UFC 181 is quickly approaching and it is the one of the rare pay-per-view cards with two title fights during the night, thus giving it a higher chance to crown a new champion.

Not counting the welterweight champion being vacated and an interim heavyweight being created, the only belt to change hands this year was the bantamweight championship, won by T.J. Dillashaw.

So who will be the next division to see somebody new sit on top of the throne?

Let’s rank the divisions in regards to who we think has the most vulnerable champions and who has the most dangerous contenders:

1) Bantamweight:

Champion: T.J. Dillashaw

Key Challengers: Dominick Cruz, Urijah Faber, Raphael Assuncao

I am ranking this at the top solely because it has a champion within the set of key challengers who never lost his title.

This pick has more so to do with how dominant Dominick Cruz was during his reign as the 135-pound champion. He came back from his knee injuries with an absolute fury against Takeya Mizugaki and Dana White announced he would get the next shot at T.J. Dillashaw.

As great as T.J. Dillashaw has looked against Renan Barao and Joe Soto, it would still be hard to pick him against Cruz and that’s why I have this division as the most likely to see a new champion.

2) Welterweight:

Champion: Johny Hendricks

Key Challengers: Robbie Lawler, Rory MacDonald, Tyron Woodley, Hector Lombard

Robbie Lawler proved that he is capable of pushing Johny Hendricks to the limit when they fought for the vacated welterweight championship left by Georges St. Pierre.

We will test this ranking next week at UFC 181 but even if Lawler isn’t able to beat Hendricks, the road does not get any easier for the champ.

Tyron Woodley and Hector Lombard are biding their time, waiting for their shot, and who knows when GSP is coming back. Put those guys with Carlos Condit, Matt Brown, and Kelvin Gastelum and you have yourself a shark tank of a stacked division.

3) Lightweight:

Champion: Anthony Pettis

Key Challengers: Gilbert Melendez, Khabib Nurmagomedov, Donald Cerrone

Another division we will test at UFC 181, the lightweights. Usually called one of the more competitive divisions in all of mixed martial arts, Anthony Pettis has a gauntlet of challenges facing him if he gets past Gilbert Melendez. Khabib Nurmagomedov is a win away when he comes back from injury to have an argument for a title shot and the winner of Cerrone vs. Myles Jury will probably result in the next contender.

You also have to take into account how injury-prone Pettis is. How will Dana react if Pettis has to be sidelined for another substantial amount of time? Something to think about…

4) Middleweight:

Champion: Chris Weidman

Key Challengers: Vitor Belfort, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza, Luke Rockhold

It’s tough to say how dominant of a champion Chris Weidman can be. One of his title defenses was due to Anderson Silva’s leg snapping and Lyoto Machida did well against Weidman when he was able to keep the fight standing.

A challenger who wants to defeat Weidman has to stop the takedowns, plain and simple. If they can’t stop the takedowns, they need to have a ground game dangerous enough to submit Weidman. There’s a couple of fighters who are in line with those skill sets and that makes this a dangerous division to be champion in.

 

5) Heavyweight:

Champion: Cain Velasquez

Key Challengers: Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos, Stipe Miocic

Dana White has already said that if Cain Velasquez isn’t ready to go in March, that there’s a good chance he will be stripped of his heavyweight championship.

Even if Velasquez is ready to go come spring time, how badly will ring rust affect the champion? He can’t afford to have an off night against guys like Fabricio Werdum, Junior dos Santos or Stipe Miocic.

At heavyweight, Velasquez knows better than anybody that one punch can put you to sleep. If Velasquez comes back at full strength though, there’s not a better heavyweight fighter on the planet and it’s not even close.

6) Featherweight:

Champion: Jose Aldo

Key Challengers: Conor McGregor, Frankie Edgar, Ricardo Lamas

Jose Aldo is a tough champion to figure out. He’ll look untouchable at one point and then look absolutely disinterested or bored sometimes.

In the past, it’s looked like he’s had trouble cutting down to 145 pounds and tired toward the later rounds. But really, Frankie Edgar is the only person to have even threatened Aldo during his time as the UFC featherweight champion.

He’s got potential rematches with Edgar and Lamas looming on the horizon, but Conor McGregor is kicking down the door and confident about his chances, to say the least.

7) Light Heavyweight:

Champion: Jon Jones

Key Challengers: Daniel Cormier, Alexander Gustafsson, Anthony Johnson

Besides the three listed challengers, there really isn’t anybody else who could compete with Jon Jones.

The light heavyweight division is starting to fill up with gatekeepers and strongly lack any rising prospects capable of hanging with the champion. That being said, the three challengers are as tough as any in the entire promotion.

I don’t think Jones vs. Cormier can be hyped enough. Cormier has physically dominated guys at heavyweight, what says he can’t do the same to Jones? You won’t find a better wrestler in the division and Cormier has the power to seriously hurt Jones…that is, if he can get within two feet of him.

8) Women’s Bantamweight:

Champion: Ronda Rousey

Key Challengers: Cat Zingano, Alexis Davis, Miesha Tate

First off, I don’t think Ronda Rousey will lose. I think she is incredibly likely to finish her career undefeated and retire to move to Hollywood.

Cat Zingano is tough, but I just don’t see her being strong enough to stop Rousey’s throws. It’s hard to see anybody in the UFC who can stuff Rousey’s judo, because nobody has shown it yet.

Besides Zingano, Alexis Davis, and potentially bringing in somebody else there really isn’t even a threat to Rousey. I wouldn’t say there is zero chance she won’t lose (Anderson Silva anybody?), but it just isn’t likely.

9) Flyweight:

Champion: Demetrious Johnson

Key Challengers: Ian McCall, John Lineker, Joseph Benavidez

Is anybody closer to have cleaned out a division than Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson? He already has wins over two out of three of his most compelling challengers and the other one doesn’t consistently make weight.

Nobody has looked as untouchable as Johnson in the UFC. He has dominant wrestling, moves ridiculously effectively, and has the rare finishing power in the flyweight division.

The most likely way somebody new has the belt at 125 pounds is due to Johnson either moving back up to 135 pounds or retiring.

Who knows, maybe Urijah Faber can drop another weight class…