There used to be a time when UFC belts changed hands quite often. Those days are gone.
Only two UFC champions lost their titles in 2012, on opposite ends of the scale. Benson Henderson defeated Frankie Edgar in February to nab the lightweight title, and on the last card of the year, Cain Velasquez recaptured his heavyweight belt from Junior dos Santos with an absolute drubbing.
Other than that, pound-for-pound stalwarts Jon Jones, Anderson Silva, Georges St-Pierre and Jose Aldo continued their dominance over their respective weight classes, going a combined 5-0 (Silva also won a non-title bout at light-heavyweight over Stephan Bonnar). Each of those four fighters has now held his respective belt for at least 21 months.
If you consider how good Velasquez and Henderson looked in their last fights, the trend could continue in 2013.
In addition, two new divisions were added — flyweight and women’s bantamweight — and one fighter ended the year as interim champion (Renan Barao beat Urijah Faber at UFC 149 after champion Dominick Cruz was injured).
Before the 2013 UFC campaign gets underway, here’s a breakdown of the nine divisions and the outlook this year for each champion.
Champion: Cain Velasquez
2012 record: 2-0
Next opponent: TBD
2013 outlook: Velasquez has never looked better coming off his total thrashing of Junior dos Santos, truly making his only loss 13 months earlier a mere blip on his record. However, his next opponent will be the formidable Alistair Overeem if the latter can beat Antonio Silva at UFC 156. If “The Reem” is as good as I think he can be then he should have no trouble with Bigfoot. The question is whether he can be that good while clean. If so, he would then be quite a challenge for Velasquez. I also expect to see a rubber match with JDS, and I wouldn’t count out Junior out so easily.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 75%
Do you think Cain Velasquez will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Jon Jones
Next opponent: Chael Sonnen, UFC 159, April 27
2013 outlook: Unless Sonnen can pull off what he did against Silva in 2010, without making a stupid mistake late, Jones will probably get past Sonnen fairly easily, especially considering the size difference. Other challengers waiting in the wings include Alexander Gustafsson, whom I think would give Jones an entertaining fight, but ultimately isn’t up to Jones’ skills and experience.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 85%
Do you think Jon Jones will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Anderson Silva
2013 outlook: Silva will likely defend his belt first against Michael Bisping, who I expect to get past Vitor Belfort. I also hold Bisping in higher regard than most, so I would give him at least a slight chance to upset Silva. But not a tremendous one. Other potential challengers Chris Weidman, Luke Rockhold and Hector Lombard better hope Silva just gets bored waiting for GSP to be ready to fight him.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 90%
Do you think Anderson Silva will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Georges St-Pierre
2012 record: 1-0
Next opponent: Nick Diaz, UFC 158, March 16
2013 outlook: If his last fight against a super dangerous Carlos Condit is any indication, GSP isn’t relinquishing that belt anytime soon, and certainly not to a guy he despises as much as Diaz. I just think he’s in another class than all the other 170 pounders, aside from perhaps Rory MacDonald, but those two won’t fight. After Diaz, his next opponent will likely be Johny Hendricks or Jake Ellenberger, with current Strikeforce champion and former GSP training partner Nate Marquardt likely joining the UFC ranks after his fight Saturday. Hendricks poses the biggest threat, but St-Pierre is too smart to get caught like Martin Kampmann did.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 96%
Do you think Georges St-Pierre will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Benson Henderson
2012 record: 3-0
2013 outlook: I have been a huge Henderson fan for a long time, and considering his athleticism and size at 155 pounds, I could see him dominate the lightweight ranks for a long time. One caveat: he doesn’t tend to finish opponents and might be a bit too flashy for his own good, leading judges to give points to his opponents for steady but less punishing strikes. That could work in the favour of the winner of the upcoming bout between Anthony Pettis and Donald Cerrone, both of whom he fought to close decision against in the WEC. Henderson will probably also face Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez at some point in 2013. I could see one of those three possibly making a fight against Henderson close enough to earn a decision.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 67%
Do you think Benson Henderson will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Jose Aldo
Next opponent: Frankie Edgar, UFC 156, Feb. 2
2013 outlook: Edgar made fights against Henderson close and he could have a size advantage in theory against Aldo, but the Brazilian is an absolute killer. He’s not as well rounded as Henderson but a better striker. Edgar’s best shot would be to outwrestle Aldo, but if Chad Mendes couldn’t do it, I don’t like Edgar’s chances. After that, the 145-pound class offers a bunch of young guys and Chan Sung Jung, who I would love to see fight Aldo but wouldn’t put money on. But depending on how the winners of the Eric Koch vs. Ricardo Lamas and Cub Swanson vs. Dennis Siver fights look, Aldo could face some decent challengers after that.
Do you think Jose Aldo will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Dominick Cruz
2012 record: 0-0
2013 outlook: The main question is whether Cruz will even compete in 2013. He missed all of last year with an ACL injury and had to undergo another surgery in December which could put him out for another 6-9 months. If he can return to the same form as he did before like GSP did after his long layoff from ACL surgery, I like his chances against whomever the UFC puts him up against. But that’s a big if, and interim champ Renan Barao has looked great in his absence. So has Michael McDonald, who could be the one wearing the interim belt by the time Cruz returns.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013 (assuming he fights): 60%
Do you think Dominick Cruz will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Demetrious Johnson
2012 record: 2-0-1
Next opponent: John Dodson, UFC on FOX 6, Jan. 26
2013 outlook: Johnson had one of the best years of any UFC fighter on paper, becoming the UFC’s first flyweight champion after three fights. However, two of his fights were extremely close. His first was a draw against Ian McCall and he won the title in a five-round split-decision over Joseph Benavidez. Considering he needed a do-over to advance to the final and the championship bout could have gone either way, I think it’s appropriate to think it’s nearly a tossup whether he beats the streaking Dodson in their bout later this month. Even if he gets by him, a rematch with Johnson or McCall could be in his future.
Chance he’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 40%
Do you think Demetrious Johnson will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Champion: Ronda Rousey
Next opponent: Liz Carmouche, UFC 157, Feb. 23
2013 outlook: Rousey’s first-round onslaught of opponents’ arms has been unstoppable to this point. Her opponents know exactly what she wants to do but still can’t do anything about it. I believe that trend will continue in her first UFC fight against Carmouche. But she’ll be in much tougher against Cristiane (Cyborg) Santos. Like Overeem, it’s a question of whether she’ll be as overpowering without the juice, but I don’t think she’ll be a cakewalk for Rousey. Should she get past her, there’s also a potential fight with Sara McMann, a fellow Olympic medallist (in wrestling) who is undefeated in MMA.
Chance she’ll still be champ at the end of 2013: 70%
Do you think Ronda Rousey will still be champ at the end of 2013?
Note: The poll results represent different percentages than the “chances” of retaining the the title I’ve assigned to each champion. Readers can only vote yes or no as to whether they think a fighter will keep his/her belt, which is simply whether they think said fighter’s chance of doing so is greater than 50 per cent. My percentages are based on some (not too in-depth) mathematical estimates/predictions. But the corresponding figures make for good comparisons.