The UFC’s schedule has been pretty lackluster for most of 2019 but things look to be picking up towards the end of the year so I figured now was as good a time as ever to check in with each of the weight classes and see how things are going at the top of the divisions. I’ll quickly give an overview of whats to come for each weight class in the near future and then give an overall grade on the health of the division.
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This weekend in the main event of UFC 241 we have a rematch between two of the best heavyweights in the history of MMA. Stipe Miocic holds the record for most heavyweight title defenses at three and that record was snapped by Daniel Cormier when he knocked him out in the main event of UFC 226. DC has held the belt since then, defeating Derrick Lewis at Madison Square Garden last November before taking some time off to heal from a back injury. Since he lost Miocic has sat on the sideline waiting for the rematch. At the time that seemed like a mistake with it looking like Brock Lesnar was coming back to the UFC and getting an immediate title shot. Lucky for him Brock stayed in the WWE and the UFC decided to turn to him instead of a resurgent Francis Ngannou for the next title shot. Ngannou is in position to wait for the winner after knockout wins over Curtis Blaydes, Cain Velasquez, and Junior Dos Santos in quick succession. The only other threat to Ngannou’s claim would be if Jon Jones decided to make a run for the heavyweight belt. The rest of the division is filled with old guys who have a punchers chance any given night and slightly less old guys who have a punchers chance on any given night.
Division Grade: C
Jon Jones is back as the dominant force in the division having defeated Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Smith, and Thiago Santos over the past eight months. It stands to reason that he’ll defend his title one more time this year, most likely on the year end Pay-Per-View in Las Vegas. Its still up in the air who he will fight. My best guess is the winner of undefeated prospect Dominick Reyes and former middleweight champion Chris Weidman who fight on October 18th as long as they’re healthy enough for a quick turnaround. If that isn’t possible other options would be Jan Blachowicz, who is coming off of a knockout victory over Luke Rockhold, or the winner of Daniel Cormier vs. Stipe Miocic this weekend. The always exciting Johnny Walker is fighting Corey Anderson in November, setting up a possible showdown with Jones in early 2020. This might be the healthiest the light heavyweight division has been since Jones initially won the title at the beginning of the decade.
Division Grade: B
Of all the fights currently booked, my most anticipated of the bunch is the middleweight title fight set for UFC 243 at Marvel Stadium in Sydney, Australia between champion Robert Whittaker and interim title holder Israel Adesanya. That fight takes place on October 5th and features two of the best strikers in the UFC at their peak. Adesanya is close to becoming the next big MMA star and I think a win over Whittaker would push him over the top. This weekend we also have former title challenger Yoel Romero going up against undefeated young prospect Paulo Costa in what could also be a contest to decide who is the most jacked fighter in the promotion. Another important fight in the division is Jack Hermansson vs. Jared Cannonier taking place on September 28th as the main event in Copenhagen, Denmark. While middleweight is exciting at the very top it drops off significantly after the top five or so.
Division Grade: B-
Welterweight is kind of a mess right now, mostly a self inflicted wound by UFC. They missed out on a potential big fight between then champion Tyron Woodley and then interim champion Colby Covington by stripping Covington of his belt for refusing to fight someone else while Woodley was injured. Woodley went on to get dominated by Kamaru Usman. Luckily there is similar heat (for negative reasons, but it gets attention) between Covington and Usman but the champion needed time to recover from an injury. It looks like Covington will finally get his real title shot after dominating former champion Robbie Lawler over five rounds. There is also Jorge Masvidal waiting for a title shot after derailing the hype train of both Darren Till and Ben Askren in back to back fights. Further down the line in this deep division are guys like Leon Edwards and Santiago Ponzinibbio who have long winning streaks and are soon deserving of a title shot. Nate Diaz fights Anthony Pettis this weekend in a fight that could cause some waves.
Division Grade: B+
Lightweight is always the deepest and best division in MMA and it is no exception right now. Undefeated champion Khabib Nurmagomedov might go down as one of if not the best fighter of all time when all is said and done. Hes defending his belt next month against Dustin Poirier in Abu Dhabi in a follow up to submitting Conor McGregor in the biggest MMA fight of all time. Theres also Tony Ferguson out there on a 12 fight winning streak having won the interim belt and had it stripped due to injury. Justin Gaethje fights Donald ‘Cowboy’ Cerrone next month and Dan Hooker takes on Al Iaquinta on that Australian PPV in October. Then there is always the looming threat of a McGregor return. He could jump the line at the drop of a hat. No matter what exciting championship fights are lined up for the foreseeable future.
Division Grade: A
Featherweight and bantamweight are quickly developing into exciting divisions that can stand toe to toe with lightweight and welterweight as the best, deepest divisions. Max Holloway just returned from his loss to Dustin Poirier in an attempt to win the lightweight interim belt to dominate Frankie Edgar at UFC 240. Hes set up to next defend his belt against Alexander Volkanovski whether it takes place at UFC 243 in the top contender’s home country or at a later date. Zabit Magomedsharipov is scheduled to fight Calvin Katter in Boston on October 18th, Yair Rodriguez is scheduled to fight Jeremy Stephens in Mexico next month, and the ‘Korean Zombie’ Chan Sung Jung is rumored to be taking on Brian Ortega at that same event. Ortega hasn’t fought since losing to Holloway last December but should be right back in the title picture with one win. Jose Aldo just signed a new contract and hes always out there despite losing to Volkanovski last time out. If and when Holloway gives lightweight another shot Aldo is always a marketable guy to stick in a title fight.
