There was quite a bit of movement in the UFC title picture in 2022. We saw many new champions crowned, astonishing upsets, and dramatic come from behind victories. There are a diverse group of champions entering 2023 and there will be some that lose their gold next year.
Which champions will lose their UFC title?
The first champion that I will mention in this piece is Aljamain Sterling (22-3). Now, Sterling was the one champion that I felt the most confident would lose in 2022 and yet, he’s still the champion. He won a split decision over Petr Yan and defeated a one-armed TJ Dillashaw this year.
Despite the two wins, Sterling’s title reign still is one of the oddest in history. He won the belt by DQ, his second defense was a split decision win where many thought he lost, then his second defense came against an injured opponent. Make no mistake about it, his next title defense is the toughest test to date.
It appears that Henry Cejudo will be the first challenger for Sterling with Sean O’Malley waiting in the wings. If Henry Cejudo returns to top form, I see him taking away Sterling’s title and resuming his title reign after retiring from the UFC in 2020.
Leon Edwards (20-3, 1 NC) shocked the world at UFC 278 when he knocked out Kamaru Usman to become welterweight champion. Usman was ahead three rounds to one and was running away with the fifth round. It looked like a lopsided decision was in the bag for Usman.
However, Edwards pulled a rabbit out of his hat and knocked out the former champion with just about a minute left in the fight. It was such a feel good moment for Edwards who had been put through a lot over the past few years. Edwards’ first title defense is expected to be at UFC 286 in London in March.
I think that Kamaru Usman will regain the title if he’s healthy. Taking nothing away from Leon Edwards, I just believe that Kamaru Usman is the better fighter and if they fight again, Usman will make the needed adjustments to get the win and his welterweight title back.
Alex Pereira (7-1) shocked the world when he stopped Israel Adesanya in the final round at UFC 281 in November. Pereira defeated Adesanya for the third time in combat sports and handed Adesanya his first loss in the middleweight division.
The champion was fast-tracked to the title due to his history with Adesanya. He was losing the fight by points when he landed huge shots in the final round to get the TKO win. He’s likely the fighter of the year in 2022. So, why will he lose his title?
It was evident from the fight with Adesanya that Pereira has some cardio issues especially when grappling is mixed in. He also doesn’t have good grappling at all. If the UFC gives him one of the top middleweight contenders who can wrestle, I think he’s in a world of trouble.
I also lean towards picking Adesanya in their inevitable MMA rematch. Adesanya had Pereira hurt badly in the fight and was winning by points all the way through. I think Adesanya can make the adjustments to finally get the monkey off his back and defeat Pereira once and for all. While it was an astonishing rise to gold for Pereira, he might have the steepest mountain in terms of keeping it this year.