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Who will be the UFC champions on December 2? 31 2023?

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Seven seems to be the lucky number. Or unlucky, depending on whether or not you started the year with a UFC championship belt wrapped around your waist.

Exactly a year ago, I made predictions for ESPN on which fighter would be champion at the end of 2022 in each of the 12 UFC weight classes. While doing my homework for this story, I realized something that blindsided me: seven of those titles had changed hands by 2021.

Why was this so surprising? I do not know. I guess I see champions through rose-colored glasses, attaching them to impeccable invulnerability as the best of the best. And while I understand that even the best sometimes lose, I just wasn’t ready to accept that more than half of the champions in the UFC at the start of a year could also be raced at the end.

But even after factoring this hot potato revelation into my thinking, my prediction story only named four fighters I expected to end 2022 with belts they didn’t have coming into the new year. Four was a far cry from the seven of the previous year, but it was all the visionary foresight I could muster.

Then 2022 rolled around, and how many UFC divisions have seen champions at the start of the year getting knocked off the top of the mountain?

That’s right: Sept.

As we look forward to 2023, I’m here once again to make predictions about who the UFC champions will be on next New Year’s Eve. And now that I’m equipped with two years of hard-coded evidence, I finally have understood that it would be wise to come up with seven names. So this is it :

1. Jiří Prochazkamedium-heavy

Did I mention that none of the four fighters I predicted to finish 2022 as new champions actually made it? Procházka however came the closest. He won the title in June, choking Glover Teixeira In round 5 of my Fight of the Year, he was scheduled to defend his belt in a rematch earlier this month. But Procházka injured his shoulder several weeks ago and not only retired from the fight, but also vacated his title. The ultra-creative Czech will be out for much of 2023, recovering from surgery, but says he has been promised a title shot on his return. I think he’s the best 205-pounder out there, so I’m going to pick him to reclaim the belt – and keep it this time.

I started this list with light heavyweight because it’s the only UFC division with a vacancy in the penthouse, which means it’s guaranteed to have a new champion at the end of the season. ‘year. (Well no guaranteed – we’ve all seen UFC 282 end without an “And new…” announcement – but what are the odds of lightning striking the same gold belt twice?) The intrigue among this division’s elite is finished whose head will fit the crown with so many trying it. In less than three weeks, no less than five fighters – Procházka, Teixeira, John Blachowicz, Magomed Ankalaev and Jamal Hill — have been booked in 205-pound title fights. At this point, Dana White manipulates the pecking order on a whim. So good luck, Jiří, trying to keep the UFC poobah to its “promise”. Still, if I have to pick anyone to finish 2023 on top, it will be Procházka.

2. Israel Adesanyaaverage weight

So all I’m going to do here is list former champions ready to climb back to the top of the mountain, right? Hey, you gotta do what you gotta do to hit that magic seven. Adesanya will start 2023 without possessing the championship he possessed from 2019 until last month, when Alex Pereira dethroned him. “The Last Stylebender” controlled this fight until it wasn’t – when Pereira knocked him out midway through the fifth round. If you include two kickboxing fights, it was the third time Pereira had beaten him. But if they end up in the MMA cage, I like Adesanya’s chances of coming out with his old strap.

3. Kamaru Usmanwelterweight

Yes, another ex-champion. And yes, another victim of a fifth-round knockout in a fight he was winning. (That’s three champions in a Round 5 this year. Must be why they call Rounds 4 and 5 “the championship rounds,” right?) Usman had an even bigger advantage in his ill-fated August title defense against Leon Edwards than Adesanya’s fight with Pereira. But in the final minute, Edwards landed a championship-shattering Hail Mary header. Usman was number one. 1 pound-for-pound fighter in the world at the time of this stunner, and I favor him in the rematch, which is set to take place in London in March.

