With 2013 all wrapped up and 2014 just beginning, we thought “what better time than now to look at each UFC champion to determine who we think will hold each belt at the end of 2014?” In this first article, we will be looking at the three heaviest UFC weight classes, but we will be back with a couple more installments covering the remaining 6 weight/gender classes. By the way, if you haven’t checked out Reed Kuhn’s Fightnomics it is a must read for any UFC fan, or anyone interested in betting on UFC fights.
Current Champion: Cain Velasquez
Top 2014 Contenders:
The #2 ranked heavyweight in the UFC has been patiently waiting for his opportunity since submitting Anotnio Rodrigo Nogueira back in June. Originally known as more of a submission threat he has also shown solid striking in his recent fights. He will fight our next contender early this year with the winner becoming the number 1 contender.
Browne is the #3 ranked UFC heavyweight, but questions remain about his ground game. He displayed a great chin vs Alister Overeem, surviving the early onslaught and coming back with a front kick knockout. His other two most recent knockouts have both come when his opponents have tried to take him down against the fence allowing him to land vicious elbows to the side (borderline back) of their heads.
With a loss to Browne at the end of 2013, Josh Barnett’s opportunity to contend for the title may have passed. A lack of suitable competitors may lead to Barnett matching up with the winner of Alister Overeem vs Frank Mir scheduled for UFC 169. We see Mir’s chin giving out on him again leading to an Overeem vs Barnett battle for the number 1 contendorship. While unlikely, Junior Dos Santos is another possible 2014 challenger which speaks more to the lack of depth in the heavyweight division than to Dos Santos’s abilities. A couple big wins in 2014 could lead to the fourth match-up between the UFC’s top 2 heavyweights.
The lack of depth in the UFC division makes it unlikely we will see a new champ in 2014. Velasquez is a step above his competition and while Fabricio Werdum and Travis Browne offer decent challenges, they are unlikely to dethrone the champ. Cain Velasquez will still be the UFC Heavyweight Champion on December 31, 2014.
Current Champion: Jon Jones
Top 2014 Contenders:
Gustafsson proved at UFC 165 he could hang with Jones in their fight of the year candidate back and forth fight which went to the jdges score cards. He is currently the #1 ranked UFC light heavyweight, and desverdly so. Many people felt he had done enough to warrant an immediate rematch with the champ, but Dana White and Lorenzo Fertita determined he would have to win another fight to get a second opportunity. We don’t see him losing to Jimi Manuwa on March 8 in London, England so we expect he will be the second challenger Jones faces in 2014.
The next challenger to Jones’s crown, the two will fight in the main event at UFC 172 in April, 2014. He has managed to go undefeated and has shown vicious striking and jiu jitsu so far in the UFC with 4 of his 5 wins coming by TKO or sbmission. Teixeira did show that he is willing to land his strikes at the expense of his defense in his fight with Ryan Bader where he got rocked on a couple of occasions.
Phil Davis took a controversial decision win over Lyoto Machida back at the start of August and he is likely a couple wins away from getting a title shot with Lyoto Machida now in the middleweight division. Rashad Evans picked up 2 big wins in 2013 over Sonnen and Henderson, but lost to Antonio Rogerio Nogueira. At the age of 37, Rogerio Nogueira is struggling to stay healthy, and unlikely to be able to win enough fights in short enough a time span to get a title shot. The only other possible title contender is Jimi Manuwa and that will only happen if he is able to pull off the huge upset over Alexander Gustafsson.
With Jones not fighting until April, it is unlikely the belt will be defended more than twice in 2014. We expect Jones to walk through his first challenger in Glover Teixeira who has shown some weakness when facing high level strikers. Alexander Gustafsson likely gets his second shot at the belt in late 2014, and we think he will be able to do enough to win the belt getting a boost from the fact that he was able to hang in so well against Jones the first time. We expect Alexander Gustafsson to be the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion at the end of 2014.
Current Champion: Chris Weidman
Top 2014 Challengers:
3 fights and 3 KO or TKO finishes made up Belfort’s 2013. It is even more impressive when you look at the fact that all 3 of his competitors are considered top 10 in their respective UFC divisions. One major question mark hanging above Belfort’s head is whether he can get a theraputic use exemption (TUE) to continue to use testosterone replacement therapy (TRT) in Vegas where he will likely fight for the title in the middle of 2013.
Ronaldo Jacare Souza:
The Alligator, as he is affectionately known has looked great since crossing over from Strikeforce with first round wins over Camozzi and Okami. He will be taking on fellow UFC top 10 middleweight Francis Carmont at UFC Fight Night 36 in February and it is likely the winner will be the next to challenge for Weidman’s title.
We would be amiss if we forgot to mention long time top UFC light heavyweight, Lyoto Machida. Machida looked great in his middleweight debut against Mark Munoz, winning with a devastating head kick in the first round. His bout with Gegard Mousasi could determine the next number 1 contender, but will also give us a clearer picture of how Lyoto Machida is going to perform as a middleweight.
Obviously, we have to mention Jacare’s opponent, Francis Carmont as a potential title contender. Carmont is a Tri-Star (same gym as GSP) product and has shown the ability to smother his opponent in a GSP-esque fashion. We also have to mention Machida’s February opponent, Gegard Mousasi who defeated relatively unknown late replacement Ilir Latifi back in April on a UFC on Fuel TV card. Mousasi is the last Dream light heavyweight champion going undefeated in the promotion while also going 4-1-1 for Strikeforce.
Of the three heaviest UFC weight classes, an Anderson Silvaless middleweight division is the most ripe for change. Belfort is an incredibly hard guy to bet against as he has been able to dispose of all comers besides the aforementioned Silva and light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. At 36 years of age, Belfort seems to be the fastest and most powerful he has ever been in his career. We see him being able to defeat Weidman by staying on his feet and out-striking the champion. We don’t see any of the potential contenders as huge threats to Belfort should he win the title. Vitor Belfort is our pick to be UFC Middleweight Champion at the end of 2014.
We’ll be back with our picks for the middle of the weight classes in our next installment and the lighter weight classes and women’s division by the end of this week. Follow us on Twitter and Facebook for all the latest. In terms of event picks, the next UFC event will go down January 15 an will feature Luke Rockhold and Costa Philippou in the main event! We expect the betting lines for these fights to be released mid-week and our picks will be out shortly after.