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A general view of the Octagon during the UFC 256 event at UFC APEX on December 12, 2020 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)
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Where We Stand: UFC 2023 Division-By-Division Guide

Take A Look At Each Division To See Which Champs And Contenders Are Primed To Make Moves In 2023

Women’s Strawweight

Champion: Zhang Weili

In The Mix: Rose Namajunas, Amanda Lemos, Jessica Andrade

Zhang Weili | 2022 Résumé
Zhang Weili | 2022 Résumé
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The whirlwind that is the strawweight title picture continued to spin in 2022. After Carla Esparza upset Rose Namajunas to recapture the title, Zhang Weili did the same to Esparza to end the year on the 115-pound throne. With “Magnum” back on top, a plethora of options are ahead for China’s first champion. Namajunas figures heavily into the conversation, and although “Thug” had a disappointing outing against Esparza, she holds two wins over Zhang and has a fair shout for another title shot. Lemos is coming off her biggest win yet over Marina Rodriguez, and Yan bounced back nicely against Mackenzie Dern. A third fight between Andrade could make sense in determining the No. 1 contender in the case that Zhang wants to wait for a clearer challenger to emerge in the first half of the new year.

Names to Watch For in 2023: Marina Rodriguez, Xiaonan Yan, Mackenzie Dern

Women’s Flyweight

Champion: Valentina Shevchenko

In The Mix: Manon Fiorot, Taila Santos, Alexa Grasso

Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan punches Taila Santos of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 275 event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 12, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Valentina Shevchenko of Kyrgyzstan punches Taila Santos of Brazil in the UFC flyweight championship fight during the UFC 275 event at Singapore Indoor Stadium on June 12, 2022 in Singapore. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


Flyweight queen Valentina Shevchenko competed just once in 2022, narrowly defending her belt against Taila Santos in Singapore. Although some feel Santos earned an immediate rematch, that looks unlikely. French kickboxing ace Manon Fiorot staked her claim as the No. 1 contender with her win over Katlyn Chookagian, but “The Beast” is sidelined with a knee injury for the start of 2023, delaying her eventual title shot. Mexican contender Alexa Grasso is the next logical challenger after her main event victory over Viviane Araújo in October. The 125-pound division continues to have an intriguing influx of young talent, as well, and a pair of the best 2021 newcomers graduated into real contenders in 2022. Casey O’Neill saw her momentum halt due to knee injury, but she figures to factor heavily in the 2023 title picture upon her return. Erin Blanchfield picked up a pair of submission wins in 2022 to launch herself into the conversation, and she could be one or two wins from having a shot at gold when 2023 is all said and done.

Names to Watch For in 2023: Casey O’Neill, Erin Blanchfield

Women’s Bantamweight

Champion: Amanda Nunes

In The Mix: Julianna Peña, Ketlen Vieira, Irene Aldana, Valentina Shevchenko

Amanda Nunes of Brazil elbows Julianna Pena in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

Amanda Nunes of Brazil elbows Julianna Pena in the UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 277 event at American Airlines Center on July 30, 2022 in Dallas, Texas. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Amanda Nunes put herself back on top with a dominant performance against Peña in Dallas, but Peña showed her toughness and the grit you’d expect from a champion. Whether a third fight is warranted is unknown, but Nunes finds herself back on her perch with a few options. Fellow Brazilian Ketlen Vieira picked up a big main event win against Holly Holm and is set to fight former title challenger Raquel Pennington to start 2023, so she could put herself in that No. 1 contender spot with a victory. Irene Aldana picked up another finish with a stunning upkick to the body of Macy Chiasson to give her three knockouts in her last four fights, so she could also be deserving of a shot. The rumors always fly around regarding a third fight between Nunes and Shevchenko, but that has yet to materialize into anything substantial.

