Amanda Nunes is untouchable and Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya reign supreme… but which UFC champion is vulnerable to the challengers snapping at their heels?
- It is tough for a fighter to become UFC champion… and even harder to stay there
- As soon as the belt is wrapped around someone’s waist, they become the hunted
- Kamaru Usman and Israel Adesanya look comfortable at the top of their divisions
- But who is prime candidate to be usurped and which champions are vulnerable?
It has always been tough at the top. From the moment Dana White wraps a UFC belt around a fighter’s waist, the hunter becomes the hunted.
Many champions have spoken about the change in mindset when becoming champion and motivation is harder to find once a life’s work has been accomplished.
The best are able to defend their crown time after time… so, with that in mind, which current champions are sitting pretty, and who is vulnerable?
Champion – Francis Ngannou
The king is dead, long live the king. Stipe Miocic remains the greatest heavyweight of all-time and his CV is ridiculous.
But the manner in which Ngannou dethroned him at the weekend was out of this world and has elevated him to superstardom.
Miocic made Ngannou look amateurish in their first fight but the Cameroonian was a man transformed having earned another shot.
He is built like a superhero, boasts the most power of anyone in the UFC and if he continues to develop, could reign for a long, long time.
Francis Ngannou is the newest UFC champion and will be targeting a long reign at the top
The heavyweight king dethroned Stipe Miocic emphatically in their UFC 260 rematch
The problem is, he’s not likely to be facing any run of the mill challenger in his first title defence.
Instead, he will be thrown arguably the greatest mixed martial artist of all time. Jon Jones has been bulking up having vacated his light-heavyweight crown.
The American has never been beaten (except one disqualification loss for illegal elbows).
Jon Jones will pose a great threat to Ngannou and could underline his status as the greatest
Despite all of his issues outside of the cage, he will pose an enormous challenge for Ngannou. The fight IQ, wrestling ability and experience in title fights will all work in his favour.
But Ngannou is the far bigger man and if his takedown defence against Miocic is anything to go by, he could thwart ‘Bones’.
It only takes one punch for Ngannou to switch the lights off and he’ll be full of confidence.
Vulnerability rating – 5/10
Champion – Jan Blachowicz
The general thinking when Jones vacated his title was that this division would be a free-for-all.
It was predicted that the belt could change hands a number of times without any of the contenders looking like an outstanding candidate for a long reign.
But Jan Blachowicz has seized his moment. ‘Polish Power’ stopped Dominick Reyes to win the belt and then was hugely impressive against Israel Adesanya.
Blachowicz (left) defeated Israel Adesanya to retain his light-heavyweight title this month
The 38-year-old may be in the final stretch of his career but he is making hay while the sun shines.
Glover Teixeira is likely to be his next challenger. The Brazilian is even older than Blachowicz at 41 but has fully earned a shot with five impressive wins on the bounce.
Blachowicz will see this as a winnable title defence so even though he might not be the most impressive champion in the UFC on paper, he could yet hold onto his belt until next year.
Vulnerability rating – 6/10
Champion – Israel Adesanya
Adesanya reached for greatness and just came up short against Blachowicz. He’ll be disappointed at how he performed but the size and power difference was too much for him.
Back down at middleweight it is a different story. His challengers still pack a punch but Adesanya has looked phenomenal at 185-pounds.
He’s yet to be beaten as a professional at that weight, KO’d Robert Whittaker to win the title, saw off Yoel Romero and made Paulo Costa look a fool.
Adesanya is returning to his natural weight class, where he has looked phenomenal
Only Darren Till was of interest to Adesanya but the British fighter has had to pull out of his scheduled bout with Marvin Vettori due to a broken collarbone.
The news is a huge blow to both Till and Adesanya, with the champion scanning the horizon for his next credible competitor.
‘The Last Stylebender’ just looks too slick, precise and composed to give up his belt any time soon and has previously spoken about wanting a long reign like Anderson Silva.
There’s no reason he can’t replicate the great Brazilian and you’d get long odds on him being beaten any time soon.
Vulnerability rating – 2/10
Champion – Kamaru Usman
‘The Nigerian Nightmare’ just looks so strong at the top of the 170-pound pile.
He lost his second ever MMA fight back in 2013 but has had his hand raised on each of the 17 occasions since.
He dismantled Tyron Woodley to win the belt and has defended it three times in one of the UFC’s most competitive divisions.
Colby Covington, Jorge Masvidal and Gilbert Burns have all tried and failed to end his dominance but the Nigerian marches on.
Kamaru Usman is one of the most dominant champions in the UFC in the welterweight division
The winner of Leon Edwards vs Nate Diaz could well be next in line for a shot at the belt.
Usman defeated Edwards by unanimous decision when they crossed paths in 2015 and would be confident going into a rematch.
Diaz has 12 defeats on his record and does not possess the kind of KO power to trouble the champion either.
Usman will be looking over the welterweight landscape content that he is in a great position to remain at the top.
Vulnerability rating – 3/10
Khabib Nurmagomedov has sailed off into the sunset and Dana White finally accepts it now.
The Russian had a vice-like grip on his division as unerring as one of his submissions but now things can get really interesting.
Charles Oliveira will take on Michael Chandler for the vacant lightweight belt in the headline act of UFC 262.
Chandler is still relatively untested at the top of the UFC. He KO’d Dan Hooker brilliantly on his debut for the organisation but the jury is still out on whether he can mix it with the very best.
