It’s no hidden secret that the UFC certainly has their favourite fighters. Understandably so, some fighters bring in huge PPV numbers for the company, in turn gaining them more money. Not everyone is going to bring in the famous ‘Ronda Rousey‘ or ‘Brock Lesnar‘ money. Some fighters continue to get title shots despite there arguably being competitors that deserve them more.
We take a brief look through each division at who we think the MMA leader would prefer for their champions to be.
This is a difficult one. The obvious answer is that they are happy with Weili Zhang being the 115lbs champion. Firstly, she taps into the Chinese market, being the first Chinese champion. She’s got a phenomenal record and puts on exciting fights. With the new performance institute in Shanghai, Zhang is the perfect fighter to highlight what China has to offer.
The other shout is, of course, former strawweight queen, Joanna Jedrzejczyk. Having captured the title in 2015, she reigned supreme for five fights. Since dropping the belt, she has had three cracks at gold (two at 115lbs and one at 125lbs) in five fights. There have arguably been more worthy contenders than Jedrzejczyk but she keeps on being given the shot. Don’t be surprised to see her in another title fight before her UFC tenure is up.
This one is easy. Valentina Shevchenko. The UFC are happy with her being the most dominant champion in the sport. Yes, her competition is far, far from the best and she is a heavy favourite in every match-up she competes in but she can only beat what is in front of her.
In the near future don’t be surprised to see either Amanda Ribas or Maycee Barber get the title push. Despite being early on in their careers, the UFC have clearly shown interest in these two women being future stars.
We have categorized these two weight classes together as we all know there is virtually no featherweight division. The assumption is that the UFC are happy with Amanda Nunes being the bantamweight champion. She just ticks all the boxes. Brazillian (the UFC always like to have at least one Brazilian champion to headline their shows in Brazil), dominant, captivating personality, impressive resume and most of all, can fight… and do it well.
The UFC wouldn’t be mad at Holly Holm recapturing the belt as she has had four championship shots in her career. The UFC are clearly big on her but her form won’t see her gaining a title shot any time soon. Looking down the rankings, don’t expect anyone else to get a massive push in the near future as no one sticks out as a ‘big’ name.
Despite Deiveson Figueiredo being champion, the UFC would prefer one of two guys to be holding the strap. Firstly, Cody Garbrandt. This could very much come to fruition with ‘No Love’ getting a title shot at UFC 255. Garbrandt is coming off just one win and will be challenging for a belt in a weight class he has never made previously.
The other person is Joseph Benevidez. ‘Joey B’ has had four title shots in his UFC career and will very much go down as ‘one of the best to never win a belt’ if he never tastes gold. Losing twice recently to Figueiredo, it’s hard to see how he will get a title shot anytime in the near future.
Petr Yan certainly taps into the wider audience. Russian, tick. Hard-hitting, tick. Trash-talker, tick. One person they definitely aren’t keen on being champion is Aljamain Sterling. He has more than earned his shot at gold but for some reason doesn’t appear to be getting much closer to the elusive shot.
Jose Aldo got a title shot before Aljo, despite not having a win at 135lbs and having lost two straight prior to his shot. The UFC also would certainly be keen for Garbrandt to become a double champ. What they really want is for Henry Cejudo to return. A ticket seller, a man who people tune into to either see him put on a show or get knocked out, Cejudo has it all. He knows how to sell a fight better than anyone in the division and it is certainly a pulling factor.
An outside shout is Sean O’Malley. The UFC are certainly hot on him and he definitely will be in the title picture soon if he keeps on putting on impressive, dominant performances and bounces back strongly from his first defeat.
Although current champion, Alexander Volkanovski ticks the ‘Australasian box’, it isn’t clear yet how well he crosses over into the mainstream. Not the best talker, not a huge social media presence and due to his residence, not a huge presence at UFC events, ‘The Great’ may not be the UFC’s ideal champion. He can certainly fight, however.