Names to Watch For in 2023: Raquel Pennington, Macy Chiasson

Women’s Featherweight

Champion: Amanda Nunes

In The Mix: Norma Dumont

 Amanda Nunes of Brazil secures an arm bar submission against Megan Anderson of Australia in their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 259 event at UFC APEX on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)

 Amanda Nunes of Brazil secures an arm bar submission against Megan Anderson of Australia in their UFC featherweight championship fight during the UFC 259 event at UFC APEX on March 06, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Chris Unger/Zuffa LLC)


Nunes hasn’t defended her belt since her 2021 submission of Megan Anderson, but a clear featherweight contender hasn’t emerged since then either. The only regular competitors at 145 pounds are Chiasson and Norma Dumont, who faced each other at UFC 274 with Chiasson getting the split decision nod. Chiasson subsequently fell to Aldana in a 140-pound catchweight fight while Dumont bounced back with a decision win over Danyelle Wolf. Whether Nunes sees either woman as a worthy challenger or if they’ll turn in a performance that warrants a shot is something to keep an eye on in 2023.

Flyweight

Champion: Deiveson Figueiredo

In The Mix: Brandon Moreno, Alexandre Pantoja, Kai Kara-France

Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno 1-3 Recap | UFC 283: Teixeira vs Hill
Deiveson Figueiredo vs Brandon Moreno 1-3 Recap | UFC 283: Teixeira vs Hill
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For all the fun action that took place in the flyweight division, the title picture ended up in the same spot we left it a year ago: with Deiveson Figueiredo and Brandon Moreno set to square off once again to determine the 125-pound champion. Figueiredo got the best of Moreno in their epic battle at UFC 270 to earn undisputed gold and even their trilogy at 1-1-1, but his inability to defend the belt led to Moreno capturing an interim belt in the summer. In an unprecedented fourth fight, they’ll lock horns – this time in Figueiredo’s home country of Brazil – at UFC 283 to (probably) settle the score once and for all. Once the dust settles from there, familiar faces await. Alexandre Pantoja had a statement-making performance against Alex Perez, Brandon Royval is a chaos agent of a contender, and New Zealand’s Kai Kara-France figures to bounce back even stronger after going through a title fight himself.

RELATED: Recap The Rivalry Between Deiveson Figueiredo & Brandon Moreno

Names to Watch For in 2022: Manel Kape, Brandon Royval, 

Bantamweight

Champion: Aljamain Sterling

In The Mix: Henry Cejudo, Sean O’Malley, Petr Yan, Merab Dvalishvili, Marlon Vera, Cory Sandhagen

Aljamain Sterling kicks Petr Yan of Russia in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)

Aljamain Sterling kicks Petr Yan of Russia in their UFC bantamweight championship fight during the UFC 273 event at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena on April 09, 2022 in Jacksonville, Florida. (Photo by Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC)


Knock on wood, but it seems as though Aljamain Sterling created order in the chaos that is the bantamweight title picture. He gutted out a winning result in grudge match against Petr Yan and vanquished TJ Dillashaw to cement his status as the 135-pound king. Undefeated for the last five years, Sterling has his pick of an entertaining crop of challengers. Sean O’Malley showed his top-tier quality in his split decision win over Yan and emerged as a real contender in the division. Marlon “Chito” Vera did the same with his pair of dominant main event wins against Rob Font and Dominick Cruz. Cory Sandhagen took a year off and looked solid against Song Yadong, and Sterling’s teammate and friend Merab Dvalishvili sent José Aldo into retirement. The latter two expressed interest in fighting one another, which could leave Sterling a choice between Vera and O’Malley (and it’s good to remember Vera beat O’Malley in 2020). However, it seems like “Triple C” himself, Henry Cejudo, could be back in the picture. If Sterling wants that fight, things get a little complicated for everyone else, but it seems like there’s always something when it comes to UFC’s deepest division.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Ricky Simon, Umar Nurmagomedov, Yadong Song, Adrian Yanez

Featherweight

Champion: Alexander Volkanovski

In The Mix: Yair Rodriguez, Josh Emmett, Arnold Allen, Brian Ortega

Alexander Volkanovski of Australia kicks Max Holloway during the UFC 276 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Alexander Volkanovski of Australia kicks Max Holloway during the UFC 276 event at T-Mobile Arena on July 02, 2022 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)


