No one saw what happened Saturday night at UFC 185 coming. If they did, they should be playing the lottery. Even where a few pundits called the outcome of one or the other of the night’s two title fights, next to no one had both belts changing hands. Yet that’s exactly what happened, and it marks an interesting time in the UFC: it’s open season on UFC titles, especially in the lighter divisions.

Consider this: there are two women’s divisions, and eight men’s divisions in the promotion. These ten weight classes mean you’re generally getting roughly twenty title fights a year (title holders rarely seem to go three times per year, and injury can play a factor). With the two upsets Saturday night, where Joanna Jędrzejczyk took the women’s strawweight title from Carla Esparza in a stunning upset, and Rafael dos Anjos steamrolled over Anthony Pettis in another shock victory, suddenly, it becomes apparent that there are few “entrenched” champions in the promotion at the moment.

Sure, there’s Jon Jones, but you get the feeling that Anthony Johnson is actually the monster he’s made out to be, and could finally be the one to stop the champion (with all apologies to Daniel Cormier, DC vs. Jones was over-hyped). There’s Jose Aldo, who has all but cleaned out featherweight and has only Conor McGregor left at this point, then a few repeat challengers, but he has arguably slowed, and it wouldn’t be a shock to see him finally falter in the next year or so.

Then there’s Cain Velasquez up at heavyweight. A dominant champion in the cage, the problem is that he has only fought two different fighters over his last five bouts. That simply does not help his development, and injuries have absolutely plagued him. A loss to Fabricio Werdum this Summer — a vastly improved Fabricio Werdum — would not be as unthinkable as it once was.

Chris Weidman sits atop the throne at middleweight, but still has some tough tests ahead of him (Vitor Belfort, Luke Rockhold, Jacare Souza), and is still fresh into his title reign. Same with T.J. Dillashaw, who meets Renan Barao once again next month for the bantamweight strap, having only defended against Joe Soto, a name that left many fans rushing to Google when his short-notice title challenge went down. And don’t forget Robbie Lawler at welterweight, who beat Johny Hendricks the second time out, and who has a fight with Rory MacDonald up next, and possibly Hendricks again sometime after that.

In reality, the two most entrenched champions besides Jones are Demetrious “Mighty Mouse” Johnson at flyweight and Ronda Rousey at bantamweight. And with all due respect to Mighty Mouse, only Rousey seems absolutely unbeatable at this point,.

All this boils down to a situation where, in almost any given weight class in the UFC, the title is up for grabs, really up for grabs, on any given night. And before you say “well it always is” the fact is that that is not the case. Many title fights past have been foregone conclusions. Chael Sonnen is a game participant who can promote with the best of them and never turned down a fight, but he was out of his depth against Jon Jones. No one really saw Antonio Silva as a threat when Cain Velasquez had already trounced him, and few saw anyone up against Renan Barao as all that dangerous to him outside perhaps of Urijah Faber. And the further back you trace each division, the more so that holds true, at least to a point.

Frankly, the unpredictability of the current UFC landscape makes it an exciting time to be an MMA fan — though there is a downside to this open season. While a dominant champion can be a huge draw (Mike Tyson, Ronda Rousey, Georges St. Pierre, Brock Lesnar), you need a way to market them. Tyson was a destructive force of nature, Rousey the best female fighter on the planet, GSP the honorable, traditional mixed martial artist with a whole country backing him, Lesnar the crossover star and athletic freak. Yet then there’s someone like Jose Aldo, not nearly as marketable, and without Conor McGregor, he wouldn’t have a shot at a huge payday no matter his skill inside the octagon.

And so open season becomes a double edged sword: exciting because it’s anyone’s game, but potentially a hard sell depending on who is in a given fight (more so than usual, in any case).

It would not be surprising to see one of the two titles on the line at UFC 186 change hands, and perhaps even one of the two at UFC 188 a month later to do the same. UFC 188 will likely be closer than many believe, and beyond that, it’s anyone’s ball game. Just be prepared for 2015 to be the year of title changes.

 

About The Author

Senior Staff Writer

Covering the sport of MMA from Ontario, Canada, Jay Anderson has been writing for various publications covering sports, technology, and pop culture since 2001. Jay holds an Honours Bachelor of Arts degree in English from the University of Guelph, and a Certificate in Leadership Skills from Humber College under the Ontario Management Development Program. When not slaving at the keyboard, he can be found in the company of his dog, a good book, or getting lost in the woods.