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Who Will Lose Their Title First?
by Brett Berliner (MMA)
Posted on March 29, 2006, 3:21 PM

Recently on the Oratory forums, in the Sports folder, MMA threads have been flourishing. One of the most active in recent times was started by reader cvskin, who posed the question - Which Current UFC Champion Will Lose His Title First? Although I posted my thoughts within that thread, there's plenty more that can be discussed on the subject.

Heavyweight Division: Champion - Andrei 'The Pitbull' Arlovski

Next Set of Contenders:

Tim Sylvia: On April 15, at UFC 59: Reality Check, Big Tim gets another shot at Andrei for the Heavyweight belt. Their first encounter lasted under a minute, and Andrei basically schooled Sylvia. This time, I think Tim will last a bit longer in the ring, as the odds say he has to... right? RIGHT!?!?! Either way, I think the Maine-iac has an outside chance against Andrei, simply because of his reach advantage and knockout power. Sylvia also has a great team he trains with, as well as plenty of experience. He's limited in that Arlovski is just so dominant, but if Sylvia can keep him distance and land a few shots, anything can happen. However, I think Andrei is just on too much of a roll right now. % Chance: 25

Marcio Cruz: At UFC 59, Jeff Monson and Cruz are facing off against each other, presumably with the winner getting the next shot at the champ. I like Monson, but Pe de Pano has proved himself to be a demon on the ground, the likely destination of this fight, and that should leave him the number one contender. When Cruz and Arlovski do face off, I think the relative UFC rookie has a very good shot - probably as good as any, at being Andrei. His ground game is extremely impressive, and he's got the credentials that prove he can hang with anyone down there, even Arlovski. Although I don't see a Cruz/Arlovski main event turning out as lopsided as Frank mir's return fight, if Cruz gets Arlovski down, he has a very good shot - at least as good as any other challenger - at becoming the next UFC Heavyweight Champion. % Chance: 45

Jeff Monson: Monson is a nice addition to the HW division, as he's not a complete slug like most of the fighters they bring in. He's got some talent, especially on the ground, and I think if he can stay competitive in his match against Cruz, even with a loss, he'll still be in line for a shot. Obviously, if we're going by assumptions, and Monson loses to Cruz, who loses to Arlovski, then Arlovski should beat Monson, but stranger things have happened. I personally think that Monson's reach and height disadvantage against The Pitbull will hamper him severely. He has to get in REAL close to do any major damage, and that likely means leaving himself open to a shot from Andrei, who could easily take him out. I don't think we ever see Jeff Monson as UFC HW champion. % Chance: 10

Brandon Vera: Although Vera's on quite a roll, he's low for a reason. I think he'll have to beat a few more guys such as Brandon Lee Hinkle or Paul Buentello before he gets a shot. The common feeling among many UFC fans is that Vera may be a heavyweight Georges St. Pierre. He's definitely shown some of that in that he's versatile, athletic, charismatic and young. I think, like Rush, the best thing to do is let him develop and gain a fanbase before he gets a title shot. Obviously, the more Vera fights, the larger the possibility is that someone will leave him with his first UFC defeat, before he even meets Arlovski, but I think he's talented enough to feed one some of the lesser names in the UFC Heavyweight division. 'The Truth' vs. 'The Pitbull' could eventually be a HUGE matchup, one that I'd be extremely psyched for. The only question mark is that we haven't seen Vera against anybody of any skill yet. As great as he's been so far, it's hard to predict how he'll react when he meets the best of the best. % Chance: 40

Further Down the Road: Frank Mir, Rashad Evans, Assuerio Silva, Paul Buentello

Wow. This is hardly an imposing list of fighters. Mir, with a couple of wins, would probably be first in line to get a title shot, but with his performance against Cruz, he needs to answer questions about his injuries first, and wipe off some of his rust. I think they hold off Mir/Arlovski until they're sure that Frank is ready.

Evans is probably suited better as a light heavyweight, as he's very light for a top contender in the HW division. If he stays here, though, hopefully it will be a looooong time until they sacrifice him to the champ. I like Rashad, but as it stands now, he had trouble taking out the lesser fighters in The Ultimate Fighter, and he's got no chance of hanging around against Arlovski. He'll need to train for quite some time before he's a threat - even if he is one of the bigger names on the list.