Division Grade: A-
‘Triple C’ Henry Cejudo took bantamweight by storm, coming up from flyweight where he beat former 135 pound champion TJ Dillashaw (before he tested positive for PEDs) to finish Marlon Moraes and win the vacant belt, his second. The third ‘C’ in his self proclaimed moniker comes from his Olympic gold medal in wrestling. Hes currently out for the year following shoulder surgery but the division is still exciting in his stead. Aljamain Sterling and Petr Yan will most likely fight each other, either for an interim belt or just to see who is the top contender. But its the UFC, they’ll put a belt on it. Frankie Edgar might’ve lost last month to Holloway at featherweight but he just announced his next fight will be at 135 pounds and we know it won’t take much to give him another title shot. I’d love to see him fight Dominick Cruz when hes healthy. Cody Garbrandt should be ready to return by the end of the year, hes promotable if he can get back on track. Perennial top five Raphael Assuncao fights the on the rise Corey Sandhagen on Saturday.
Division Grade: A-
Back from the dead… Prior to the flyweight title fight between Henry Cejudo and then bantamweight champion TJ Dillashaw all the talk was about how Dillashaw was essentially an assassin hired by the UFC to kill the 125 pound division. Even after Cejudo knocked him out in the first round the rumors continued to circle that it was only a matter of time before the promotion pulled the plug on the weight class. Every fight felt like the Hunger Games with every loser being released from their contract unless they agreed to move up to 135 pounds. At some point they changed their mind and because of everything they did before then it is the thinnest division outside of women’s featherweight. Cejudo is the champion but also has duties one weight class higher if he wants to keep that belt. Joseph Benavidez is the clear top contender. Deiveson Figueredo bounced back from a loss to Jussier Formiga and could be in the title picture with a win over Tim Elliot in October. As long as they remain committed to building the division back up the talent is there for it to be full of exciting fights.
Division Grade: D
Speaking of divisions the UFC has shown no commitment to building… Amanda Nunes is the champion but bantamweight is her real division where she is also the champion. She only moved up to 145 pounds to fight Cris Cyborg. She knocked her out in one of the most thrilling women’s fights of all time but any hope of selling a rematch was killed when the UFC released Cyborg last week. The only natural featherweights in the promotion I can think of are Felecia Spencer and Meghan Anderson, the former was just beat up by Cybrog and the latter is on a two fight losing streak. Dana White insists they are going to keep the division around but unless they have a bunch of signings coming up it just looks like a glorified tool to further promote Nunes.
Division Grade: F
This is where Amanda Nunes will spend most of her time defending her belts. After beating Holly Holm last month she has pretty much defeated every notable name in women’s bantamweight history. She has hinted at retirement and while that would be unfortunate for fans of the sport and the UFC, she really doesn’t have anything else to prove. The only viable fights she has is a rematch with Germaine de Randamie, who she has already defeated, and Ketlen Viera, who hasn’t fought in almost a year and a half. The division’s biggest prospect, Aspen Ladd, was just knocked out by GDR and may be too big to safely make the cut down to 135 pounds.
Division Grade: D-
The newest division in the UFC has a lot of parallels with its counterpart on the men’s side. It has a dominant champion (Valentina Shevchenko) who is so far ahead of the competition that it makes her fights feel inevitable in a way that saps all the drama out of the affair. She just defeated Liz Carmouche this past weekend in what may be one of the worst title fights in UFC history. There are a few interesting prospects but its hard to see them having any chance against Shevchenko. Katlyn Chookagian or Jennifer Maia is probably next unless one of the winners of Andrea Lee vs. Joanne Calderwood or Gillian Robertson vs. Maycee Barber has an impressive showing. Flyweight isn’t as shallow as bantamweight but its not as loaded as strawweight. Hopefully it can get there in time.
Division Grade: C-
Strawweight is easily the best women’s division. Its basically the women’s version of lightweight where the mix of size and skill is perfectly aligned. Jessica Andrade wasted no time following her impressive come from behind body slam knockout victory over Rose Namajunas, defending her belt in China against Weili Zhang at the end of the month. Undefeated prospect Tatiana Suarez has been compared to men’s lightweight champion Khabib Nurmagomedov with her wrestling ability but she has to recover from a neck injury. Namajunas is always a threat to get her belt back, she dominated Andrade in the first round before she lost in the second. Former champion Joanna Jedrzejczyk returns in October to fight Michele Waterson. I could easily see the winner of that getting a shot at the belt as they both have the resume and are marketable in different ways. Other significant fights in the division coming up are Claudia Gadelha vs. Cynthia Calvillo and Carla Esparza vs. Alexa Grasso.
Division Grade: B+
Bob is a co-host of the ‘On the Verge’ an Orioles podcast focused on the O’s farm system here on BSL. He used to run the baseball blog ‘The Oriole Report’ before transitioning to podcasting about movies, TV, Video Games, and MMA. ‘The Redbox Report’ movie podcast was started in 2013 followed by ‘The Redbelt Report’ MMA podcast in 2016. Bob has also written for Konsume.com and BaltimoreSportsReport.com and delivers mail for a living in Baltimore County. Follow him on Twitter @TheOrioleReport.