This article is part of our UFC Picks series.
Due to the holiday break, fight fans have been without UFC action since Dec. 17 and still have to wait until Jan. 14 at the UFC Apex to get their fix. That doesn't mean they can't get any action, however, as the DraftKings Sportsbook has released 2023 futures by weight class. In this column, I'll make my picks for a few plus-money fighters that could be holding the belt on Dec. 31, 2023. For these bets to cash, fighters must be the champion in their division (not interim) on that exact date.
Weight Class - Women's Flyweight
Valentina Shevchenko has dominated this division since winning the belt in 2018 and proceeding to make seven consecutive title defenses. She looked surprisingly vulnerable in her last one, however, which took place June 11 against Taila Santos. In that matchup, she only won the significant striking battle 77 to 55, which is the tightest margin of any fight in her recent title run. She was also taken down three times (the most in her career), though she did register three takedowns of her own. Since then, she has yet to step in the Octagon, which is uncharacteristic considering she's been on a two-fight-per-year pace for basically the entirety of her career.
Not only did Shevchenko look a bit vulnerable in her recent split decision, but she's long been rumored to be moving up to bantamweight for a fourth matchup against Amanda Nunes. If that happens, she might be stripped given her time away from flyweight, though the UFC could also go the interim route (in which case be careful -- that bet won't pay out). Regardless, there are multiple factors working against the 34-year-old here.
In steps Fiorot, who is off to a 5-0 start to her career that includes wins over former title challengers Jennifer Maia and Katlyn Chookagian. The 32-year-old France native is in the prime of her career and packs a mean punch, as shown by finishes via strikes in her first two UFC appearances. She's physically strong enough to have solid grappling and defends takedowns at an 83 percent clip -- overall a stellar all-around game. She's already been calling for a main event spot against Rose Namajunas (assuming Rose moves up a weight class) before an eventual title shot, so the roadmap is laid out. I believe she'd be the betting favorite in the Rose fight and only a narrow underdog if the Shevchenko fight materializes, so get her at big plus-money here.
Note: No odds are posted for Tatiana Suarez, but she appears to be gearing up for a comeback fight. If her return is at flyweight, I'd take a real close look at those odds as well, though her path may not be quite as clear.
UFC FUTURES BET: Manon Fiorot (+650)
Weight Class - Heavyweight
It's anybody's guess what Jon Jones (+275) is up to these days, but he was at one point assumed to move up to heavyweight to face Stipe Miocic (+1200). There hasn't been any word on that fight for quite a while, and it's certainly possible the 40-year-old Miocic is content to quietly ride off into the sunset. That leaves uncertainty for Bones, and while 35 years old is not terribly old for a heavyweight, you do have to wonder where his skills are at since looking very vulnerable against Dominick Reyes in his last light heavyweight title defense all the way back in February of 2020.
Then, there's Francis Ngannou (+110). He hasn't fought in nearly a year due to a knee injury and has yet to book a fight for 2023. Furthermore, he's been very vocal about his pay and exploring free agency, and it's unclear how far apart he and the UFC are with respect to a new contract. Might he try his hand at boxing while he can? The dream matchup is for him to face Jones, but there appears to be several obstacles to that happening in present day.
So, who's next up? Curtis Blaydes (+1400) and Cyril Gane (+300) likely need Ngannou out of the picture to get a shot. While Tom Aspinall (+2000) is worth a sprinkle after defeating Blaydes last July, he also has a knee injury to rehab. Effectively, I'm taking a long look at Sergei Pavlovich, a 30-year-old who is riding an impressive streak of five consecutive first-round knockouts -- more than enough to get a title shot in this division. He likely needs one more signature win, but there's more than enough time for that to happen in 2023 and then get an official shot towards the end of the year. The skills are all there -- the only (notable) thing he lacks is name recognition.
UFC FUTURES BET: Sergei Pavlovich +650
Weight Class - Light Heavyweight
Time for a long shot. The favorite in this division is rightfully Magomed Ankalaev (+150), but he didn't do himself any favors with a bit of a snoozer against Jan Blachowicz (+380) in their interim title fight. He could very well fact the winner of the UFC 283 title matchup between Glover Teixeira and Jamahal Hill, but if Teixeira takes the belt there, you have to imagine retirement is forthcoming, which would leave the division in limbo once again.
Almeida has yet to defeat anyone of note in the UFC and has technically been fighting at heavyweight, though his last weigh-in was just 216.5 pounds (per Tapology). A move down to 205 for the 31-year-old Brazilian seems plausible, if not inevitable. For a LHW title to materialize, however, he first needs to take care of Shamil Abdurakhimov quickly in a Jan. 21 heavyweight matchup before immediately moving down, then get at least one more big-name win.
The skills are certainly there, as Almeida hits like a truck and averages 7.18 takedowns per 15 minutes to complement his exceptional grappling game. With how convoluted this division is, it's likely the best one to take a long shot on and hope somebody gets hot enough to put themselves in a position for the opportunity.
UFC FUTURES BET: Jailton Almeida (+3500)
Weight Class - Middleweight
Chimaev is also (+450) to take the welterweight crown, but there are some true killers in that division, and the undefeated Chechnyan has already had troubles making 170, as shown by the UFC 279 fiasco in which he missed weight by 7.5 pounds and shook up the entire card. At welterweight, Chimaev has versatile wrestling/striking fighters in his way, such as Colby Covington and Kamaru Usman to get through, in addition to current champion Leon Edwards.
Moving up to 185 pounds will give him a better shot, in my opinion. Current champion Alex Pereira (+215) appears to be on a collision course for a rematch with long-time belt holder Israel Adesanya (+150). Both of those men come from a kickboxing background, and while each have made strides in defensive wrestling, Khamzat is a different animal entirely. Once he gets a hold of you, you are going to the mat and staying there. If you're lucky enough to survive the round while he pulls ahead in the striking total, the same thing is happening the very next frame. Even if someone like Izzy just runs away and tries to pepper Chimaev from the outside, something has to give eventually in a five-round fight.
I'll admit it's a bit odd to see worse odds for middleweight than the division Khamzat currently fights in, but I see two simultaneous belts in Chimaev's future, and the easier path for the time being is at middleweight.
UFC FUTURES BET: Khamzat Chimaev (+350)
UFC Futures Best Bets
Here is a recap of my favorite UFC fighters with the best chance to be holding a championship belt at the end of 2023.
- Manon Fiorot (+650)
- Sergei Pavlovich (+650)
- Jailton Almeida (+3500)
- Khamzat Chimaev (+350)
For up-to-date information on the latest odds and props from multiple sportsbooks, check out the UFC odds page on RotoWire.
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