Getting a shot at a UFC title is something every fighter in the promotion is after. The recognition, and the payday that comes with it, can change a fighter’s life. We have a pretty good idea of who will be fighting for belts this year. But what about in 2019?
There are plenty of talented fighters competing in each and every division in the UFC. Only so many of them will get a chance to fight for a title. Title fights are a big deal for everyone invovled. The company, the fans, and most of all, the fighters. Winning or losing a championship fight can change the trajectory of a fighter’s career on a moment’s notice.
Several fighters in the UFC are on a roll, but are likely on the outside looking in when it comes to getting a title shot in 2018. With another win or two, some patience, and even a little luck, these fighters will be fighting for a belt sooner rather than later. Next year, don’t be surprised to see any of these seven fighters competing for a UFC championship.
7. Ketlen Vieira – Women’s Bantamweight
The women’s bantamweight division is begging for a fresh contender, and Brazil’s Ketlen Vieira fits the bill better than the rest. Is she ready for a fight with champion Amanda Nunes? Maybe not. Given the lack of depth in the title picture at 135-pounds, her readiness may come second to needing an opponent for the title holder.
There aren’t many other options. Depending on where the promotion goes for Nunes’ next bout, Vieira could get a bit more time to prepare for the toughest test of her MMA career. As of now, it’s looking like Holly Holm or Cris Cyborg is next for Nunes. Regardless, Vieira fighting for the title this year would be a surprise.
Vieira has impressed throughout her undefeated 10-fight career. She’s 4-0 in the UFC, and struggled to a split decision win over Cat Zingano at UFC 222 in March. A win is a win. But her most recent performance showed she has a ways to go before she steps into the Octagon with Nunes. It’ll be interesting to see if she can bridge the gap over the next year or so.
6. Marlon Moraes – Bantamweight
Although he has a few high-profile fighters ahead of him in the official UFC fighter rankings, Moraes is closer to a title shot than most fourth-ranked contenders. The Brazilian defeated three UFC top-10 ranked bantamweights in a seven month span, following his loss to Raphael Assuncao in his promotional debut in June of 2017.
After a couple of so-so performances in his first two UFC bouts, Moraes has finished his last two bouts in less than two mintues combined. His highlight-reel KOs are perfect for title-fight promotion packages, and his resumé is undeniable. Whether he needs another win, or to wait out the situation between champion TJ Dillashaw, Cody Garbrandt, and Dominick Cruz, Moraes is trending toward a title shot in 2019.
Moraes’ biggest hurdle is his previous loss to Assuncao. Assuncao holds a win over Moraes, and has one loss (to Dillashaw at UFC 200) in the last six years. Assuncao is as deserving as anyone, but lacks the profile and exciting style of Moraes. A rematch may be in order. If it was up to us, we’d give the nod to Moraes.
5. Dustin Poirier – Lightweight
Much of Poirier’s title-hopes depend on his July rematch with former champion Eddie Alvarez. We’re picking Poirier to defeat Alvarez (again) at UFC Calgary, giving him tons of momentum heading into 2019.
He’s the highest-ranked contender to not hold the 155-pound belt in recent years. The merry-go-round of champions will sort itself out eventually. Poirier could be there waiting for whoever comes out on top in the Conor McGregor-Khabib Nurmagomedov-Tony Ferguson triumvirate. That might be delayed by Georges St. Pierre, but Poirier would be there as a back-up for the promotion should neogtiations prove to be too difficult.
Since returning to lightweight in 2015, Poirier has recorded seven wins in nine fights, with a no-contest coming in his first bout with Alvarez. Poirier was looking good in a close fight with Alvarez before the stoppage. The rematch will go a long way toward painting the 155-pound title picture for next year.
4. Tony Ferguson – Lightweight
He was the interim UFC lightweight champion less than a year ago, but Tony Ferguson still somehow feels like an afterthought in the 155-pound division. Stripped of his belt ahead of the Nurmagomedov-Iaquinta title-bout at UFC 223 due to a freak injury, Ferguson has faded behind the talk of the bout we’re all waiting for: McGregor-Nurmagomedov for the lightweight title.
In all likelihood, Ferguson is out for the remainder of 2018. He hasn’t lost a bout since May of 2012, and should be near the front of the line for a shot at whoever holds the belt whenever he returns. Considering we have high hopes for Poirier as well, a potential number one contender bout or *dun dun dun* an interim title fight between Ferguson and Poirier/Alvarez in early-2019 doesn’t sound like a bad idea.
3. Darren Till – Welterweight
If you’re a high-profile name, winning fights, and have the promotion’s backing, title shots usually come sooner rather than later. Welterweight Darren Till checks all of those boxes. He’s main evented his last two events, and won both fights. Defeating Donald Cerrone and Stephen Thompson gives the Liverpudlian a couple of top-tier victories as we head to the final half of 2018.
Till may need another win under his belt before getting a shot at the 170-pound belt, despite going 6-0 since joining the UFC in 2015. Regardless, he’ll have to wait for welterweight champion Tyron Woodley and interim title holder Colby Covington to fight later this year. He’s ranked right behind the two champions, and considering how much the promotion loves him, its hard to envision Till not competing for a UFC title next year.
2. Alexander Gustafsson – Light Heavyweight
Returning from shoulder surgery at UFC 227, Alexander Gustafsson is inching toward another light heavyweight title shot. He’s only fought once in each of the last two years, but with a win over Volkan Oezdemir this summer, the Swede will secure his spot atop the list of 205-pound contenders.
While the light heavyweight division is one of the most shallow weight classes in the UFC, each of Gustafsson’s last two victories came against top-five ranked opponents. If you’re going to beat somebody, beat the top contenders. That’s exactly what Gustafsson is doing.
He’s fought for the light heavyweight title twice in his career, falling to both Jon Jones and Daniel Cormier. Given the muddy future of the division with Cormier’s bout at UFC 226, Gustafsson is angling for a future title fight. A win over Oezdemir will do the trick, giving him a far superior argument than any other fighter at 205-pounds.
1. Curtis Blaydes – Heavyweight
Taking advantage of another shallow UFC division, heavyweight Curtis Blaydes has done nothing but impress throughout his MMA career. His lone loss came at the hands of Francis Ngannou in 2016. Blaydes has won five of his six fights since then, with a ridiculous no-contest mixed in.
The Illinois native has already secured two victories in 2018. Blaydes has defeated Mark Hunt and Alistair Overeem. Those two fights were on pay-per-view cards, as were his two most recent wins in 2017. The UFC obviously views Blaydes as a top-contender, and so do we.
Although the heavyweight division is relatively shallow, Blaydes could face a bit of competition for the next shot at whoever is the title-holder following UFC 226. Alexander Volkov has been racking up the wins, and may be Blaydes next opponent. And Francis Ngannou has a chance to bounce-back against Derrick Lewis at UFC 226. However this summer shakes out, Blaydes will be there waiting.
Let us know who you think will be fighting for UFC titles in 2019! The promotion has plenty of contenders, and things can change quickly, but we expect these fighters to compete for a championship next year. Comment below, on Facebook, or reply on Twitter!