2012: Who Will Hold The Belts When The World Ends?
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2012: Who Will Hold The Belts When The World Ends?

2012: Who Will Hold The Belts When The World Ends?If you believe in the ancient Mayan calendar or the recent big-budget John Cusack movie that received mixed reviews, than you believe that roughly two years from now, the apocalypse could begin.

Of course, there is also the very real possibility that this thing turns out to be nothing more than another Y2K situation, and we all know how disastrous and catastrophic that ended up being.

Regardless, the idea serves as a good transition into an off-shoot piece from my recent editorial about the possibilities of the UFC experiencing a year without any title changes in 2010.

Predicting the outcome of individual fights is difficult enough, not to mention having no real idea whether these fighters will still be competing in the UFC two years from now.

Before breaking into my selection, the caveats:

1) Fighters must be 30 years old or younger to be considered.

2) They must be current UFC fighters.

Tyson Griffin

Your future lightweight champion is… Tyson Griffin.

I can’t lie – a very small part of this selection is based on my desire to have Griffin be the last fighter coming to the cage on a PPV card. Think how awesome it would be?

All the lights go out, the fans start cheering and then one of the best guitar riffs in the history of guitar riffs kicks in as the champion’s long-time walkout song “Eye of the Tiger” fills the arena.

Legend – wait for it… wait for it… –ary!

Delusions of Rocky moments aside, my selection of Griffin is based on far more than the awesomeness that is Survivor.

At age 25, the Xtreme Couture product is on the cusp of the Top 5 in the UFC lightweight division and holds a 7-2 record inside the Octagon. The losses – to Sean Sherk and Frankie Edgar – both came by way of decision and Griffin has noticeably improved since each fight.

He has an exceptional wrestling base and showed better boxing skills his last time out, knocking out Hermes Franca for his first stoppage in three years. While that may not impress some, it impresses me to no end, as Franca is a formidable veteran who hadn’t been stopped in more than four years. Griffin showed great technique and capitalized as soon as he saw Franca was hurt, displaying what might be a new-found killer instinct.

Why Not… Gray Maynard?

While “The Bully” is currently undefeated and a bigger lightweight than his Xtreme Couture teammate, Maynard hasn’t faced the same level of competition as Griffin and isn’t as well-rounded. Thus far, he’s succeeded by utilizing his outstanding wrestling, size and improving boxing. A couple more wins and I might need to reconsider.

Why Not… Frankie Edgar?

Simply put, I don’t see Frankie Edgar competing at 155 two years from now. He is admittedly small for the division and should the WEC continue to gain exposure and recognition – as well as an increase to earning potential for their fighters – the Toms River, New Jersey native could very easily drop to 145 for some seriously entertaining fights with the likes of Jose Aldo, Urijah Faber and Mike Brown.

Why Not… current champ B.J. Penn?

If Penn decides to remain a lightweight over the next couple years, there is a very real possibility that he will remain atop the 155-pound division. That said, the chances of Penn staying put are about as great as the chances of me winning the lottery… twice.

“The Prodigy” wants a third fight with Georges St-Pierre and getting his wish might require a permanent move to welterweight and climbing the divisional ladder. Additionally, the current champ didn’t sound overly impressed with the idea of fighting the others mentioned on this list when he spoke with the Hawaii Tribune-Herald in the future.

Thiago Alves

Your future welterweight champion is… Thiago Alves.

Calm yourselves GSP fans and have a little patience. Trust me.

If anyone is going to wear welterweight gold other than St-Pierre in the coming years, the Brazilian bruiser Alves is the most likely candidate.

For starters, the 26-year-old “Pitbull” is a monster welterweight, walking around above 200 pounds and almost always entering the cage much bigger than his opponents. Though Alves has had a couple issues with cutting weight and could reasonably make the move to middleweight, his best opportunity to wear gold is in the welterweight division, so expect him to stay put.

In terms of abilities, there are few in the division with as diverse an attack as Alves, a purple belt in Brazilian Jiu Jitsu with outstanding Muay Thai. Additionally, his size makes him a very difficult opponent to take down, as Josh Koscheck can attest.

Alves’ training with American Top Team must also be considered. The Coconut Creek, Florida outfit has assembled one of the best collections of fighters in the sport today and gives “The Pitbull” a plethora of training partners to learn from and prepare with that just isn’t available to everyone.

Why Not… Dan Hardy?

“The Outlaw” has the next opportunity to unseat GSP when the Canadian returns at UFC 111 in Newark, New Jersey, and he’s got the hands to hold the proverbial “Puncher’s Chance” and then some.

However, the fight won’t remain standing for more the a couple seconds each round, as St-Pierre will use the same approach he’s used in each of his last three fights to ground Hardy and pile up the points.