Assuerio is a personal favorite of mine - he did a fine job against Tim Sylvia at Ultimate Fight Night 3, despite the major size difference. If he and Arlovski do eventually meet, I think he's got more than a puncher's chance at a victory, unlike Paul Buentello. However, Buentello, with a few more victories and improved conditioning and maybe even some offense besides punches, could get another shot, eventually. I think he's good for more than the 15 seconds he gave at UFC 55, but I don't think he's good enough to beat Andrei, ever. Of these four, I don't see a whole lot of hope, beyond a rehabilitated Frank Mir. Therefore, if The Pitbull is going to lose his belt, I believe it'll either happen very soon, or from a contender we don't expect. This could be a defection, a return, a debut, or simply someone not on this list developing into a strong fighter, but we could see a very long championship reign for Andrei Arlovski.

Odds of being first to lose title: 4 - 1

Light Heavyweight Divison: Champion - Chuck 'The Iceman' Liddell

Next Set of Contenders:

Renato 'Babalu' Sobral: Certainly, the Babalu rematch has to be next - probably at UFC 61. These guys are both at the top of their game, and had a very exciting first fight. If they can repeat it for the belt, it could be a nice main event for UFC 61. Babalu is aggressive, and has enough all around talent to surprise Liddell and take the belt. I think Chuck will be ready for him, however. I won't discount Sobral's chances, but I think Chuck takes the rematch fairly handily. % Chance: 30

Tito Ortiz: Ahhh, Tito. I hope everyone knows how excited I am he's back. Tito has to be VERY soon after the Forrest fight, I'd think. For one - nobody knows how long Tito will be around for. We can hope and pray it's for the long haul, but this is a potential big money match. To waste it would be absurd. Second, I expect Tito has a clause built into his contract guaranteeting him a title shot on this time around. He's probably signed for a short number of fights right now (three to five, maybe), so my guess is that he'll get a shot if he beats Forrest Griffin. Since I fully expect Tito to destroy Forrest, I'd bet on him being next in line in the 205 division. If Ortiz comes back at the level he was before he left, he's got a great chance in a fight against Chuck. He may be one of the few guys who can get Liddell down, and do something with him down there. Still, due to the uncertainty of Tito's condition, I'm not going to anoint him champion just yet. % Chance: 35

Forrest Griffin: Forrest is probably going to have his first UFC loss at 59 to Tito. If he looks strong and even takes the match to a decision, I think he'll be next in line for the winner of Chuck/Tito. Assuming Chuck is still champ - I'm not sure I like this matchup for Griff. Although Forrest has shown that he has good standup, and can take a shot, Liddell is much, much better than he is right now. Although Forrest can take a nasty beating, Chuck gives them out better than almost anyone, and if he lets himself take as many unprotected shots as he has in his previous matches, it won't be a long fight. I don't like Forrest's chances at all, if he makes it here. % Chance: 10

Stephan Bonnar: Bonnar is a very interesting case. Although he hasn't beaten anyone very good yet (James Irvin is his biggest win to date in UFC), he does have a decent and rapidly improving ground game. If Bonnar got Chuck on the ground, I honestly believe he'd have a shot. Of course, with Chuck's takedown defense, I don't forsee that happening at all. However, Bonnar does have a very sick chin, and he may be able to rush in, take a shot and shock Chuck with a takedown. I'm not saying it's a great chance.. but yes, 'I'm sayin' there's a chance'. If he keeps winning and bests some better competition, he'll eventually find his way into a title shot. I don't see him winning, but stranger things have happened. Just not to Chuck Liddell. % Chance: 15

Further Down the Road: Quentin 'Rampage' Jackson, Alessio Sakara

For those who don't know, Jackson is set very soon to be free of his PRIDE contract. He's eyeing a debut in the UFC, and I think it's just what his career needs. Hoefpully, he'll become energized and refocused and return to form. When Rampage is on, he's incredible - and not so coincidentally, he's also Liddell's last loss. Although The Iceman will fight anyone, I think there's a good chance that Chuck would probably want this match so he could avenge his loss. I'd have Rampage higher on the list, but since he's not actually in UFC, and this probably wouldn't be his first fight, there will be a few guys that Liddell defends against first. If he's motivated and focused, I think Rampage has as good a chance as anyone on this list.

