As 2020 comes to an end, the UFC hasn’t seen much change at the top of each of its weight divisions this year.
Stipe Miocic retained his heavyweight title by defeating Daniel Cormier in their trilogy fight in August, while Israel Adesanya successfully defended his middleweight crown twice against Yoel Romero (UFC 248) and Paulo Costa (UFC 253).
Kamaru Usman is still the king of the welterweights, winning his only fight of the year by defeating Jorge Masvidal in dominant fashion at UFC 251 while Khabib Nurmagomedov choked out Justin Gaethje at UFC 254 to retain the lightweight title.
Featherweight’s hierarchy remains unchanged too, as Alexander Volkanovski beat Max Holloway at UFC 251 in their rematch via split decision.
The only new champions we saw in the UFC this year came due to the title being relinquished by whoever carried the belt into 2020, thus becoming vacant.
Henry Cejudo relinquished the flyweight belt at the end of 2019, which allowed Joseph Benavidez and Deiveson Figueiredo to fight for it twice. He vacated the bantamweight title after beating former champion Dominick Cruz at UFC 249 before retiring from the sport.
Jon Jones vacated the light heavyweight strap to chase the heavyweight belt, something we expect him to do at some point in 2021. That allowed Jan Blachowicz the chance to claim the crown, by knocking out Dominick Reyes at UFC 253.
But who will take the crowns in 2021?
At flyweight, if Figueiredo can navigate the rematch against Moreno then it’s hard to see anyone beating him. Garbrandt would likely be next in line, moving down from 135lbs, but with a 10lbs cut and with how easily he gets hit it’s hard to look past Figueiredo knocking him out and reigning supreme for years to come.
FLYWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: DEIVESON FIGUEIREDO
At bantamweight, Aljamain Sterling has a great chance of taking the belt in 2021. He is scheduled to take on Petr Yan at some point and stylistically has a great chance of taking Yan to the ground and securing a submission. On the feet he can hang too with his range management and it should be a great fight.
The returning TJ Dillashaw will also have a say in where the belt goes in the new year. The former champion has been suspended for two years for a failed drug test, but is available again from January to return. He has been linked with a fight against Jose Aldo in his comeback and a win in that fight could put him right back into title contention.
Cory Sandhagen, Frankie Edgar and Rob Font could all also potentially be just one win away from a title fight too in what should be a stunning year for the 135lbs division.
BANTAMWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: ALJAMAIN STERLING
At featherweight, Alexander Volkanovski has moved on from Max Holloway for now and is expected to make his next title defence against Brian Ortega. T-City showed a new and improved striking game when he dismantled ‘Korean Zombie’ and is a genuine threat to Volkanovski’s reign. Zabit Magomedsharipov is also waiting in the wings and another win in 2021 will likely see him enter title contention, while the chances of Max Holloway re-entering the frame are possible too.
Overall, I think that Volkanovski has all the tools to hold on to his strap for as long as he wants to. He has striking and wrestling and a durability that makes it hard to stop him. Unless he gets back in there with Holloway for a third time, expect Volkanovski to retain throughout the year.
FEATHERWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: ALEXANDER VOLKANOVSKI
Lightweight will almost certainly see a new champion at some point in 2021. Khabib Nurmagomedov retired after his last fight, but Dana White seems confident that he can lure the undefeated champion back for one more fight. If he’s successful, then Khabib will likely retire following that fight which means a vacant title later in the year. If not, then the title will be vacated sooner and a title fight could be made in the summer featuring the winner of Poirier/McGregor and another top lightweight such as Gaethje, Oliveira, Chandler or Hooker.
My money is on a return to the top for McGregor. The fight against Poirier is huge, but the fact he has beaten him before is a big advantage for him. A win guarantees him the next title shot, whether it’s against Khabib or not. If it is, he’ll lose again. But if it isn’t, he has a skillset that can cope with almost anyone else except possibly Charles Oliveira.
LIGHTWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: CONOR MCGREGOR
At welterweight, the division is stacked but it’s firmly in Kamaru Usman’s hands. The Nigerian Nightmare has defended his belt successfully twice since dethroning Tyron Woodley and is set to defend against Gilbert Burns next. His skillset is so dominant though, and he is so strong and powerful that I don’t see a 170lber in the world, never mind the UFC, that beats Usman any time soon.
WELTERWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: KAMARU USMAN
Moving up to 185lbs, I expect this division will likely be on hold for the majority of 2021. Adesanya will be moving up to light heavyweight to take on Blachowicz at UFC 259 in March and I expect him to be too fast and too slick for the Polish veteran. That would see him become a double champion and with more contender at 205lbs rather than 185lbs, if he is to fight again it’ll probably be at light heavyweight.
Should he end up vacating the 185lbs title, Robert Whittaker will step into any title fight as the favourite. Paulo Costa, Darren Till, Marvin Vettori and Kevin Holland could all end up in the title picture with him with one more win in the new year although I would expect ‘The Reaper’ to come out on top against them all.
MIDDLEWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: ROBERT WHITTAKER
LIGHT HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: ISRAEL ADESANYA
At heavyweight, Stipe Miocic has reigned supreme now for four of the last five years and has lost just once since 2014. He will fight Francis Ngannou for a second time in the first quarter of 2021 and should he get through that bout, which isn’t a given by any stretch, a fight against Jon Jones awaits.
As good as Miocic is, Jon Jones is undefeated but for a dodgy disqualification and has done nothing but fight for titles since 2010. A move up to heavyweight could cement him in the conversation as the greatest of all time if he is successful and he certainly has the skillset to defeat anyone in the world.
Jones’ wrestling, striking, range management, durability and experience could see him reign supreme among the big men for a long time and I think that starts in 2021.
HEAVYWEIGHT CHAMPION END OF 2021: JON JONES