Once St-Pierre disposes of the brash Brit, a return engagement in a title bout would certainly be a ways off, as we’ve repeatedly seen the UFC make fighters jump through numerous hoops before returning for a second kick at the championship can.

Why Not… Jon Fitch?

Some will choose to substitute the former captain of the Purdue wrestling team and for good reason; many of the accolades bestowed upon Alves apply to Fitch as well, and he has already defeated “The Pitbull,” earning a TKO victory at Ultimate Fight Night 5 in June 2006.

Like Alves, Fitch works out of a tremendous camp – American Kickboxing Academy – and has a number of talented fellow welterweights to work with, including Josh Koscheck and Mike Swick.

That said, Fitch looks like he’s reached his ceiling.

While the blue collar, grind-out-a-win-with-my-wrestling approach has certainly paid off to date, a rematch with Alves could certainly produce a different outcome than their first encounter.

Originally slated for UFC 107, Alves was forced to withdraw due to a torn PCL. In his place, Mike Pierce filled in admirably and had Fitch wobbled, winning the final round, though losing a Unanimous Decision.

If Mike Pierce gave Fitch fits, Thiago Alves would certainly do the same.

Why Not… current champ Georges St-Pierre?

Simple – he won’t be a welterweight any more.

Georges St-Pierre

Your future middleweight champion is… Georges St-Pierre.

Since we last saw St-Pierre at UFC 100, repeatedly putting Thiago Alves on the canvas and being encouraged to hit his opponent with his torn abductor muscle by Greg Jackson, the current welterweight champion has added some solid muscle to his frame.

In speaking with Yahoo! MMA writer Dave Meltzer in November, GSP disclosed that he’s now walking around in the 195 pound range, and spoke himself about having to move up to middleweight in the future. If the champ is talking about it now, being in a different weight class two years from now doesn’t sound unreasonable.

The most dominant welterweight in the sport wouldn’t miss a beat moving up a weight class; all the technique and skill would still be there, and the arsenal that has served him so well at 170 pounds would be just as effective at middleweight as well.

Why Not… current champ Anderson Silva?

Much like I don’t envision GSP still competing in the welterweight division two years from now, I don’t see Silva continuing to cut weight in order to remain at middleweight.

“The Spider” will remain champion until he no longer wants hold the middleweight title – and that includes a potential superfight with St-Pierre – but with the success he’s had thus far at light heavyweight, a permanent move to 205 doesn’t seem out of the question.

Additionally, Silva is coming off elbow surgery, turns 35 in April and has talked openly about retirement before, so two more years may have him out of the sport entirely.

Why Not… Nate Marquardt?

First, Marquardt’s next opportunity to claim middleweight gold will most likely come against Anderson Silva, and I don’t see things going much differently than the first time they met.

Secondly, if St-Pierre does in fact move to middleweight in the future, the former King of Pancrase would most likely have little interest in fighting his friend and teammate.

Besides, if Marquardt does get his much-deserved rematch with Silva, it’s going to take a win for him to ever see a title fight again; if Rich Franklin can’t get a third kick at the can, it’s not happening for “Nate the Great” either.

Why Not… Anyone Else?

In all honesty, the middleweight division is kind of thin on fighters who could realistically be considered championship contenders in the future.

Demian Maia, Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen are all over the age of 30 and have holes in their games, while Michael Bisping will never be taken seriously. Sorry, but it’s the truth.

Unlike the light heavyweight and heavyweight divisions, middleweight is without a highly-regarded prospect to point to as a future champion.

Jon Bones Jones

Your Light Heavyweight Champion is… Jon “Bones” Jones

If ever there was a “gimme putt” in predicting future champions, the selection of Jon Jones as the Light Heavyweight champion two years would certainly be it.

Nothing is promised, and “Bones” will have to work to get there, but from what we’ve seen through four UFC fights and the first ten fights of his career, Jon Jones has all the tools to hold gold in the 205-pound division.

You’ve seen the abilities in the cage; the belly-to-back suplex of Stephan Bonnar, the devastating knee to the face of Andre Gusmao and the now-patented spinning back elbow. While disqualified in his bout against Matt Hamill, Jones dominated the former Ultimate Fighter Season 3 contestant like no one had before.

Not bad for a 22-year-old kid with 18 months of professional experience under his belt.

As if his other-worldly skill set wasn’t enough, the expectations of Jones to reach his championship potential increase when paired with extensive training as a member of Team Greg Jackson in Albuquerque, New Mexico,

When both Jackson and Firas Zahabi are saying Jones reminds them of a young Georges St-Pierre, the light heavyweight division needs to watch out.

Why Not… current champion Lyoto Machida?

For starters, some believe “The Machida Era” has already ended, despite the fact that the shiny, gold symbol of a champion still sits around his waist.