Charles Oliveira (left) is set to face Michael Chandler (right) for the vacant title in May
Oliveira has earned his shot at the title with eight wins in succession, including a demolition of Tony Ferguson.
But he will be seen as a fragile champion even with victory over Chandler. Oliveira has a superb ground game but does not threaten a knockout.
The likes of Dustin Poirier, Conor McGregor, Justin Gaethje and Islam Makhachev will all be licking their lips at the prospect of a go against the new champion.
Chandler or Oliveira’s reign could be shortlived.
Vulnerability rating for new champion – 9/10
Champion – Alexander Volkanovski
To beat Max Holloway twice, whether you agree with the scorecards or not, is mightily impressive.
Volkanovski is a tough, nuggety and powerful featherweight who remains undefeated inside the UFC.
He was due to face Brian Ortega at UFC 260 but had to withdraw after contracting Covid-19.
That was a real shame as the fight would have tested the champion in a way we’ve perhaps not seen before.
Alexander Volkanovski will defend his featherweight title against Brian Ortega next
Ortega is a wizard on the ground and and bounced back from a doctor’s stoppage against Holloway to beat Korean Zombie in his last outing.
Volkanovski will enter the postponed contest as favourite and has won every fight in the last 14 years.
Even though Ortega is fully capable of an upset, it would be brave to bet against the Australian.
Vulnerability rating – 4/10
Champion – Aljamain Sterling
Well, then. Sterling won the belt in circumstances no challenger ever wants to win the belt in.
Petr Yan was winning an entertaining fight against him at UFC 259 but was then disqualified for landing an illegal knee to the American when he was down.
The Russian lost his title without ever losing a fight in the truest sense so in the eyes of many Sterling is a fake champion.
He was criticised by some for what they perceived as ‘acting’ after taking the illegal blow and is now seemingly reluctant to give Yan the rematch.
Aljamain Sterling won the bantamweight title in unfortunate circumstances against Petr Yan
He recently told MMA Junkie: ‘This guy is getting rewarded with a rematch, which I get is a big fight. But, it is like, we can just break the rules and nothing is ever going to happen to us.
‘So I can just jump the octagon and nothing is ever going to happen to me. I can just go and fight another corner or push him after the bell and nothing is ever going to happen. It’s like, I feel like when you have rules for a reason. You kinda have to enforce them, or otherwise let’s just run them up.
‘I feel like his ass should have been suspended or something. Pay me some money for an illegal foul that might take years off of my career.’
Given the manner in which Yan dominated most of the fight, he will be firm favourite for the rematch and Sterling’s time at the summit is likely to be brief.
Vulnerability rating – 10/10
Yan (left) will be favourite to win his belt back but Sterling does not want the rematch
Champion – Deiveson Figueiredo
Brandon Moreno pushed the champion right to the limit in their enthralling UFC 256 showdown.
The Brazilian champion came into the fight expected to enforce his will as he’d done to his last five opponents but retained the title by the skin of his teeth in a majority draw.
But predictions that he may rule over the flyweights for an extended period now look slightly premature.
Deveison Figueiredo kept his bantamweight title with a draw against Brandon Moreno (right)
He has the size advantage over most of his competitors but can tire and there are definite holes to exploit.
The rematch has to be made and if it is anything like the first encounter, not only are the fans in for a treat, but Fugueiredo has a massive challenge on his hands.
Askar Askarov’s rise to the No 2 contender spot will also be on he champion’s radar and the Russian could well cause plenty of problems if given a shot at the belt.
Vulnerability rating: 6/10
Champion – Zhang Weili
China’s first UFC champion opened the doors for 1.4billion people and unlocked a market the promotion are desperate to tap into.
She defeated Jessica Andrade to win the title and break new ground before an incredible five-round war went her way in a split decision over Joanna Jedrzejczyk.
Weili is scheduled to defend her belt against Rose Namajunas at UFC 261 and it will be a massive test of her credentials.
Zhang Weili is the first Chinese champion in UFC history and is favourite to retain the belt
Namajunas twice defeated Jedrzejczyk and bounced back from her defeat by Jessica Andrade to exact revenge in the rematch.
‘Thug Rose’ enters the fight as an underdog however and the power of Weili could seriously trouble her.
It is by no means a sure thing but the champion will be confident she can back up the bookies’ prediction.
Vulnerability rating – 4/10
Champion – Valentina Shevchenko
Shevchenko has been sublime since winning the flyweight title in 2018.
Four title defences later and the belt looks like it is in very safe hands indeed. Next up is a tough test against Andrade at UFC 261.
Andrade has the power to trouble anyone but the range of Shevchenko’s striking is on another level.
The Kyrgyzstani-Peruvian is equally comfortable winning on points or landing the killer blow when given the opportunity.
Her counters and control of distance are by far the best in the division so it would be a shock to see anyone but her with the belt.
Vulnerability rating: 2/10
Valentina Shevchenko (right) has looked dominant as champion of the flyweight division
Champion – Amanda Nunes
It has been eight years since Nunes last suffered defeat and the ‘Lioness’ continues to be the most dominant champion in the organisation.
She’s ended the UFC careers of all-time greats such as Ronda Rousey and Cris Cyborg.
In all honesty, there’s nobody left to conquer.
Vulnerability rating – 1/10
Amanda Nunes is the most dominant champion in the UFC in any division at the moment
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