Sakara is a nice up and coming prospect who could be the next challenger based on his aggressiveness and his skill. He's very experienced, just not in the UFC, but both of his fights so far have been lopsided. I'm not sure exactly how Sakara will faie, having only seen him fight once, but he just seems like he'll be able to ascend the ladder quickly and get into some big time matches.

Beyond those two, there's isn't a lot in the 205 division that makes me think that Liddell's got anything to worry about.

Odds of being first to lose title: 6 - 1

Middleweight Divison - Champion - Rich Franklin:

Next Set of Contenders:

Nate Marquardt: Obviously, the big assumption I'm making is that Franklin won't be stripped, and in the meantime, they'll be building some contenders. I think Marquardt will be his first match back - they could go in another way, but a lot about a Franklin/Marquardt matchup makes a lot of sense. They could go in another direction, but Nate is on a bit of a roll now, and I think they give him some glorified cans in an effort to 'build' him as a contender, just so there's somebody for Rich to face when he comes back. I really don't think it will work, as while I personally enjoy Nate as a fighter, he's not in Rich's stratosphere right now. Certainly, Marquardt has more than a puncher's chance. He is reportedly a hard worker who should bust his ass while Rich is off, and likely this will be Ace's first fight back, causing him to likely be rusty, but I don't see it going Nate's way or even being that close. % Chance: 15

Chris Leben: I know what people are thinking, that Leben isn't anywhere near ready for a title shot. Three things get him on this list - one, there's almost nothing in the way of contenders, two, he's a name and a popular personality, and three, there's plenty of time to establish guys before Franklin returns. Although, skill-wise, he's not even close to where Franklin is right now, his chances stem almost solely from the fact that he's got a hard head, and i'm being honest. If Leben somehow gets Rich down, either by a quick shot or a lucky takedown, he has enough finishing power to be one of the few that could possibly put Ace out, although it isn't likely. I don't see it happening, but Leben's hard headed enough to take some shots while he bides his time and finds the perfect opening. If he does that and trains hard, he's got an outside shot, but beyond that, I don't know. % Chance: 20

Jeremy Horn: Horn will always have a chance against anyone, specifically due to his great ground game and pure experience. Franklin is no difference. Although he, and every other MW contender, give up plenty of size to Rich, Gumby has fought at 205 and could possibly use some extra bulk to help him survive for a while in the Octagon with the champ. I don't forsee Horn actually taking the belt, but if he can get Franklin down, he's good enough on the ground to win it. Of course, I wouldn't put money on it, but out of all the contenders, I'd say Horn's experience and ground game give him the best shot. % Chance: 30

Joe Doerkson: So.. yeah.. I know, slim pickings. I like Doerkson, but I don't think he's a top contender in any way, I just think that the Marquardt fight was likely for the #1 Contendership. I'm not sure Doerkson ever gets a title fight, and I'm not confident in his ability to win, but I like the guy enoguh that I hope he does get a chance. % Chance: 10

Further Down the Road: Ivan Salavarry, Mike Swick, Evan Tanner, David Terrell, Lee Murray

Salavarry, if he ever gets a shot, actually has a chance against Franklin. It isn't a great one, but he's unorthodox enough that he might be able to shock Rich with a weird submission if they ever get to the ground. Again, I wouldn't put money on him, but the matchup is almost as good as anyone gets - Rich is just so dominant right now. Swick, I don't quite know yet. I love the guy - mostly because he comes out to Ambitionz as a Ridah - and he's fun to watch in two minute squashes, but I'm not sure he's good enough to challenge Franklin. I do think they're building him to a shot, and his speed might cause some initial problems to Rich, but I wonder how good Swick's chin is. The size difference alone means that if Swick gets tagged, it may be over for him if they match up.

I don't know how much longer Tanner has in UFC. I'm a fan, personally, and although he was destroyed by Franklin twice, he's still dangerous in any fight, particularly if it hits the ground. I'd only bet on him for a maximum of three more fights period, just because each time out there, he looks less and less like he wants to be there, but I think he and Rich will match up again sometime. If they do, I think Rich, with the title on his side, and Tanner, with age setting in.. it wouldn't even be as pretty as last time.

