a champion. The improvements he’s made under Trevor Wittman are outstanding. He’s now using the jab far more effectively, looks much more established in his entire stand-up game, uses footwork much more efficiently and still manages to mix in his wrestling when necessary.
He’ll likely face off against Leon Edwards, where the fight will likely go the same way as the first fight between the two, a victory for Usman. Although Edwards is on an impressive winning run and is a solid all-rounder, Usman’s improvements since their previous bout will pay dividends in the rematch.
He may face Khamzat Chimaev or Vicente Luque later on in the year, but again his skill will be too much for either man. Chimaev is a phenom, however, there are levels to this and Usman is on another level.
Current Champion: Israel Adesanya
Champion at the end of 2022: Robert Whittaker
Although Israel Adesanya defeated Robert Whittaker in their first bout, it wasn’t the true form of Whittaker that we come to expect. He was gassed out mentally, went into the bout after multiple injuries and didn’t seem himself. He’s one of the few fighters that have benefitted from losing the belt back in October 2019. Since that loss, Whittaker has put on three almost flawless performances, providing a shut out (50-45 X3) in his last bout.
Adesanya has gone 3-1 since beating Whittaker, being unsuccessful in his attempt at capturing the 205lbs belt but remaining undefeated at middleweight. The two will face off again at UFC 271, with Whittaker using his superior wrestling to get the better of Adesanya. The middleweight division is fairly shallow so the two will likely clash in a trilogy bout, again with Whittaker gaining the upper hand.
Men’s Light Heavyweight
Current Champion: Glover Teixeira
Champion at the end of 2022: Magomed Ankalaev
Glover Teixeira capturing the belt in 2021 was certainly one of the feel-good moments of the year. After a legendary 40 fight career, the Brazillian dominated his way to gaining gold around his waist. He’s set to clash with Jiri Prochazka in his first title defence at some point in 2022, possibly in Brazil in May. Unfortunately, this is where the fairytale ends for Teixeira as he will struggle with the awkward style of Prochazka.
The newly crowned champion, Prochazka will then face off against Magomed Ankalaev. Ankalaev is currently ranked #6 but has looked solid thus far during his UFC tenure. After beating Thiago Santos in March, he will likely need one more fight before competing for the belt in December. This could be the winner of Aleksandar Rakic and Jan Blachowicz who face-off two weeks after Santos and Ankalaev. Defeating the winner of Rakic and Blachowicz, Ankalaev’s wrestling will be too much for Prochazka, winning the belt.
Current Champion: Francis Ngannou (Interim Champion: Ciryl Gane)
Champion at the end of 2022: Ciryl Gane
Kicking off 2022’s PPVs in style, former teammates, Francis Ngannou and Ciryl Gane will clash for the undisputed belt at UFC 270. In this huge clash, Gane’s footwork, more well-rounded game and superior striking technique will pull rank. Although Ngannou’s power is the scariest we’ve ever seen, Gane’s defensive work will likely be good enough to stay away from that power.
Gane will then go on to face either Stipe Miocic or Jon Jones next. Unfortunately for those two experienced guys, it’s the time of the new breed. It’s time for Gane to dominate. He will again use his superior footwork, impressive striking and decent ground game to get past Miocic. Jones will certainly be a tough fight, but after the time off he will be rusty, not used to receiving shots from a heavyweight and ultimately fail in his heavyweight campaign. Gane will be the heavyweight champion entering 2023.
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