For the time being, we all know who will be challenging for UFC championship honors: Randy Couture will defend his heavyweight strap against Gabriel Gonzaga next month, light heavyweight champion Quinton “Rampage” Jackson is set to face Pride champ Dan Henderson in a unification bout at UFC 75, lightweight champ Sean Sherk will defend his belt against BJ Penn (most likely) at UFC 78, Matt Hughes hopes to regain the welterweight belt against Matt Serra at UFC 79, and Anderson Silva and Rich Franklin will fight once again for middleweight honors at UFC 77.
Beyond that, however, the top contenders are not as clearly established. Kodiak MMA has therefore put together a quick list of fighters who could - and should - be just one or two more wins away from a title match.
Karo "The Heat" Parisyan
The glamorous UFC welterweight division is loaded with young and veteran talent, and a case can be made that a number of 170-pounders deserve a title shot. None, however, are more deserving at the moment than Karo. Granted, Karo will have to wait in line for things to unfold within the division. The winner of the GSP/Josh Koscheck fight at UFC 74 will face the winning Matt (Serra vs. Hughes) for the title, and after that, it should be Karo’s turn.
Karo is 8-2 in the UFC with impressive UFC wins against Josh Burkman, Drew Fickett, Chris Lytle, Nick Thompson, Shonie Carter, Nick Diaz, and welterweight champ Matt Serra. His only UFC losses have come to former champion Georges St. Pierre, and to Diego Sanchez in what was arguably the best fight of 2006.
Karo has shown a propensity to slug it out with any and all challengers, and he continues to thrill MMA fans with his peerless Judo prowess.
Fitch carries a sparkling 6-0 resume and has earned stoppage wins over tough competition: Josh Burkman, Luigi Fioravanti, Thiago Alves, Roan Carniero, and WEC top welterweight contender Brock Larson.
For me, Fitch is in the same boat as Karo Parisyan, which is why I’d much prefer that Fitch fight Karo – not Diego Sanchez – at UFC 76 in September. Nonetheless, with a win over Sanchez at UFC 76, it’ll be hard for the UFC to keep the Indiana native out of the championship spotlight.
Joe “Daddy” Stevenson
If you haven’t figured it out by now, Joe “Daddy” is a favorite here at Kodiak MMA, even though he beat beloved Long Island product Luke “The Silent Assassin” Cummo.
Stevenson, the Ultimate Fighter Season One winner, sports a very solid 27-7 MMA record and has known defeat just once in the UFC octagon. With a win against Kurt Pellegrino next month, Joe Daddy should be next in line for a lightweight title shot against BJ Penn or Sean Sherk. Like Sherk, Stevenson is an exceptionally powerful grappler who smothers his opponents and eventually proves to be too much man.
Since dropping down to 155 lbs., Stevenson has looked more impressive than ever. He choked the shit out of Dokonjonosuke Mishima in the opening round at and then did the same to the very powerful, very annoying Melvin Guillard.
Florian battled – and battered – UFC lightweight champ Sean Sherk for the vacant 155-lb. belt, and showed a remarkably improved Muy Thai arsenal in defeat. He has since continued to fight well as a welterweight, submitting Dokonjonosuke Mishima in April and absolutely destroying Ring of Fire lightweight champion Alvin Robinson at UFC 73 with strikes in the very first round. Florian, a Boston College graduate, has demonstrated a knack for finishing fights and seems to be only getting better.
Mauricio “Shogun” Rua
If you’ve never seen Shogun fight, you’re missing out. Actually, if you've never seen a Shogun fight, stop reading this post right now and go find some online video of him somewhere.
The Chute Boxe product is widely regarded as the top 205-lb. fighter alive, and he brings a ferocious style of Muay Thai kickboxing that the UFC light heavyweight division has never seen. With Rua’s already expansive fan base and dominant wins over Ricardo Arona, Alistair Overeem (twice), Kevin Randleman, Antonio Rogiero Nogueira, and UFC LHW champ Quinton “Rampage” Jackson, don’t be surprised to see him in the championship mix within the next few months if he makes it past Forrest Griffin.
Then again, if UFC brass plans to pave an easy road for Chuck Liddell to get back to championship contention, our boy Shogun is definitely not someone against whom The Iceman would be pitted along the way.
Andrei “The Pitbull” Arlovski
I know, I know. He scored a questionable win over Marcio Cruz at UFC 66 and then bored the balls off of us against Fabricio Werdum at UFC 70. The fact remains that Arlovski is one of the division’s most explosive, athletically gifted fighters, and his only UFC losses have come to fighters who have at some point worn UFC heavyweight championship gold.
Plus, notable names like Cro Cop, Tim Sylvia, “Minotauro” Nogueira, and Brandon Vera are either coming off of losses or need to rack up a few more wins before fighting for the belt. In addition, the pressure is on Pitbull to perform, whose title shot against the Couture-Gonzaga winner was rescinded by UFC president Dana White after his (Arlovski’s) lackluster match with Werdum.
Arlovski has the tools to beat just about any heavyweight anywhere, and with one more win, his name should once again be atop the list of title contenders.
Kendall “Da Spyder” Grove
The Hawaiian-born middleweight and Team Punishment fighter has been impressive since winning the Ultimate Fighter Season Three reality show, earning submission wins over Chris Price (strikes) and Alan Belcher (choke).
The 6’6” Grove is a true mixed martial artist, combining dangerous submission skills with a dangerous arsenal of strikes. He might not be a household name, but Kendall Grove’s talent and popularity, as well as the relatively shallow talent pool at 185 lbs., make him a likely title contender in the near future.