The most intriguing name in every UFC division: All eyes on Jon Jones, again

There are 12 weight classes in the UFC. Only three of them have title fights. There is a lot of “to be clarified” going on at the very top of the top MMA promotion right now.

However, there are plenty of big-stakes fights, both in the books and the works, or worth considering as a possibility. There are fighters on the verge of championship opportunities. Others are at a career crossroads that could be their fast lane exit to the top of a mountain, or could be a dead end. Some of those who don’t have a ranking as we approach spring may have a number next to their name by summer.

Mark Raimondi, Brett Okamoto and Jeff Wagenheim went through the divisions to highlight the fighters who are currently surrounded by the most intrigue.

Heavyweight: 265 lbs – Jon Jones

I would say Sergei Pavlovich, who takes the division by storm. Or Tom Aspinall, who I consider to be the future of the division. But let’s be realistic: if Jon Jones is in the division, he’s the most intriguing fighter in it. He made his win over Cyril Gein this weekend feel like a walk in the park. A leisurely walk. It wasn’t a title fight, it was the coronation of GOAT.

Next up is Stipe Miocic and that’s intriguing. So intriguing, in fact, that this fight looks set to headline the annual UFC International Fight Week event in July. How will Jones look, both physically and technically, in his second heavyweight appearance against an opponent who (you might think) should drag him into deeper waters than the paddling pool he ran through at UFC 285? — Okamoto

Light Heavyweight: 205 lbs – Ryan Spann

Spann won 2-0 in 2022, finishing twice in the first round. He was scheduled to fight Nikita Krylov in the main event of UFC Fight Night last month, but Krylov fell ill on the day of the fight, causing the fight to be cancelled. The fight was rescheduled for Saturday and if Spann wins it could put him on that short list of top contenders at 205. He looked great in the knockout of Dominick Reyes at UFC 281 back in November. He’s only 31 and looks like he’s found some new gear.

After defeating Reyes, Spann said in his post-fight interview that he hadn’t trained much prior to his previous fights, and it felt like his first real training camp to him. If this is true, then the ceiling could be high for a focused, disciplined Spann. He always had athleticism and strength in his hands. He has a good team with Fortis MMA and trainer Saif Saud. A win this weekend will really put him on the map at 205 pounds. — Raimondi

Middleweight: 185 lbs – Israel Adesanya

Remember it? Yes, of course, everyone knows that “The Last Style Bender” is far from a forgotten person. But when he enters the Octagon on April 8, Adesanya will be saddled with expectations that ignore his past and threaten to limit his future.

The former champion is the betting favorite in the UFC 287 rematch with Alex Pereira, despite the Brazilian’s TKO knocking him out in November – Pereira defeated Adesanya for the third time, counting their two pro kickboxing bouts. The bets tell us that smart people expect Adesanya to return the belt next month, but what if he falls for the fourth time? That would make him a no-man’s-land among 185-pounders (at least as long as Pereira holds the title), and 205-pounds might not be any more fertile terrain for him either, considering how Adesanya was mistreated in 2021 when he fought. with the then light heavyweight champion. Jan Blachowicz. Where will defeat leave one of MMA’s most dynamic fighters? — Wagenheim

Welterweight: 170 lbs – Shavkat Rakhmanov

It’s not just that he withdrew from his Fight of the Night performance at UFC 285 last Saturday. Incidentally, Rakhmanov has been one of the most intriguing names at 170 pounds for some time now. I have heard time and again from some respected names in the sport that he is actually better than another welterweight talent that has emerged in recent years: Khamzat Chimaev.

Rakhmanov had just been put to the test against Jeff Neal, in a fight where he was a 5-to-1 favorite. Don’t let the rivalry of this fight fool you into thinking that the top of this division will be too much for Rakhmanov. Neil is legit even if he never had a top 5 number next to his name. Rakhmanov struggled and still maintained his finishing streak, extending it to a perfect 17-0. When this guy gets to a title fight (and I’m sure I can tell when, not if), don’t be surprised if he’s in favor against the reigning champion. — Okamoto

Lightweight: 155 lbs – Rafael Fiziev

This spring, Fiziev may shake up the lightweight hierarchy. At UFC 286 on March 18, the Muay Thai fighter will take on former interim champion Justin Gaethje in what many are expecting to be the “Fight of the Night.” The two men have striking styles that go well together. Gaethje is weak on his feet, although he tends to get into gunfights. Fiziev is extremely technical and dangerous with both hands and feet. This should be a great matchup.

