The UFC boasts the most dangerous fighters in the world and at the top of each division are the cream of the crop, best in class and the baddest asses on the planet. But these champions are always looking over their shoulders. Let’s see who’s behind them.
Women’s Bantamweight Champion (135 pounds) – Rhonda Rousey
So who is Rhonda Rousey’s biggest threat in the threadbare UFC Women’s Bantamweight division? Oh, I dunno, maybe a team of ninjas and a battalion of storm troopers to back them up. Rousey has decimated the competition since her reign of terror began in mixed martial arts back in March of 2011. Only one opponent of the nine she has faced in her professional MMA career has lasted beyond the first round.
Meisha Tate is that one woman but to say she is Rousey’s biggest threat might be overstating it a bit. Perhaps you could say that Tate is her biggest annoyance as she had the audacity to battle until the third round where she was ultimately submitted (by armbar - surprise, surprise) in yet another futile quest to wrest the strap from Rousey’s waist.
The real threat looms in the form of Cristiane Justino, formerly Cristiane Santos, or more commonly known as Cyborg. Cyborg is the current Invicta FC Featherweight champion and undefeated in all but her professional debut. But the two cannot come to terms on an agreeable weight but if they do decide to fight at a 140 pound catchweight, things could finally get interesting in the UFC’s only women’s division.
Flyweight Champion (125 pounds) – Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson
Ten pounds turned this 5’3” powerhouse from a bridesmaid into a bride. Johnson’s only two losses of his career came at 135 pounds including his battle for the UFC Bantamweight title when he lost via unanimous decision to the then bantamweight king Dominick Cruz.
Since Dana White introduced the new flyweight division, Johnson has been unbeatable. He’s racked up five consecutive wins, with his last defense resulting in a first-round KO of top contender Joseph Benavidez. But there is a new threat on the horizon and his name is Ali Bagautinov. The Daegestani Dynamo (you heard it here first) is a world combat sambo champion and has reeled off 11 consecutive MMA victories. We shall see just how much of a threat Bagautinov is when he battles Johnson for the bantamweight crown on June 14th at UFC 174. Johnson is currently installed as a 5-1 favorite in UFC odds.
Bantamweight Champion (135 pounds) – TJ Dillashaw
Freshly minted UFC Bantamweight champ TJ Dillashaw shocked the world as a +700 underdog in UFC odds when he battered Renan Barao to claim the 135 pound strap at UFC 173. And who might his biggest threat be to dethrone him and terminate his tenure at the top of the bantamweight food chain? Well, the list is long because the verdict is still out on just how good Dillashaw really is. Was this a one fight fluke; is he a one-hit (literally) wonder or the real deal ready to reign?
Roundly viewed as a gatekeeper prior to his stunning victory over Barao, Dillashaw will have no shortage of challengers. Renan Barao is the obvious first choice to redeem himself but the sentimental favorite could be the long suffering Urijah Faber who routinely beats everyone but the king of the mountain. Of course he would have to gain a few pounds and move back to bantamweight if he were offered a shot but I’m going to go out on a limb and say he won’t mind a few extra milkshakes one bit.
Iuri Alcantara is officially the number one contender but he has a bout with Vaughn Lee on May 31st and that outcome could determine whether he fights for the title or moves down the bantamweight ladder. Finally, Raphael Assuncao is in the midst of a six-fight winning streak including a recent victory over Dillashaw this past October and certainly worthy of consideration.
Featherweight Champion (145 pounds) – Jose Aldo
Aldo has one lone blemish on his otherwise pristine record and that defeat came at 155 pounds almost nine years ago. At just 27-years-old it seems like this tower of power has been around forever. In fact, he has been kicking ass and taking names professionally for almost nine years and there are few in the world that can withstand his thunderous kicks and stinging brand of Muay Thai.
Veteran Chad Mendes is the next one up and is back in the ring to take another swing (channeling AC/DC here) at Aldo. His first attempt and only loss of his career came over two years ago when Aldo leveled Mendes with a stunning kick that ended the match right before the end of the opening round.
