2021 was an incredible year for the UFC. This year, the world’s biggest MMA promotion welcomed back fans in the arenas after 2020 ended with empty arenas due to the ongoing pandemic.
Thinking back, there were so many memorable moments for the promotion. Starting the year at UFC 257 where Dustin Poirier stopped Conor McGregor in the second round. Then they rematched at UFC 264 and the fight ended with Conor McGregor snapping his leg.
There was UFC 261 that saw the first sellout for the promotion since shutting things down in 2020. Kamaru Usman knocked Jorge Masvidal out cold. Rose Namajunas knocked out Zhang Weili to become a two-time strawweight champion.
Of course, how could you not mention UFC 269 where Julianna Pena shocked the world by stopping Amanda Nunes. I could go on and on about how big of a year this was for the promotion. So many titles changed hands and so many epic fights.
Now, it’s time for the UFC to look forward to 2022. Last year, we published our predictions for who we believed would be champions once 2021 ended and it was a mixed bag of results. That said, let’s preview 2021 and predict who will be UFC champions at the end of next year.
UFC 2022 Champions
Flyweight – Deiveson Figueiredo
Currently the UFC flyweight champion is Brandon Moreno (19-5-2). Moreno defeated Deiveson Figueiredo (20-2-1) earlier this year for the flyweight title. These two ended 2020 with an incredible fight that saw the two men fight to a draw.
They ran things back this year and Moreno completely dominated the fight and submitted Figueiredo. They will fight for a third time at UFC 270 in January. Now, the popular pick right now is taking Brandon Moreno. In trilogies, whoever wins the second fight is much more likely to win the third.
However, I still believe that Figueiredo is the best flyweight in the world when he’s at his best. I don’t believe we saw the best Figueiredo during their second fight. I think he’s going to be motivated for this third fight and I think he takes the belt back and keeps it for the rest of 2022.
Bantamweight – Petr Yan
Currently, the UFC bantamweight champion is Aljamain Sterling (20-3). Petr Yan (16-2) is the interim champion. These two fought back in March and Yan was dominating the fight. However, Sterling won the title after Yan hit him with an illegal knee in the fourth round.
Due to neck surgery, we haven’t seen Sterling since. Yan went on to fight and defeat Cory Sandhagen for the interim title back at UFC 267. Make no mistake about it, Petr Yan is the best bantamweight in the world.
He’s going to fight Sterling in the first part of 2022 and I think he finishes him. After that, he’s likely going to have to face TJ Dillashaw (17-4) at some point and that’s going to be a very tough fight. However, I don’t see anyone at 135 defeating Yan next year.
Featherweight – Alexander Volkanovski
Arguably the one UFC champion that I feel like I’ve underestimated the most is Alexander Volkanovski (23-1). I thought the featherweight champion was the third best featherweight entering 2021 behind Max Holloway and Brian Ortega.
When the year started, I thought Ortega would become champion. However, Volkanovski showed the world that he was the best featherweight when he brutalized Ortega at UFC 267. In reality, Volkanovski is likely going to have his trilogy with Max Holloway next.
There just isn’t any other appealing contenders in the UFC’s featherweight division. When Holloway defeated Calvin Kattar to start 2021, he looked like the best in the world. However, he didn’t against Yair Rodriguez while Volkanovski did against Ortega.
I think Volkanovski will defeat Holloway for a third time in 2022 and I think he will close the year as the UFC’s featherweight champion. Who knows, Volkanovski might even try to move up to lightweight after defeating Holloway for a third time.
Lightweight – Charles Oliveira
The division with the biggest stars in the sport is the UFC’s lightweight division. The lightweight division is incredibly stacked with big names and big talents. That said, nobody in the world is better than the champion, Charles Oliveira (32-8).
Oliveira has shown the world this year just how special he is. In the last 12 months, he’s brutalized Tony Ferguson and finished both Michael Chandler and Dustin Poirier. Next, he will take on Justin Gaethje (23-3). Gaethje will be another massive challenge, but I’m picking Oliveira in that one.
The one guy to watch to challenge Oliveira is Islam Makhachev (21-1). The only man in the world I think who can beat Oliveira right now is Khabib Nurmagomedov. Khabib is of course retired, but his protégé fights very similar to him.
Makhavchev is fighting Beneil Dariush in the first part of 2022. Whoever wins that fight will be in line for a UFC title shot. Assuming Oliveira gets through Gaethje, I think we are setting up for a late summer clash between Oliviera and Makhachev.