Terrell and Murray, neither has been around long enough to really judge. Both show excellent potential (especially Terrell), but until they fight more top competition and regularly in the UFC, I don't see it happening. Further down the road, who knows? Just throwing out some names.

Odds of being first to lose title: 10 - 1

Welterweight Divison - Champion - Matt Hughes:

Next Set of Contenders:

Georges St. Pierre Obviously, Royce Gracie is Hughes' next fight, but it's not for the WW belt. Rush is almost definitely Matt's next defense, and I think he drops the belt here, I really do. In their first fight, Rush basically took it to Hughes harder than any fighter has beyond maybe BJ Penn and Carlos Newton. If not for a beautiful, but lucky, armbar, St. Pierre is probably the champ right now. He's so quick and well rounded that he's got a shot in any fight, and he's so strong for his size that Hughes can't overpower hom. I expect something really special out of both of them, but I'm putting my eggs in Rush's basket. % Chance: 60

BJ Penn: As we all know, Penn already beat Hughes once, and you'd have to guess, from that, that BJ could do it again - if Hughes makes it out of the Rush fight, that is. I think Penn could definitely take Hughes again, but I don't think he is his old self quite yet. He needs a few fights in the UFC to re-establish himself as an aggressor, and to remember how potentially good he can be. Give him a few fights before a title match with Hughes, and I definitely think he has a shot. He's got to show more desire and aggression than he did against St. Pierre if he wants to win, though. Provided he does, I could see Penn beating Hughes again, without a doubt. %Chance: 40

Karo Parisyan: I'm not the biggest Karo fan in the world, but since he was scheduled to fight Matt and had to pull, I think it's a fair assumption to say that he still has a chance at a title fight. If Matt Hughes somehow finds it in himself to get past both Georges St. Pierre and BJ Penn, I don't think there's any way Parisyan can hang with Matt. Although I'd like to see this fight, just to see what Karo could pull out, I don't think it'd end up being that close. % Chance: 20

Diego Sanchez: This is a really interesting case with Diego. I was a major doubter at first, thinking that he beat up on subpar competition to win the first season of The Ultimate Fighter, but as he's continued on the UFC, he's really dominated his competition, including Nick Diaz, who, at least at one time, was looked at as being a very good fighter. I'm still having quite a bit of trouble figuring out exactly what the outcome of a Sanchez/Hughes fight would be. I think Hughes' experience would give him the victory, but it's close enough that you never know... % Chance: 35

Further Down the Road: Carlos Newton, Sean Sherk

Newton is making a return to UFC after a four year hiatus, and I think if he wins a couple of early fights, he could get a shot at the champ. He doesn't have a stellar win-loss record, but his opposition has consisted of very talented fighters and he's been VERY close to some victories. He certainly has the potential to beat any welterweight, including Matt Hughes, who he basically defeated at UFC 34. If he's back to his old self, he could provide a great challenge to Hughes, or whoever the current champ is.

Sherk is a beast, there's no other way to describe him. He's tiny, but he's so determined that he has a shot against any guy. He's only lost to Matt Hughes and Georges St. Pierre, and although I haven't seen the Hughes fight, I heard it was not an easy fight. If Sherk gets a shot at Hughes (which he may not, since he may be dropping to the Lightweight divison), I think he has a shot. I don't expect Hughes to make it that far, however.

There's a dearth of talented welterweights, but none of them, as of yet, have separated themselves from the pack. Future challengers could include: Josh Burkman, Drew Fickett, Nick Diaz, Josh Koscheck, Spencer Fisher, Jason Miller, Josh Neer and Joe Stevenson. This is a very deep division with lots of talented guys, who could all stop each other from rising up, ironically. The challenges for Matt Hughes never stop.

Odds of being first to lose title: 2-1

Final Prediction:

Matt Hughes, to Georges St. Pierre
Andrei Arlovski, to Marcio Cruz or Brandon Vera
Chuck Liddell to unknown
Rich Franklin to unknown

Right now, in the UFC, we have nearly our most dominant era. Hughes, besides a short break, has been champion as long as I can remember. Arlovksi barely looks like he can break a sweat, and Liddell and Franklin's divisions seem weak. Still, as the UFC acquires more momentum, we'll see bad and badder men emerge and surpass the guys who look so dominant right now. It's an exciting time to be a UFC fan, as they just keep putting on better and better shows.

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