Former champion Max Holloway is arguably a better shout for the UFC. Always down to scrap, a huge social media and Twitch following and taps into the mainstream, Holloway is the perfect champion. He also has dared to be great a number of times. When he filled in for the UFC 223 main event, when he attempted to become a double champion at UFC 236, when he stepped into Jose Aldo’s backyard to defend his belt, the list goes on.
Arguably the hottest division in the sport, the UFC men’s lightweight division has a number of huge stars. Champion, Khabib Nurmagomedov is arguably the most dominant champion the sport has ever seen. At 28-0, he has barely lost a round in his professional career. The wrestling heavy, smashing style of the Russian has become more entertaining to watch the further his career has progressed. Despite this, he is certainly not the UFC’s ideal champion.
Enter the biggest name the sport has ever seen. Conor McGregor. The former double champion is the biggest seller the sport has ever seen and is exactly why he is the UFC’s ideal lightweight champion. Selling a fight like no other, McGregor taps into a wider audience of fans that have never watched the sport before. With seven PPV bouts to his name and ‘that’ boxing match, McGregor is arguably the perfect champion for the UFC business model.
One person that the UFC don’t want to be champion – Leon Edwards. Arguably the most deserving of a title shot at 170lbs, Edwards has never really been in the title picture (despite being offered the shot at UFC 251). The person the UFC really want to be the welterweight champion is Jorge Masvidal. The biggest star in the sport in 2019, Masvidal crossed over into the mainstream. With ‘that’ knockout of Ben Askren, the BMF title fight and the ‘three-piece and a soda’ in London, Masvidal stole 2019, becoming one of the biggest stars the UFC have. Despite coming up short at UFC 251, having taken the fight on just 6 days notice, don’t be surprised if you see Masvidal in there again fighting for the belt soon.
The UFC are happy with this one. Israel Adesanya is a huge star. He has it all. Undefeated, personality, good talker, legitimate skill, knockout power and a social media presence, Adesanya is perfect for the UFC. Having only debuted a year prior to winning the belt, Adesanya has had a meteoric rise. He runs into Paolo Costa at UFC 253 and looks to put on another show against a fellow undefeated star.
UFC Light Heavyweight
Jon Jones. Ah, Jon Jones. One of the biggest talents the sport has ever seen, yet can’t seem to stay out of trouble. There is no denying that everyone will tune in for a Jones fight, but where the issues lie are with his life outside of the octagon. He’s a wild man, drugs, partying, breaking the law amongst other issues, Jones really can’t stay out of trouble. With an undefeated record (let’s be honest), Jones is a huge talent and a huge star for the UFC. With 13 PPV bouts to his name, the UFC would certainly happy with Jones being the 205lbs champion. His last three performances, however, haven’t set the world alight. Three times going to decision, Jones has looked a step behind his usual self.
After his announcement of his move up to heavyweight, there certainly isn’t a ‘star’ in the light heavyweight division. Dominick Reyes is good, yes but he is still new to the UFC fans, having only broken into the mainstream last year. He certainly doesn’t cross over to the ‘casual’ fan. Jan Blachowicz also isn’t the biggest of names. Despite this, he does have a large Polish and European fan base. We know Poland are big fans of MMA, with their promotion, KSW being a big draw for Polish talent. If Blachowicz can get the W, he could tap into the Polish fan base and bring more eyes to the UFC.
Jon Jones? Well we’ve already discussed him. Stipe Miocic? The UFC brass don’t seem to be a fan of his, despite arguably being the GOAT. Francis Ngannou? Ah, ‘The Predator’, arguably the front runner.
He has scary power, enough to knockout anyone in any division. His quick, viral knockouts are the perfect thing to clip and put on mainstream news channels, allowing for more fans to get excited about them. Yes, we love a 25-minute domination (like the one Ngannou suffered at the hands of Miocic), but it’s difficult to get the ‘casual’ fan excited for this. Ngannou’s knockout of Alistar Overeem is certainly one of the most viral knockouts the UFC has ever seen and without a doubt is honestly breathtaking.
Overall, we know that the UFC has their favourites. We know that they are a company, based around putting on good, competitive fights and making money. Certainly, fighters crossover into the mainstream better than others and these are the ones that the UFC ideally would like to be champions.
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