If you’re looking for UFC odds or a betting futures market brimming with possibility while also remaining frustratingly opaque, it’s hard to do much better than the one for the various UFC titles. All you have to do is look at each division and predict who will be champion on Dec. 31, 2023. Simple, right?
In practice, it’s a lot harder than it sounds. There’s just so much that can happen in MMA over the course of one calendar year. Injuries. Upsets. Contract disputes. The tricky and at times entirely unfair politics of the fight business. Even for the best fighters, the terrain is littered with land mines.
Consider that of the nine championship futures that DraftKings Sportsbook currently offers UFC odds on (men’s featherweight and bantamweight, as well as women’s featherweight, are left off the board), only two had the same champions at the end of 2022 as they did at the start (three if you count Brandon Moreno, who ended 2021 as flyweight champ and ended 2022 as the interim titleholder).
At the same time, that’s partially what makes the challenge – and the odds in most divisions – so intriguing. Call it right at the start of the year and you could be looking at a hefty payout by the end. For a detailed view, let’s dive in one weight class at a time, starting at the very top.
UFC Heavyweight Championship (265 lbs.)
Current champ: Vacant
For a quick primer on why UFC odds are so tough to predict, just look at heavyweight. Francis Ngannou was the champ, then opted to wait out his contract so he could bolt from the UFC for what he believes will be better pay and more freedom elsewhere. Now there’s a fight booked between Jon Jones and Ciryl Gane for the vacant title in March, and depending on who wins that it could very easily end up being the only heavyweight title fight all year. At best, you could maybe expect one more heavyweight title bout toward the end of 2023, but this belt just doesn’t go up for grabs all that often.
Jones was the greatest fighter in 205-pound history, but he hasn’t fought in almost three years now and so far his heavyweight career has existed mostly in gym videos. His first heavyweight fight will be against Gane, the former interim champ, who’s big, rangy, and athletic, but who has a massive hole in his wrestling game. The former champ Miocic is a strong possibility to fight the winner, though he’ll be 41 in August and time is ticking on his career.
Rounding out the top of the list is Sergei Pavlovich (+650), who looked genuinely scary in his demolition of Tai Tuivasa, and Curtis Blaydes (+1400), who the UFC probably doesn’t want to give a title shot to unless it’s absolutely necessary, especially since he might actually win it and then hold it down with a series of ho-hum performances.
Dark horse: Tom Aspinall (+2000)
Aspinall is the first of many longshots in the UFC odds that we’ll consider. He’s still working on returning from a knee injury, and probably won’t get to a title shot this year. But if Ngannou bolts and the best of the rest wind up unavailable at a key moment for one reason or another? Hey, stranger things have happened. And he’s got legit skills when he’s healthy.
UFC Light Heavyweight Championship (205 lbs.)
Current champ: Vacant
Top picks: Magomed Ankalaev (+150), Jamahal Hill (+300), Jiri Prochazka (+330), Jan Blachowicz (+380)
Here’s another division at a crossroads. Prochazka was the last champ, but had to give up the belt due to a shoulder injury that could keep him out most of this year. Ankalaev and Blachowicz just fought for the vacant strap and ended in a split-draw. Hill is due to get the next crack at it later this month. For UFC futures odds purposes the big question is, how many times will this belt even go up for grabs this year? I’d be mildly surprised if the answer turns out to be more than twice.
Dark horse: Glover Teixeira (+800)
Yes, at 43 he’s getting a little old for this. And yes, he’s a slight underdog even in the vacant title fight against Hill, to say nothing of holding onto the belt for a full year after that. But Teixeira is a crafty dog with toughness to spare, so it’s not unthinkable that he could win the title back at home in Brazil this month and then sit on it until Prochazka is ready for the rematch.
UFC Middleweight Championship (185 lbs.)
Current champ: Alex Pereira (+215)
He’s a big, terrifying striker who’s still somewhat inexperienced in MMA, but it hasn’t seemed to matter. The question is his grappling. First someone needs to stay conscious long enough to really test it, though.
The former champ Adesanya has now lost to Pereira in two different combat sports, but I still wouldn’t rule him out in a rematch. Stylistically, Chimaev probably represents the biggest challenge to Pereira’s title reign. It’s just that he’s been telling himself he’s a welterweight (even when he misses weight by the equivalent of a house cat), so it’s not a safe bet he’ll get a title shot at 185 pounds this year. Whittaker is worth a real look at these odds, though. He’s a perennial contender who could realistically be given a title shot at any time. And while the size of Pereira could be a problem, “Bobby Knuckles” is just smart and well-rounded enough to potentially exploit the wrestling-shaped hole in the champ’s game.
Dark horse: Bo Nickal (+1200)
The UFC seems to favor a slow build for the national champion wrestler. But a couple injuries here or there, maybe some contract holdouts right around when the inflexible UFC calendar demands a title fight? It could happen. And despite his lack of experience, he could be kryptonite for someone like Pereira.
UFC Welterweight Championship (170 lbs.)
Current champ: Leon Edwards (+240)
He was on his way to losing a lopsided decision in his title shot until he landed that one perfect head kick that made him champ. It’s a little like winning the NBA championship on a half-court shot at the buzzer: it doesn’t necessarily make you the favorite to repeat next year.