Those same people – and perhaps a few others as well – also believe that Mauricio “Shogun” Rua will get the better of the Belam, Brazil native in their second meeting, officially ending Machida’s run atop the light heavyweight division.

Personally, I’m over the whole “Shogun Was Robbed / No He Wasn’t” debate and simply believe that the UFC light heavyweight division is too deep for one man to dominate for an extended period of time.

Depending on where you stand on the most controversial fight of 2009, Machida was either the first champion to defend his belt in over two years (and that’s the official result in case you forgot) or, as the conspiracy theorists and Rua fans will have you believe, the third consecutive champion to lose in their initial defense.

Why Not… Mauricio “Shogun” Rua?

The man some believe deserves to have the belt around his waist this Christmas looked like the “Shogun” of old when he faced Machida in October. That “Shogun” was once considered the best 205-pound fighter on the planet.

While Rua certainly fought a terrific fight and followed a great gameplan, it will take more than one quality performance to erase the memory of a gassed Rua lumbering through his fight with Mark Coleman or being bloodied and submitted by Forrest Griffin.

Yes, injuries and time away from competition played a part in both of those bouts, but Rua didn’t look good in those outings, and executing a similarly effective strategy a second time around against Machida will be a difficult task.

Why Not… Ryan Bader?

Since we’re talking two years in the future, why not go a little off the radar right now and look at the former TUF winner.

Of all the recent winners of The Ultimate Fighter, Bader and fellow Season 8 champion Efrain Escudero are the two who impress me most. Through two “official” fights with the UFC, Bader has been solid, earning Unanimous Decision victories over veterans Carmelo Marrero and Eric “Red” Schafer.

His wrestling base is tremendous, he’s got decent power that will continue to improve and Arizona Combat Sports is an emerging camp full of talented fighters.

But his wrestling isn’t more dominant than Jones’ and his overall package doesn’t compare.

Bader is a blue collar, meat-and-potatoes type of guy who will have a long and successful career, but I see him being more of a UFC version of Dan Henderson than a champion; a top of the rankings competitor who dominates everyone… except the champ.

Now it’s time for the big boys.

Junior Dos Santos

Your Heavyweight Champion is… Junior dos Santos.

I can already hear all the Cain Velasquez supporters calling for my head. If you can’t wait to find out why not Cain, skip down a couple paragraphs – it’s all there for you.

Of the emerging heavyweights in the UFC right now, dos Santos offers the most complete blend of skills, surroundings and results that go into my decision making process.

For starters, he trains with Black House, the vaunted Los Angeles-based home of Brazilian champions, including Anderson Silva, Lyoto Machida and the Noguieras. Surrounding yourself with current and former champions is a great way to learn what it takes to be a champion yourself.

Secondly, if you line up the results “Cigano” has registered in his three UFC bouts against any of the other possible contenders, the Brazilian wins by a blowout:

· He literally knocked Fabricio Werdum out of the UFC in his debut, landing a massive upper cut before the 90 second mark.

· Stefan Struve, a youngster many feel has a bright future in the sport, was decimated in less than 60 seconds.

· Legendary Mirko “Cro Cop” Filipovic lasted longer than anyone else, making it to the third round, but he too was left beaten and battered by the powerful, young Brazilian.

Thus far, dos Santos has shown outstanding power in his hands, solid work in the clinch and decent cardio. He’s also a Brazilian Jiu Jitsu brown belt under Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, so chances are the kid has a trick or two up his sleeve if he ever makes it to the mat.

Why Not… Cain Velasquez?

No beating around the bush: I just don’t think Velasquez has the power to knockout some of the upper echelon talent in the UFC Heavyweight division.

He’s been varying degrees of impressive in each of his last two fights, dominating Ben Rothwell at UFC 104 and scoring a Unanimous Decision win over Cheick Kongo last summer in Germany.

But in each of those bouts – and the others in his career – failed to produce a knockout and if Cheick Kongo had even a shred of takedown defense, Velasquez would have been in trouble because the French kickboxer had him rocked on several occasions.

Of course, my aunt would be my uncle if she were a man, but you know what I mean, right?

Additionally, AKA is a great gym with a talented roster of fighters, but remind me how many UFC champions they’ve produced thus far?

Why Not… Stefan Struve?

You mean besides the fact that dos Santos has already left him a crumpled mess against the cage?

If Paul Buentello can reach up and punch you in the face enough time to rock you, chances are the upper echelon of the UFC Heavyweight division will do the same, and they’ll make sure to finish the deal.

Why Not… Anyone Else?

There are a number of contenders out there right now who could certainly carry the gold in the coming years – from current champ Brock Lesnar and nemesis Frank Mir, to Shane Carwin and “Minotauro” Nogueira – but each is beyond the 30-year-old threshold established at the outset.

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