If Fiziev can beat Gaethje, everything will change for him at 155 pounds. Gaethje has been debating the title for years, and in his last fight he fought for the title against Charles Oliveira. Fiziev won six times in a row, earning him $50,000 in fight night bonuses (similar to Gaethje). Gaethje will be his strongest opponent to date, but if Fiziev is up to the task, there will be talk of him getting a title shot in the future. — Raimondi

Men’s Featherweight: 145 lbs – Arnold Allen

When division champion Alexander Volkanovski fought for the lightweight title last month, on the same UFC 284 card, Yair Rodriguez defeated Josh Emmett for the interim featherweight title. This seemed to leave Allen out of the champion picture, but he soon ended up being, as he told MMA Fighting, “more than that opportunity.” Main Event on April 15 against Max Holloway, the former champion who holds UFC featherweight records for wins (18), winning streak (13), finishes (10) and knockouts (8) among others. It’s an attention-grabbing booking for Allen, who is 9-0 in the UFC but has slipped through the cracks. Allen’s win would have been huge as it’s been almost ten years since any 145-pound fighter other than Volkanovski has beaten Holloway. — Wagenheim

Men’s Bantamweight: 135 lbs – Henry Cejudo

Umar Nurmagomedov may be the most intriguing player in the long run. He comes from a camp with a long history of performing near-perfect. Ask backstage who will be champion in this weight class in a few years and you will hear the name “Umar” quite often. But right now, as we head into spring 2023, Henry Cejudo is the most intriguing. He retired as the defending champion in 2020. Now he’s back to try and reclaim the title from Aljamain Sterling in May, and if he does, the path is well paved for Triple C.

Big title defense against Sean O’Malley in a summer blockbuster. And if all goes well there, all eyes will be on moving up another weight class in an attempt to become the first fighter to win titles in three weight classes. I’m officially saying that if Cejudo remains undefeated in 2023, he will almost certainly be my fighter of the year because this year is very well prepared for him. And I won’t back down now. — Okamoto

Men’s Flyweight: 125 lbs – Tatsuro Taira

The divisional rivalry between Brandon Moreno and Deiveson Figueiredo is finally over. Figueiredo has announced his intention to move up to bantamweight, leaving the 125lb contenders open. Alexander Pantoja is likely to be the next contender for a title shot against Moreno. After Pantoja, there are a few fighters who can make a name for themselves like Manel Cape, Amir Albazi and Matheus Nicolaou or rebuild themselves like Kai Cara-France or Alex Perez. Tyra is not currently ranked, but that won’t last long. The undefeated fighter has won his first three fights in the UFC and his last two by armbar.

Taira is a former flyweight champion of the Japanese organization Shooto, the first established MMA promotion. While Muhammad Mokaev has received a lot of hype as the top prospect in the division – and for good reason – Taira is here too. He is only 23 years old, and the sky seems to be the limit of his potential. Despite its history in MMA and martial arts in general, Japan has never had a UFC champion. Taira still has a long way to go, but he is the closest of all Japanese fighters. — Raimondi

Women’s Featherweight: 145 lbs – Matchmaker Sean Shelby

Can we just leave this space empty like does in space dedicated to his divisional rankings? No? Okay, so let’s pop the cork and celebrate the anniversary: ​​two years ago, on Monday, this division’s belt was last put up for sale. Amanda Nunes, both featherweight and bantamweight champion, doesn’t have many options in a division with just seven fighters on the roster. But where are Shelby and the rest of the UFC talent scouts supposed to find featherweights? The PFL has just introduced a division for the 2023 season (replacing the women’s lightweight division), and the cabinets at Bellator and Invicta FC are virtually empty. Maybe Jones will offer some of the women’s bantamweights a mass-gaining workshop? — Wagenheim

Women’s Bantamweight: 135 lbs – Irene Aldana

Looks like it’s the year of the Mexican title contenders. Brandon Moreno in January. Yair Rodriguez in February Alexa Grasso in March Irene Aldana… this summer? Possibly later this year in Mexico if the UFC decides to build a tournament around all that Mexican momentum.

Aldana is in her seventh year with the UFC. She entered the organization with high expectations as a former Invicta FC title challenger. She has the physique to compete against anyone at 135 pounds including Nunes. Of course, she would be an outsider, but so far it has not been…


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