If Usman’s totally healthy and adequately prepared, it’s hard not to like his chances to get the belt back. Trouble is, his hand has been a persistent problem, and that’s the kind of injury that can derail a whole career. If Chimaev could make the weight, I’d love his chances to get the belt and keep it. But his last attempt messed up an entire pay-per-view card, so UFC matchmakers might be reluctant to trust him in any big fights at 170 pounds right now. As for Covington? He probably only gets another title shot if the rest of the division gets lost at sea.
Dark horse: Shavkat Rakhmonov (+900)
He might be the best fighter who the fewest people know about. That’s why the biggest obstacle for him here would be simply getting the title shot, way more so than winning and keeping the belt until Dec. 31. But if he can gain a little clout, or if the UFC simply finds that it needs someone who will say yes to whatever time and place it names? This man has all the tools to be champ.
UFC Lightweight Championship (155 lbs)
Current champ: Islam Makhachev (-200)
There’s a reason he’s the only men’s champ to show up on the UFC odds board with minus odds next to his name. Makhachev has basically blown through everyone and made it look easy. It’s going to take someone special to separate him from the belt.
The featherweight champ Volkanovski is slated to get the first crack at Makhachev, moving up in weight for a champ-vs-champ superfight. Normally I hate to bet against Volk, but he’s got his hands full here just based on the size difference alone. The former champ Oliveira didn’t look terribly competitive against Makhachev last time, and Dariush probably won’t get anywhere near a title shot this year, even if he deserves to.
Dark horse: Rafael Fiziev (+4000)
A good, young fighter with an exciting style. He could be just one more high-profile, highlight-reel finish away from being next in line for the title shot. He could also just continue being really good while the UFC looks around for bigger names and keeps him waiting.
UFC Men’s Flyweight Championship (125 lbs.)
Here we have a champ and an interim champ, at least for another week. These two are set to fight for the fourth time at UFC 283 this month, but with as close as their fights have been there’s no guarantee it’ll end there.
The talent at flyweight is such that there’s not a lot separating the top fighter from the next two or three guys in the rankings. Pantoja has been on a tear, but only fought once last year. Nicolau hasn’t lost in almost five years, but it’s unclear if fans know or care. Kara-France just got beat by Moreno for the interim strap in July, so that’ll set him back. Right now the whole division is waiting for the dust to clear between the two dueling champs.
Dark horse: Muhammad Mokaev (+3500)
He’s young, undefeated, and extremely skilled. Seems very likely that he’ll fight for a UFC title at some point in his career. It just probably won’t be this year unless the older, more experienced guys are knocked out of the running for one reason or another.
UFC Women’s Bantamweight Championship (135 lbs.)
Current champ: Amanda Nunes (-250)
She’s been the dominant force in the division since 2016. She lost a shocking upset in 2021, then resumed the natural order with a thorough beatdown to regain the belt in 2022, and now seems as good as ever. The biggest threat to her title reign (and these very short UFC odds) at this point is probably boredom and the siren’s song of retirement.
Shevchenko already has two losses to Nunes and now seems far more comfortable dominating the division below her. Pena had that one win over the champ and then got dismantled in the rematch. Viera has been hanging around in the conversation, but her last couple wins have been entirely forgettable and no one is exactly demanding to see her fight for the belt.
Dark horse: Irene Aldana (+1000)
Her best chance to get a title shot this year is if the UFC simply runs out of ideas while Nunes insists on staying busy. Title reigns have been built on frailer ground than that in this sport.
UFC Women’s Flyweight Championship (125 lbs.)
Current champ: Valentina Shevchenko (-190)
She had an unexpected scare in her latest title defense, but she made it through with the belt still around her waist and is now complaining about the lack of fresh victims. That’s not someone who seems overly complacent or on the verge of walking away on top.
Without that accidental headbutt closing her eye in the title fight against Shevchenko last year, Santos might be champ right now. That and a dollar will get her a cup of coffee. Fiorot has ability, but is making her case ever so quietly. The 23-year-old Blanchfield is probably the best option at these odds, but it might be too soon for her at this point in her development.
Dark horse: Alexa Grasso (+1600)
She’s unbeaten since she moved to flyweight and the UFC seems to want to put her in good spots. That’s half the battle. Beating someone like Shevchenko is the harder half, though.
UFC Women’s Strawweight Championship (115 lbs.)
Current champ: Zhang Weili (-150)
With one notable exception, she’s a lot better than just about everyone in the division. Now the challenge is getting a couple title defenses under her belt to solidify her current reign at the top of the division and these UFC odds.
Namajunas has two wins over the current champ, which ought to be encouraging. Does the UFC really want to make that fight again, though? It already seems like the same few people have fought for this belt over and over, and there’s also always a chance that Namajunas will retire at any moment to devote herself to sustainable agriculture (seriously). Lemos is good but not yet great. Xiaonan is still building her way back up from two straight losses, but if she gets busy she could make some noise.
Dark horse: Marina Rodriguez (+2200)
Her knockout loss to Lemos in November was a bit of a surprise, and at 35 she doesn’t have time for setbacks. Still, it’s not entirely unthinkable that the right mix of circumstances could land her in a title fight by year’s end.
Best of luck navigating these UFC championship futures odds.