Alexander Volkanovski legitimately threw himself into the featherweight G.O.A.T. conversation with a pair of dominant victories of Chan Sung Jung and Max Holloway, the latter of which was perhaps Volkanovski’s best showing yet. The Australian powerhouse climbed to the top of the pound-for-pound list but took the rest of 2022 off to recover from a broken hand. With “The Great” going for double-champ status at UFC 284, Yair Rodriguez and Josh Emmett will jockey for interim gold on the same day to provide clarity for Volkanovski’s next challenger. Meanwhile, British stud Arnold Allen figures to have himself a big fight in the first half of the year. Brian Ortega is currently the odd man out after taking time to recover from the shoulder injury he suffered against Rodriguez in the summer, but he is also in the mix and perhaps a couple wins away from getting another crack at featherweight gold. Featherweight is constantly churning out new contenders, and the likes of Sodiq Yusuff, Ilia Topuria and Calvin Kattar (once he recovers from his knee injury) will go through the divisional gauntlet, as well. Of course, Max Holloway finds himself in a curious position after losing to Volkanovski for a third time. Whether “Blessed” stays in the weight class to make life harder for every title hopeful or moves up to lightweight will matter deeply to the shape of the division.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Ilia Topuria, Movsar Evloev, Sodiq Yusuff

Lightweight

Champion: Islam Makhachev

In The Mix: Alexander Volkanovski, Charles Oliveira, Dustin Poirier

Islam Makhachev | 2022 Résumé
Islam Makhachev | 2022 Résumé
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The lightweight belt took quite a journey in 2022. Charles Oliveira looked every bit the dominant champion after beating Dustin Poirier in 2021, but a mishap on the scale in Arizona forced “Do Bronx” to vacate despite defeating Justin Gaethje with a first-round submission. Islam Makhachev finally got his shot at gold, however, and made good on the plan his late coach and Khabib Nurmagomedov’s father Abdulmanap set out years ago and captured the lightweight title for himself in Abu Dhabi. Makhachev is set to make his first defense in Perth, Australia, against Alexander Volkanovski, and no matter who comes out of that one victorious, Dustin Poirier and Beneil Dariush have valid claims at the next title shot. Justin Gaethje is a factor in the picture, as well, but coming off a loss to Oliveira, he is in a more difficult spot. For Oliveria, his path back to gold is more dependent on the result between Makhachev and Volkanovski, but he remains one of the best and most dangerous lightweights in the world.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Justin Gaethje, Beneil Dariush, Rafael Fiziev

Welterweight

Champion: Leon Edwards

In The Mix: Kamaru Usman, Colby Covington, Khamzat Chimaev, Belal Muhammad

Leon Edwards of Jamaica lands a head kick to Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)

Leon Edwards of Jamaica lands a head kick to Kamaru Usman of Nigeria in the UFC welterweight championship fight during the UFC 278 event at Vivint Arena on August 20, 2022 in Salt Lake City, Utah. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC)


Leon Edwards’ knockout win over Kamaru Usman was perhaps the signature moment of 2022. The general assumption is that Edwards and Usman will run it back at some point in 2023, especially with UFC 286 scheduled to take place in London. If Usman regains the title, Belal Muhammad is likely the most deserving challenger after he removed Sean Brady from the ranks of the unbeaten. Colby Covington settled his grudge match with Jorge Masvidal in 2022, and whether the controversial figure gets a title shot depends on whether Usman regains the crown or not. As long as Edwards has the belt, don’t count Masvidal out of the equation, either. The two have well-documented beef to settle inside the Octagon. Khamzat Chimaev bounced between welterweight and middleweight to start his UFC career, but after his mishap at UFC 279, middleweight might end up proving to be his home. If not, he is a gigantic factor and could find himself in a title fight at some point in 2023 after maybe one more quality win. Geoff Neal is a little further away from a title shot, but with some timing and a couple more high-quality victories, he’s a name to watch as well.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Gilbert Burns, Sean Brady, Geoff Neal, Shavkat Rakhmonov

