I’m going to save 73% of you the time and go ahead and tell you Conor McGregor is not on this list. It’s not that I don’t think that he has a shot, it’s just that I feel Conor has been covered at length on this topic by pretty much everyone. There are a slew of great fighters coming up the ranks, and these are but a handful in a whole wave of top contenders rising toward their shot next year. Let us know who you think are some guys that may snatch a title in 2015, and join us for a little trip down Speculation Avenue.

JOHNY HENDRICKS

Given the fact that Hendricks just lost the title, this may seem like an odd one to start with. Hendricks Vs Lawler I had a controversial decision, and so did the rematch. In the first encounter, a slew of fans clamored that Robbie Lawler should have won the vacated welterweight title. After UFC 181 this past Saturday, a good portion of people are saying that Hendricks should have retained the title. Not as many, but the argument is certainly out there in the media stream.

Regardless, Hendricks is almost sure to rise back to the top for another shot in the next 365 days. The number one contender is now Rory MacDonald, who already lost to Robbie earlier this year. Following him are guys like Tyron Woodley, Matt Brown, Lombard, and Carlos Condit. Statistically Johny has a good chance of beating any of these guys, and knocking two off would almost certainly line up a rubber match and final fight in one hell of a trilogy. Of course the UFC may decide to keep Hendricks away from the title if Woodley or Lombard surge big, but Hendricks does a great job of making himself undeniable as one of the best.

DOMINICK CRUZ

Dominick Cruz is hands down one of the most successful mixed martial artists in the game today. Recently returned, Cruz is on a mission to reclaim his bantamweight title that injuries forced him to vacate years ago. Cruz has dominated some of the most prominent fighters in and around his weight class, including guys like Urijah Faber, current Flyweight champ Demetrius Johnson, Joseph Benavidez, Mizugaki, Brian Bowles, Ian McCall..the list goes on and on.

A wide array of UFC fans claim TJ Dillashaw won the bantamweight title from Renan Barao using a Cruz-like style that he had absorbed since spending ample time helping Faber prepare for their battles. Nobody can do what Dominick does, whether you like him or not, and that leads one to wonder. If the style was so effective against Barao, then what would happen if Dominick used the style himself. Of course this path trails to the thought that if Dillashaw is somewhat mimicking Cruz, wouldn’t the original be better?

However you dice it, a healed Cruz is going to be a monster in 2015.

FRANKIE EDGAR

I am sure I will get a lot of flack for this pick. First let me say that Cub Swanson got shut down in his fight against Edgar, one where a Cub win meant he would be next in line to face Jose Aldo. I doubt the UFC will give the immediate title shot to Edgar, but he no doubt is making himself hard to ignore on the scene.  I do not believe that anyone in the division can topple Frankie at this point. I also feel very few fighters have what it takes to stop Jose Aldo in a fight at featherweight, period.

Edgar may not see his chance til close to the end of 2015, but potential challengers like Conor McGregor and Lamas just don’t seem poised to be the one to topple Aldo. McGregor is likely to blast his way into a shot at the belt, but winning it is a whole other story. Edgar has arguably done better than anyone else against the current champion, and I believe their fight was pretty damn close. Of course this is all speculation, but if anyone is going to force his way into yet another title fight, it would certainly be the kid from Jersey.

KHABIB NURMAGOMEDOV

This guy is like the UFC monster that no fan ever seems to talk about. Undefeated with 22 victories, Khabib is one of the brightest prospects on the UFC roster. He holds seven KO wins, 8 via submission, and seven more on the judges cards. Nurmagomedov is an extremely well rounded fighter, and insane to deal with on fight night. He is a relentless grappler and finisher, with solid submission skills and power from odd angles. He is also as of Saturday night, the new #1 contender to Anthony Pettis’ belt.

The reason Khabib makes the list is, aside from an exceptional MMA record, he has a unique grappling style that is very strong and obviously hard to deal with. Pettis has had the most difficulty with grapplers, and Khabib is certainly more dynamic than, say for example, Clay Guida. Even Gilbert Melendez had some level of success against Pettis before being stopped at UFC 181. Granted, it’s an enormous task because Anthony is one of the most elite and dynamic fighters of all time, but Nurmagomedov appears to possibly have the tools to shut that down and grind his way to UFC gold.

ALEXANDER GUSTAFSSON

Do you believe that Alex Gustafsson will beat Anthony “Rumble” Johnson? How about Jon Jones’ chances of besting Daniel Cormier at UFC 182 next month?

My mind tells me that Gus and Jones are set for an unavoidable collision course to settle what many fans still discuss; their last title fight. Some fans saw Jones lose for the first time ever in their first encounter, and nobody has been hungrier to set the record straight than Gustafsson. He has looked fantastic since that fight, and big things will be said when he squares off with “Rumble” Johnson. An impressive victory there will all but create an all-out frenzy for this rematch, one long awaited by fans.

And I’m sure there is nobody happier to set it up than Dana White.

Once I move to thinking about the rematch itself, my mind sort of paints two scenarios. The first being that Gus gets blown out of the water early, and the latter Gustafsson winning a decision some people will question. Jones is arguably our generations greatest UFC fighter, and Gustafsson finishing off Jon Jones feels like a long shot. I can see a fight where Gus wins, but the feeling people have for Jones somehow overshadowing the results and numbers to create an argument that Jones won.

Or hell, perhaps Jones just ends up being where “the Mauler” was last time. Maybe I’m just really wanting a trilogy out of Jones Vs Gustafsson.

So who do you think can snag a title in 2015?

 

Photo Credit: Zuffa, LLC

By: R Eric Ellison
Photo Credit: Zuffa, LLC