Aldo is rumored to be moving up to the lightweight division which could leave a void that former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar, among others, would love to fill.
Lightweight Champion (155 pounds) – Anthony Pettis
Pettis climbed to the top of the lightweight mountain by submitting a smooth operator in Ben Henderson at UFC 164. He looked effortless in doing it and before the first round was even over, Anthony “Showtime” Pettis was ready to be crowned after locking in a vicelike armbar on the soon-to-be deposed king.
A rematch with Henderson would seem to be in order but former Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez is rumored to be next in line as the two will be opposing coaches on TUF 20. A late 2014 showdown is scheduled.
Welterweight Champion (170 pounds) – Johny Hendricks
Hendricks came close to defeating the legendary George St. Pierre but was on the short end of a split decision. However, GSP then took a voluntary sabbatical and Hendricks defeated Robbie Lawler by unanimous decision to claim the vacant UFC Welterweight crown.
Robbie Lawler certainly deserves a rematch after he and Hendricks copped Fight of the Night honors in their brutal battle at UFC 171. But there is also young gun Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley and even Matt Brown, who has been killing it in the cage since his loss to Seth Baczynski almost three years ago, as potential challengers.
Middleweight Champion (185 pounds) – Chris Weidman
There are more than a few people that would like to see the Chris Weidman get his All-American ass handed to him after knocking the legendary Anderson Silva from his middleweight perch. Not only did he stun the MMA world in the first match but he proved it was no fluke when he did it again five months later at UFC 168.
I realize there are fans clamoring for Silva to make a return from his leg injury suffered against Weidman but let’s face it everyone gets old and Father Time makes no allowances for any man, even someone as great as Anderson Silva. There are the usual suspects such as Lyoto Machida whom he is scheduled to meet at UFC 175 in July but I’m not ecstatic about that match. Seems like a retread getting another shot as it would be with 37-year-old Vitor Belfort. I know, both are great fighters and legends in the sport (particularly Belfort) but we’ve kind of been there and done that with these aging veterans.
How about Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza and his six-fight win streak? Or Michael Bisping…on second thought, count me out on that idea. Personally, I’d love to see the already stocky 5’9” welterweight champ Johny Hendricks tack on 15 lbs. and challenge Weidman. Not gonna happen, I know, but I can dream a little can’t I?
Light Heavyweight Champion (205 pounds) – Jon “Bones” Jones
My favorite fighter of all time, Jon Jones, perched at the tippity top of the most dynamic division in all of MMA. And if you want to kibitz about whom is the most dangerous fighter facing Jones then there are several choices with the most obvious being Alexander Gustafsson. After Jones dispensed of Glover Teixeira at UFC 172, there was no way on earth that The Mauler wasn’t going to get another crack at the UFC Light Heavyweight strap.
Some fans actually had Gustafsson winning the epic clash with Jones last September but truth be told that’s just a case of wishful thinking. Jones has legions of haters but there are an equal number of ardent zealots like myself that believe Jones is the best pound-for-pound fighter on the planet and perhaps the greatest that ever lived. Yes, he’s that good.
Daniel Cormier is licking his chops to get a crack at the crown as well and his dominating performance over aging superstar Dan Henderson did him no harm. Cormier is next in line no matter what happens between Gustafsson and Jones later this year or in early 2015.
Heavyweight Champion (265 pounds maximum) - Cain Velazquez
Velazquez has been the quintessential champion and Dana White couldn’t ask for anything more. Velazquez has devastated the division with a brief hiccup when he lost to Junior dos Santos. We’re all entitled to an off-night and Velazquez has made certain that it hasn’t happened again.
Fabricio Werdum is the next in line to get lit up by the reigning champ and it will happen at UFC 180 in November where Velazquez is currently installed as a 5-1 favorite in UFC odds. Former Golden Gloves champ and NCAA Division-1 wrestler Stipe Miocic might actually be the most interesting fight out there if he gets by Fabio Maldonado on May 31st where Miocic is heavy chalk in UFC odds at north of 5-1.