Ariel Helwani’s MMA thoughts – Who should be next for each UFC champion?


You know what’s interesting? There are three title fights booked for UFC 245 on Dec. 14, and then there isn’t a single champion booked for any of the cards that follow.

That means there are seven other champions without a dance partner at the moment. Amanda Nunes, who fights on Dec. 14, is a double champion, as is Henry Cejudo. That makes it nine belts with no defense scheduled. That’s a lot of available champions.

With that in mind, I thought it would be fun to do a state of the union, UFC champions edition, to see who should be next for the promotion’s kings and queens.

Stipe Miocic, heavyweight

Despite following the recent trend of MMA fighters calling out boxers and proposing a fight against Tyson Fury, Stipe Miocic, above, has a handful of strong possibilities for his next fight in the UFC, including a Daniel Cormier trilogy bout. Joe Scarnici/Getty Images

Next: Daniel Cormier

The UFC’s light heavyweight division could have another title contender emerge on Saturday.
In the UFC Fight Night main event, Jan Blachowicz, who has won five of his past six fights, will take on Jacare Souza, the veteran star who is making his debut in the division.

UFC Fight Night: Blachowicz vs. Jacare
• Saturday, Sao Paulo, Brazil
Prelims: ESPN+, 5 p.m. ET
Main card: ESPN+, 8 p.m. ET

Subscribe to ESPN+ to get exclusive live UFC events, weigh-ins and more; Ariel and the Bad Guy; Dana White’s Contender Series; and more exclusive MMA content.

Miocic told me on Monday that he’s not interested in a trilogy fight against Cormier. Truth be told, he doesn’t sound interested in anyone not named Tyson Fury right now. Fury is a boxing champion who makes a lot of money. I don’t think that is a possibility right now, considering Fury’s contract status as well as a few other factors, but as we know, this is how it starts. Crazier things have happened, and Fury is interestested.

Part of me thinks Miocic is trying to give Cormier a taste of his own medicine for making him wait about a year for a rematch. I think that logic is somewhat flawed because a) Cormier had back surgery in December, delaying the title fight, and b) the UFC was trying to book the Brock Lesnar fight first. The fight to make is the Cormier trilogy. They are 1-1 against each other and this is a great retirement fight for Cormier. It’s also a big fight for Miocic. The fans want it, too. Do it in Cleveland next year.


Jon Jones, light heavyweight

The options for Jon Jones, above, are limited in the near future, and so Dominick Reyes is probably his best choice for his next title defense. Stephen R. Sylvanie/USA TODAY Sports

Next: Dominick Reyes

I know Jones has been looking for a sexier option, but there’s not much out there right now. It’s either Reyes or Corey Anderson, and I think Reyes’ undefeated record gives him the edge in this race.


Israel Adesanya, middleweight

Israel Adesanya, above, had an ideal first title defense lined up against Paulo Costa, but Costa’s injury has left Adesanya with uncertainty in terms of his next step. Asanka Brendon Ratnayake / AFP

Next: Yoel Romero

I’m still bummed the Paulo Costa fight isn’t happening (for now). That fight was just too perfect. And, as I mentioned last week, the UFC originally wanted to do Romero vs. Jared Cannonier to determine the No. 1 contender, but now it sounds as if they are coming around on the idea of just doing Adesanya vs. Romero right away. No sense in making Adesanya wait, right? I concede it’s weird to see Romero get another title shot after he missed weight in two of the three he has received over the past couple of years, but the champ wants him, so he should get him.


Kamaru Usman, welterweight

Kamaru Usman, above, has an upcoming title defense against Colby Covington, and a world of possibilities at welterweight should he win that fight. AP Photo/John Locher

Next: Colby Covington

This fight is happening on Dec. 14.


Khabib Nurmagomedov, lightweight

The fifth time will hopefully be the charm in making Khabib Nurmagomedov, above, vs. Tony Ferguson a reality in 2020. Per Haljestam/USA TODAY Sports

Next: Tony Ferguson

Other than the three title fights already booked, this is the easiest one to predict. This is the only fight that needs to happen next for both men. The current plan is April. New York has been discussed. Wherever, whenever, we just need to see this fight.


Max Holloway, men’s featherweight

Max Holloway, above, closes out 2019 with a title defense against Alex Volkanovski. Jason Franson/The Canadian Press via AP

Next: Alexander Volkanovski

This fight is happening on Dec. 14.


Henry Cejudo, men’s flyweight and bantamweight

Once Henry Cejudo, above, returns from injury, he could defend either his flyweight or bantamweight belt. A 135-pound defense against former bantamweight champion Dominick Cruz offers plenty of baked-in narratives. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Next: Dominick Cruz

This was the hardest one to pick. A few months ago, I would have said Cejudo needs to go back to 125 pounds to defend the belt against Joseph Benavidez, but I just feel no juice behind that fight. Conversely, the talk between Cejudo and Cruz would be amazing, and there is a great narrative to be told about Cejudo and Cruz training together years ago, both being from Arizona and Cruz being the most decorated bantamweight champion.


Amanda Nunes, women’s bantamweight and featherweight

There isn’t much in the way of depth to challenge Amanda Nunes, above, for her women’s featherweight title, so, provided she successfully defends her bantamweight belt against Germaine de Randamie in December, another 135-pound fight could follow. Joe Amon for ESPN

Next: Germaine de Randamie

The GDR fight is happening on Dec. 14, so I won’t discuss what is next for Nunes at 135, but what about 145? Is she just going to be the featherweight champion for life and be the last one who gets to walk around with the old belt? (While I’m on that subject, am I the only one who thinks it’s weird the new title belts for the female champions are smaller than they are for the male champions, when that was never the case with the old belts?)

Problem is, there isn’t much doing at 145 for Nunes at the moment, so I guess so, at least for the time being. With both Cris Cyborg and Cat Zingano now in Bellator, the only real option for Nunes at featherweight would be Megan Anderson, but I think it would be a mistake to book that fight in the foreseeable future.


Valentina Shevchenko, women’s flyweight

A fight between Valentina Shevchenko, above, and Katlyn Chookagian is a no-brainer for early 2020. Jeff Bottari/Zuffa LLC/Getty Images

Next: Katlyn Chookagian

Talks are already underway to book this fight in the first quarter of 2020, possibly on the Feb. 8 pay-per-view. Chookagian said so on Monday’s show, and additional sources confirmed the same. Chookagian has earned this fight. The UFC wanted to make this fight earlier this year, but Chookagian had a pretty good excuse: She was getting married. The promotion briefly explored setting up Shevchenko vs. Joanne Calderwood in October, but that didn’t materialize. And since Chookagian has a win over Calderwood, this one is a no-brainer.


Zhang Weili, strawweight

For Zhang Weili, above, former UFC strawweight Joanna Jedrzejczyk offers a lot of positives as a potential first challenger Weili. Brandon Magnus/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images

Next: Joanna Jedrzejczyk

I am happy to hear Rose Namajunas is coming back next year. I am also happy to hear she doesn’t feel as if she needs a title shot in her first fight back. I am a big fan of taking things slow. She has a plethora of options, including a rematch against Jessica Andrade, which would be fascinating. I know the UFC looked into booking Zhang vs. Namajunas right away, but I like the Jędrzejczyk idea much better. She’s the former face of the division, who looked great in her win over Michelle Waterson last month. She’ll sell the fight and presents a tough test for the new champ.


Hear and there

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Jorge Masvidal says that if Conor McGregor comes calling and wants to fight him, he’d be more than happy to take the fight.





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