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 second article of three, we will be looking at the three UFC weight classes sandwiched in the middle. Our first installment covered the UFC’s three heaviest weight classes and our last installment will cover the two lightest divisions and the women’s division. 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: Vacant (Previously Georges St Pierre)
Top 2014 Contenders:
Hendricks takes on Robbie Lawler at UFC 170 and should be heavily favoured to take the belt in that match-up. In his fight with St Pierre, he showed that he has the striking, grappling and wrestling to match-up with any top competitor in the UFC’s welterweight division.
Surprisingly he is only 31 years old, but having somewhat of a late career resurgence with a TKO wins Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker and a split decision win over the now #4 ranked welterweight Rory MacDonald. Lawler likely lacks the wrestling ability not only to win the welterweight title, which he will be hard pressed to do in the first place, but to maintain it through 1 or 2 title defenses in 2014.
Condit’s only losses in the last few years have come to Georges St Pierre, who’s now out of the picture, and Johny Hendricks, who is favoured to be the new champion at UFC 171. Condit is well versed in all areas of the game, but his great cardio will make him the biggest threat to Hendricks should Hendricks win the title as expected at UFC 171.
Part of our consideration for who the champions at the end of 2014 has to include who has a logical path to the belt. Even though Woodley is currently ranked #11, he looked outstanding in knocking out Josh Koscheck and Jay Hieron and lost by split decision to Jake Shields. It is very likely the UFC will give him a shot at the winner of Hendricks vs Lawler should he be able to defeat Condit in devastating fashion.
Demian Maia absolutely smothered Jon Fitch at UFC 156 in February, displaying incredible ability to control the action for all 3 rounds. His split decision loss to Jake Shields likely makes Maia’s chase to the title impossible in 2014. Another guy who dropped down to welterweight in 2013, Hector Lombard likely has a case for a title shot if he can manage to defeat the aforementioned Shields in devastating fashion also at UFC 171. Should Shields be able to smother the striking of Lombard, he will also find himself close to a title shot. Finally, at 32 years old, another guy who seems to be having a late career resurgence, Matt Brown will also be looking for a devastating win to put himself in title contention.
Johny Hendricks will be UFC welterweight champion at the end of 2014. His wrestling and devastating striking will keep him above the competition. His first defense will likely be Carlos Condit, but in their first match-up, he was able to take the Natural Born Killer down an incredible 12 times and we expect a similar result when they meet for the second time. With his 94% takedown defense, Tyron Woodley may actually be the bigger threat to Hendricks’ reign with 94% of takedowns defended, unfortunately for him, we don’t see him getting past Condit when they meet in January.
Champion: Anthony Pettis
Grant is currently the number 3 UFC lightweight and the only one of the top 3 who hasn’t recently received a title shot. He stunned Gray Maynard in May with a TKO victory, the latest of 5 straight wins, 3 of which came inside the distance. A scheduled bout with Pettis for the title was called off when Grant suffered a concussion and Pettis also suffered a knee injury. When Pettis comes back, he will likely meet the 29 year old Canadian, Grant, in his next fight.
Henderson went on a streak since joining the UFC from the now defunct WEC. He managed 7 straight wins including winning the UFC’s lightweight title and defending it 3 times before losing to his old WEC rival, and still lightweight champion, Anthony Pettis. It seems in the noise of losing the championship, Henderson has been somewhat forgotten. With a couple wins in 2014, he will be back in the title picture. Unfortunately, time is not on his side with Pettis sidelined with a knee injury likely until mid-2014.
We have to consider the featherweight champ, Jose Aldo in the mix when looking at possible lightweight champions at the end of this year. There is a lot left to be determined, but should he successfully defend his title at UFC 169 against Ricardo Lamas, and defeat Chad Mendes in a rematch of their fight from just over 2 years ago in which Mendes was knocked out, a move to lightweight would be a likely possibility for Aldo. The last Strikeforce lightweight champion, Gilbert Melendez may also have another opportunity to capture the gold in 2014 with his last loss coming to Henderson in a split decision in April of last year. In terms of younger guys who could be in title range with a couple big wins, we have to consider the undefeated Khabib Nurmagomedov who has been on fire since debuting in the UFC in January, 2012 5 wins and 2 coming inside the distance (and has struggled to find fights lately).
In a strong pool of contenders, we don’t see any that are overly likely to be able to defeat Anthony Pettis. Henderson already has 2 losses to Pettis and Melendez has lost to Henderson. MMA math isn’t the greatest concept, but we do think Pettis has the skill to take care of Melendez. If Aldo were to say today that he’s moving to the lightweight division, he would be our champion, but the uncertainty of his move to lightweight keeps us from making that prediction. The UFC lightweight champion at the end of 2014 will be Anthony “Showtime” Pettis.
Champion: Jose Aldo
Lamas is the first and most obvious contender to be featherweight champion should Aldo not be the title holder at the end of 2014. He get his shot to earn the title on February 1, 2014 at UFC 169. He is a former NCAA Division III All American wrestler. Lamas has been able to turn his wrestling game into a complete mixed martial arts skill set. He has 4 straight wins over decent competition including Cub Swanson (submission), Hatsu Hioki and Erik Koch (TKO).
As the number 1 ranked UFC featherweight, Mendes has been on an absolute tear as of late. He was the first man to be able to finish Clay Guida and that marked his fourth straight TKO victory. In his latest fight, where he was fighting off a sinus infection, he looked absolutely dominant in defeating Nik Lentz by unanimous decision. Not only is Mendes a scary striker, but he can absolutely dominate with his wrestling when he chooses. He did suffer a TKO loss to Aldo however, the only one of his career, back in January, 2014.
Swanson is another featherweight who has been destroying the competition, with 5 straight wins and 4 coming via TKO or KO. Interestingly, before joining the UFC, Swanson only went 5-3 in WEC competition. He followed that up with a submission loss to Lamas before reeling off the aforementioned streak of success. Swanson is a fearsome striker who also holds a black belt in jiu jitsu. It seems to be a trend that the successful guys in these lighter divisions have to be less one dimensional than those in the heavier weight classes.
Obviously, we have to mention Frankie Edgar, the former UFC lightweight champion who was told by many people his natural weight class was 145. He debuted at 145 with a title shot versus Aldo, which he lost relatively convincingly via unanimous decision. The only lower ranked fighter we could see making a title run this year is Conor McGregor. Mcgregor only debuted in the UFC in April of 2013 so a title shot for him in 2014 is probably unlikely, and his ACL injury will likely sideline him much of the year.
The division is Jose Aldo’s for the taking. We feel the biggest threat to Aldo is Chad Mendes, but for Mendes to take the victory, he would have to figure out a way to get Aldo on the ground and maintain top position. No easy feat against the beast of a champion from Brazil. If Aldo makes the decision to move up to lightweight during 2014, our pick for champion would be Chad Mendes. There is too much uncertainty there right now though for us to make that call. Our predicted end of 2014 UFC featherweight champion is Jose Aldo.
We’ll be back with our picks for the lightest of the weight classes as well as the women in our next installment. 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! Stay tuned for our predictions for this pretty solid UFC Fight Night card!