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
Heavyweight – Jon Jones
Starting out with the heavyweight division, I think we will see a new champion crowned this year. Jon Jones will end the year as the UFC heavyweight champion. Currently, the promotion is targeting Jones against Francis Ngannou for the title at March’s UFC 285.
The fight isn’t finalized yet, but that’s the goal. If not in March, the fight should happen in April depending on Ngannou’s health. To me, despite the time away, I still think Jones is the best in the world when he’s motivated and focused.
While he’s never dealt with heavyweights in terms of size, I think his Fight IQ is off the charts and will allow him to have game plans that will see him claim heavyweight gold. Jon Jones will further his legacy as arguably the best of all time with his performances this year.
Light Heavyweight – Jiri Prochazka
Jiri Prochazka was set to defend his light heavyweight title at UFC 282 before a shoulder injury forced him to vacate the belt. Jamahal Hill and Glover Teixeira are fighting for the vacant title at UFC 283 in a couple of weeks.
I believe that Prochazka will make his way back to the octagon before the end of the year. In my eyes, he’s the best light heavyweight in the world and if he returns at 100%, I think he will regain his title and keep it through the end of the year.
Middleweight – Israel Adesanya
At UFC 282, the middleweight division was shook up when Alex Pereira defeated Israel Adesanya by fifth round TKO. It was Pereira’s third win against Adesanya in combat sports in as many fights. Make no mistake about it, Pereira has Adesanya’s number.
However, it’s worth noting that there’s virtually no gap between these two men. Their first kickboxing match was a controversial decision win for Pereira. Adesanya was on the verge of stopping Pereira in their second fight before a standing eight-count gave Pereira a break. Pereira went on to knock Adesanya out.
Adesanya rocked Pereira badly in their fight at UFC 282 but the bell saved Pereira. I think when these two rematch, Adesanya will break through and get the job done. As a point fighter, I like Adesanya in the matchup. However, you cannot sleep on the power of Pereira and that’s why the prediction does give me some pause.
Welterweight – Kamaru Usman
Kamaru Usman was on his way to a lopsided decision win over Leon Edwards back in August. Then, Edwards shocked the world by knocking out Usman with a head kick to become UFC welterweight champion. Usman was the pound-for-pound king when he suffered that loss.
The UFC is targeting their trilogy match for UFC 286 in March in London. Despite Edwards winning by knockout, I’m comfortable in saying that Kamaru Usman will win that fight if he can avoid a knockout. Will a knockout like that change Usman? It could, but if he’s still the same guy he was in this second fight, I’m banking on a decision win.
If he wins the title back, I’m not sure there’s another welterweight who will defeat him at least in 2023.
Lightweight – Islam Makhachev
A big test for Islam Makhachev comes at UFC 284 when he takes on featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski. It will be Makhachev’s first title defense and he will have to do it without lead cornerman Khabib Nurmagomedov who is stepping away from coaching.
Ultimately, I think that Makhachev’s size is just going to be too much for Volkanovski. After he wins next month, I’m not sure who is going to challenge him. His biggest threat to me is a rematch with Charles Oliveira. I picked Oliveira to win the first fight and I still believe he’s the biggest threat to Islam as of now. However, I’m going with the man from Dagestan to keep his title through 2023.