We are officially in 2023 and we are gearing up for another massive year in mixed martial arts and the UFC. The schedule is already stacking up with major title fights as there are four title fights in the first two PPVs of 2023.
As we do every year, I wanted to take a look at all the divisions in the UFC and make predictions on who will be wearing gold at the end of the calendar year. There are some champions who seem like guarantees to keep their straps while others almost certainly will lose their gold.
UFC Champions after 2023
Women’s Bantamweight – Amanda Nunes
Last year, I predicted Valentina Shevchenko would become the UFC bantamweight champion in 2022. I figured Amanda Nunes would defeat Julianna Pena in their rematch and then lose the title to Shevchenko whenever they fought at the end of the year.
Shevchenko’s fight against Taila Santos really swayed me. Had Santos not broke her orbital bone due to an accidental clash of heads, Shevchenko might have lost her title at UFC 275. Amanda Nunes and Julianna Pena might have their trilogy next which I think Nunes would win.
Regardless, I think we do see Nunes – Shevchenko this year, but I’m switching my pick to Nunes. I just think if Nunes uses a grappling-heavy game plan, Shevchenko won’t have an answer. Unless we see some grappling improvements from Shevchenko, I’ve cooled on her double-champ status.
Women’s Flyweight – Valentina Shevchenko
As mentioned above, Valentina Shevchenko nearly lost her title in 2022. That being said, I don’t see her losing her gold in 2023. The UFC is likely going to book her against Alexa Grasso or Manon Fiorot next. Both of those fights I’m very comfortable in picking the champion.
Should she win there, she’s likely going to face off against Amanda Nunes towards the end of the year leaving the flyweight division on hold. My prediction is Shevchenko is still the flyweight champion as we enter 2024, but I think there’s only one true title defense this year.
Strawweight – Zhang Weili
After Zhang Weili lost to Rose Namajunas for the second time in 2021, I wasn’t sure she’d ever capture UFC gold again. Then, Carla Esparza defeated Namajunas to turn the division on it’s head. Zhang Weili ran through Esparza to win the title and now looks to be back for good.
There’s no word on if Namajunas is even going to fight again as of this moment. Her head doesn’t seem to be in it and she’s the only one who has really had Weili’s number. Amanda Lemos is potentially the next challenger and Lemos does poise some challenges for Weili.
However, I think the well-rounded game of Weili will be too much and she’ll retain her title. Following that, I see another title defense before the end of the year, but I just don’t see anyone currently who will be a threat. If the Nunes – Shevchenko fight doesn’t happen, there is a chance Weili moves up to face Shevchenko in a superfight.