If you’re not a fan of sequels, go ahead and just read part one over again. The rest of the class is going to get their fill of completely irreverent predictions for 2017’s champions in the second helping of this month’s Unpopular Opinion!
For those of you just tuning in, I was in the midst of ‘stirring in’ your expectation coffee with the people I’m willing to back for future title holders in 2017. So without further ado, we’re picking up right where we left off:
Lightweight: Khabib Nurmagomedov
There should really be an asterix onto the end of this prediction as ‘The Eagle’ tends to A) Get hurt a lot in training and B) Get hurt a lot in training, resulting in long layoffs between fights. Now, I know what you’re thinking—This should be Conor McGregor’s spot, but hear me out—In his feud with Nate Diaz (which I’m sure no one ever heard of or watched at all ever) McGregor’s flawed grappling became a front and center point of contention.
Now, Nate’s no slouch (volume boxers are rarely afforded the luxury of slowing down) but it’s not beyond reasoning to think Diaz lacks a skill set needed to power through the likes of Alvarez or Nurmagomedov (See: Benson Henderson’s smothering clinch/wrestling victory over the Stockton southpaw). Judging by how Conor struggled against Diaz during their pair of encounters (notable lack of wrestling in both of their fights), it’s easy to see that the grinding assault of Nurmagomedov would be more than enough to haul out a victory against nearly everyone in the division, including everyone’s favourite trash-talker.
Bottom line: Khabib is the unique combination of a heavy-handed wrestler with little-to-no fear of the BJJ game. If he stays healthy, there’s no stopping him.
Welterweight: Stephen Thompson
“…Whatd’ya mean It’s not Robbie Lawler?”
I’m just as sad as you, honestly. Let’s be real here though. If Thompson gets past Tyron Woodley (who, let’s be honest here, is far better than anyone gave him credit for) the division is essentially his to lose. With ‘Ruthless’ seemingly running out of chin strength and plenty of miles on his body, it’s easy to see Thompson lighting everyone and their dogs up with his ‘Unorthodox’ striking style.
Yes, yes. I know Donald Cerrone is also in the division, but he’s still fairly new to the grounds and frankly would like to see him get more acclimated to the competition before making a call on his championship potential.
Middleweight: Luke Rockhold
Now I know what you’re thinking: “Ugh, not HIM again,” but is it really that far of a stretch to think that he’d regain his title from the grievous loss suffered at the hands of Michael Bisping?
…Is it? …Is it really? Heck, if YOU lost to Michael Bisping, you’d be in a hurry to rip that belt back ASAP, right?
Rockhold beat Weidman, definitively. Post neck surgery, Weidman may never be the same or be the contender that we all know knocked out Anderson Silva again. Romero has yet to free himself of the doubts regarding ‘Stool Gate’ and Gegard Mousasi may end up playing second fiddle due to the better marketing/political maneuverings performed by his peers. That only leaves Jacare, whom Rockhold already holds a win over.
By far the most competitive division in the UFC, the belt could realistically land across a lot of waists, but as far as a legitimate, scandal free champion goes, the money goes on Rockhold.
Light Heavyweight: Jon ‘…Wait for it’ Jones
Nope. Nope, nope nope. Not even going to touch this one.
Barring something catastrophic happening today (let’s all not forget it IS Halloween,) Jon Jones will in all likelihood be sentenced to a vacation, wherein we’ll all get some pretty funny Twitter beef for a while and then sit slack jawed at the muscular monster Jones becomes in the off season.
I have my issues with his out-of-ring antics, but when it comes to the game of beautiful, televised violence, there are no chefs better at baking the winner’s pie.
But what of Daniel Cormier? I’d hate to have Daniel drop the strap in our own back yard of Toronto, but Anthony Johnson has the power to put down just about anyone and will not be making many of the mistakes made in their first encounter twice. IF Daniel gets past Johnson, Jones picks him apart. IF Cormier loses his defense, Jones picks ‘Rumble’ apart.
There’s really no other way to call it.
Heavyweight: ‘Sea Level’ Cain Velasquez
I’m hard pressed to think of a UFC heavyweight champion that has defended the title more than twice. Curses, conditioning, math, whatever you want to pick as the reason for this difficulty are all just as valid as the next at this point.
Cain is 34, which, by heavyweight standards, puts him squarely in his prime of competition life. He’s also familiar with the pressures of fighting for the title, and has shown on several occasions his ability to recover from adversity (cough cough, JDS, cough cough). Given a proper, injury free camp, I foresee Velasquez regaining the belt one more time before riding off into the sunset—notably because he’s the most experienced and physically capable of doing so. Five rounds? No big deal. One-punch knockout power? Yup. Go ahead, tell me why he isn’t able to make one last successful run at the title of ‘Baddest Man on Earth.’
That’s what I thought.