4. Sean O’Malleymale bantamweight

As recently as October, when asked to open whether O’Malley became champion in 2023 was fact or fiction, I went with the fiction. But I think about that. ‘Suga Sean’ says he expects his next fight to be for the belt, and if so, he’ll step into the cage a confident man, based on his eye-opening and striking performance against Pierre Yan in October. Based on the wrestling champion’s considerable advantage, O’Malley would be a significant underdog against @never sterling. But they would start on their feet, and as long as O’Malley can keep the fight going, he would be the one with the upper hand. I’m not exactly sure and steadfast with that prediction, but I think the man with the Technicolor hairstyle has shown that he’ll have a legitimate shot at winning gold.

5. Alexander Pantojaman flyweight

A year ago, predicting that Pantoja would be champion by the end of 2022, I noted that “the goal of this year-end exercise is for me to go out on a limb, so I’m going to shake the tree with the flyweight that lately has impressed me the most And then Pantoja only fought once this year and didn’t even feel the title But I’m stubborn enough to keep going hang on to the tree branch I’ve been hanging out on before. Pantoja is a dynamo, a finisher who’s about to take over. I mean it this time.

6.Mrs. Person, female featherweight

Amanda Nunes He won the UFC belt at 145 pounds in 2018, and in the four years since, she has defended the title twice. The UFC is so dismissive of this division that it doesn’t even have a ranking – because the roster doesn’t have enough featherweight women to fill a top 10. prediction of the demise of seven champions, I’m going to twist that concept a bit here by saying that in 2023 the UFC will finally put this dormant division out of its misery.

7. Hmm…

Sorry, I can’t conceive of a seventh new future UFC champion in 23. I’ve tried to go through each weight class and its top 10, flipping them upside down, upside down, and squinting under all angles. But as I see things unfolding, the rest of the current titleholders look safe for another year. Of course, that’s precisely what I said a year ago about Usman and Adesanya. What could go wrong?

The rest of the weight categories:

Heavy weights: I guess this division can produce No. 7, as a champion, Francois Ngannou, is unsigned. So if he were to leave the UFC, another big guy could fill the void. Cyril Gane? Stipe Miocic? The three years of activity Jon Jones? How about avoiding USADA Conor McGregor, if it can cut to 265? I think the speculation will eventually prove moot, as Ngannou won’t find a better landing spot than the Octagon. And if he stays, I don’t see anyone beating him in 2023.

Lightweight: Islam Makhachev He’s been a champion in waiting for years and he finally won the belt in October, which makes him look easy. Charles Oliveira. His first title defense is a February superfight against the featherweight champion Alexander Volkanovski, and I don’t think that will slow Makhachev down. Honestly, I only see one threat to his reign: if the UFC delivers him in a four-on-one fight. Paddy “The Baddy Decision-y” Pimblett and three caged judges watching the stars.

Men’s featherweight: If Volkanovski wins the 155-pound belt, his days could be numbered at 145. Or, if he loses badly to Makhachev, it could shake his confidence as he retreats to his domain. But based on how Volkanovski handled even the most legendary challengers during his featherweight run, I suspect he’ll remain the gold standard for at least another year.

Female bantamweight: Nunes is the only two-division champion in the UFC, but if my parting prediction at 145 proves accurate, she will only have her 135-pound reign to manage. And even though it was only about a year ago, we saw Nunes lose a title fight (before regaining the belt at Julianna Pena in July), I don’t think it will happen again next year.

Women’s Flyweight: In my prediction story a year ago, one of my four candidates to win a title was Valentina Shevchenko — at bantamweight. Peña was the champion at 135 pounds at the time and Shevchenko reigned at 125 and was No. 1 pound-for-pound. 1, so why not opt ​​for champion-champion status? Well, that didn’t happen, and there were no reports that it was happening. So I won’t be going back there again. Instead, just bet on Shevchenko for another year of flyweight dominance.

Straw weight: The second reign of Zhang Weill started last month and it won’t end anytime soon. I’m confident about that, even though the 115-pound division is one of the most competitive in the UFC. Zhang can do anything – including doing whatever it takes to avoid reliving the sting of having a hard-earned championship fall on her hands.

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