Middleweight

Champion: Alex Pereira

In The Mix: Israel Adesanya, Robert Whittaker, Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori

Alex Pereira Post-Fight Interview | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira
Alex Pereira Post-Fight Interview | UFC 281: Adesanya vs Pereira
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Israel Adesanya was five minutes away from racking up another title defense and leaving middleweight division a little barren as far as clear contenders, but Alex Pereira trusted his power and flipped the MMA world on its head with his come-from-behind TKO win over the longtime champion. The assumption is that the two will run it back at some point in 2022, and Adesanya mentioned spring as an appealing timeline, but it’s all up to Pereira. If “Poatan” holds onto the belt, everything opens up for the middleweight division and Robert Whittaker in particular. If Adesanya recaptures gold, we could have a gigantic trilogy fight toward the backend of 2023 while Adesanya’s old foes – Whittaker, Jared Cannonier, Marvin Vettori and Paulo Costa among them – jockey for another crack at “The Last Stylebender.”

Names to Watch For in 2022: Paulo Costa, Sean Strickland, Nassourdine Imavov, Khamzat Chimaev, Roman Dolidze

Light Heavyweight

Champion: N/A

In The Mix: Glover Teixeira, Jamahal Hill, Magomed Ankalaev, Jan Błachowicz, Jiri Prochazka

After an epic title fight between Jiri Prochazka and Glover Teixeira, the rematch was all set to close out 2022 until a horrible shoulder injury to Prochazka put the freshly minted champion on the shelf for the better part of the next six months. A split draw between Magomed Ankalaev and Jan Błachowicz left the top spot empty, and so UFC made quick work of pitting Teixeira against Contender Series alumnus Jamahal Hill in the main event at UFC 283. If Teixeira wins, he could find himself fighting Ankalaev – who feels he should own the belt at this point – or waiting for that rematch with Prochazka, unless, of course, he chooses to retire at 43 years old. Should Hill leave Brazil victorious, he is likely to face the same sequence of challengers. Błachowicz is very much in the mix, as well, so health and timing might matter just as much as worthiness when it comes time to make the title fights in 2023.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Aleksandar Rakic, Anthony Smith

Heavyweight

Champion: Francis Ngannou

In The Mix: Ciryl Gane, Stipe Miocic, Curtis Blaydes, Jon Jones

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon prepares to fight Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)

Francis Ngannou of Cameroon prepares to fight Ciryl Gane of France in their UFC heavyweight championship fight during the UFC 270 event at Honda Center on January 22, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Cooper Neill/Zuffa LLC)


The heavyweight division feels like it is running on two parallel tracks right now. On one side is Francis Ngannou, Stipe Miocic and Jon Jones – guys who did not fight in 2022 (other than Ngannou’s title defense against Ciryl Gane in January 2022) but figure heavily in the title picture – while on the other side you have Curtis Blaydes, Sergei Pavlovich and a handful of others who were active and successful but seem a little far from a title shot for one reason or the other. Ngannou spent the better part of the year recovering from a major knee injury, but his return is expected sometime in the first half of the year. Whether that comes against Jones in his heavyweight debut is most people’s hope and expectation. Miocic and Jones were linked several times in 2022 but to no avail, but most expect Miocic to hold out for title fights at this point of his career. Gane bounced back from losing the title fight to Ngannou and closed UFC’s first show in France in epic fashion over Tai Tuivasa, who started strong with a knockout of Derrick Lewis before falling to Gane and Pavlovich. Pavlovich threw himself into the Top 5 with his knockout win over Tuivasa in Orlando, Florida, and should get a Top 5 matchup (maybe Gane or Blaydes) in 2023. Meanwhile, Blaydes starched Chris Daukaus and came out of London victorious over Tom Aspinall to stretch his winning streak at three, but he’ll always have the roadblock of having lost to Ngannou twice. Aspinall is still recovering from the knee injury he suffered to open the bout against Blaydes and is taking a patient approach to recovery, but when he returns, expect him to be in the thick of the picture.

Names to Watch For in 2022: Tai Tuivasa, Tom Aspinall, Jairzinho Rozenstruik