Only one more week until the UFC is up and running events once more! That gives me time to finish up my UFC weight class predictions for 2022. You can read Part 1 of the column right here. In Part 2 I’ll dive into the bantamweight division (which I mistakenly jumped over last column) and then lightweight up to heavyweight. Let’s get it on, c’mon!
Current Champ: Aljamain Sterling (Petr Yan – interim)
End of 2022 Champ: Petr Yan
I must have jumped over bantamweight last time around because it’s pretty cut and dry. Petr Yan is the best fighter at 135 pounds, and he’ll be coronated (once again) at UFC 272 on March 5th. Yan infamously lost his title at UFC 259 to Aljamain Sterling after hitting the challenger with an illegal knee, causing him to be unable to continue. Since that time Sterling has been on the shelf with a myriad of injuries, and Yan has captured the interim version of the title. Considering he dominated their first encounter, I expect more of the same from Yan this go around. And there is no one else in the weight class currently that I see as a legitimate challenger to his crown in 2022.
Current Champ: Charles Oliveira
End of 2022 Champ: Charles Oliveira
The highly competitive 155-pound weight class offers a murkier picture when I gaze into my crystal ball. Current champ Charles Oliveira solidified his status last time out, dominating top contender Dustin Poirier, who many (including myself) felt was the best fighter in the division. It looks like Justin Gaethje is next up for the Brazilian champ, and while he’s a hellacious striker, he doesn’t have the grappling chops to keep Oliveira off him. Next up to bat after Gaethje will probably be Islam Makhachev if he gets by Beneil Dariush, and while that’s a tough one to call I think Oliveira beats him as well (or Dariush if he gets the title shot instead)
Current Champ: Kamaru Usman
End of 2022 Champ: Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman is the most dominant champion the UFC has now that Amanda Nunes has been usurped, so he’s a fairly easy pick here. He’s already beaten the next best man in the division, Colby Covington, twice so that threat is probably gone for good. There are a young bunch of contenders, like Khamzat Chimaev and Sean Brady, working their way up the ranks, but I don’t think either of them, or anyone else, catches the champ before the calendar turns to 2023. But considering he turns 35 in May, and Father Time is undefeated, eventually Usman’s time will come.
Current Champ: Israel Adesanya
End of 2022 Champ: Israel Adesanya
While Israel Adesanya’s foray up to 205-pounds to challenge for that title got thwarted by Jan Blachowicz, he’s still untouchable at middleweight. He’s about to be in similar territory as Kamaru Usman – when he beats Robert Whittaker next month at UFC 272, he’ll have dispatched the second-best man in his division twice. While beating Whittaker a second time isn’t a given, that’s what I feel will happen. However, unlike Usman’s welterweight division, middleweight is bereft of young contenders. The 185-pound crown is Adesanya’s for at least another year.
Current Champ: Glover Teixeira
End of 2022 Champ: Jiri Prochazka
Typing 42-year-old Glover Teixiera’s name as the UFC Light Heavyweight Champion is as surreal as listing Julianna Pena as the Women’s Bantamweight Champion. But it is in fact reality. However, no one is predicting the champ to still be the champ at the end of 2022. And he doesn’t even have his first title defense scheduled yet. It’s looking likely to be Jiri Prochazka, whose dynamic and unique striking will pose too many problems for the old man. New champ is my prediction.
Current Champ: Francis Ngannou
End of 2022 Champ: Derrick Lewis
Do I really think Derrick Lewis will be UFC Heavyweight Champion at the end of the year? Probably not, but I certainly would love to see that happen. Lewis as champion would be hilarious. And he has already beaten current champ Francis Ngannou, so it’s not out of the realm of possibility. Let a guy dream a little.