Who Will be the UFC Featherweight World Champion at the End of 2021?

UFC Featherweight Fighters - Zabit Magomedsharipov, Calvin Kattar and Alexander Volkanovski

Everybody is usually focused on the Lightweights and the Bantamweight Division is now one of the deepest in the organization. People forget about the Featherweights!

This may be the most wide open division in the UFC for 2021. The champion, Alexander Volkanovski is really really good but he is undersized and doesn’t possess the dominant style you see from 155 and 170 title holders, Khabib and Kamaru.

The little bugger is 22-1, though. A lot of people thought Max Holloway won the last fight but a lot of people ignore how the fight is scored. I personally feel that the later rounds should count for more than the earlier rounds but my feelings mean diddly squat to those who score the fights and design the criteria.

You can barely win the first 3 rounds and your opponent clearly wins the final two but if the judges score it 3-2 for you-like Max always says-It is what it is.

I just feel like there are contenders are 145 who can beat Volkanovski and match up better against him than Max did. Who are these guys?

Calvin Kattar is one:

He, of course, has a gigantic matchup with Max Holloway in just a couple of weeks on January 16 at the UFC’s first fight back from the holiday break. This one will be fought inside the large Octagon because they will be back in Abu Dhabi at Fight Island.

We have actually already made a prediction for this fight. You can find that here.

Brian Ortega is another name that immediately pops into my head for a potential future champion and possibly a guy who could hang onto the belt for a while. Brian, of course, had that horrific loss to Max Holloway but he has shown us that he has grown tremendously from that fight.

T-City’s striking also leveled up as shown by his recent performance against The Korean Zombie Chan Sung Jung.

Also, we have Zabit in the mix! You can’t forget about the Wushu boarding school trained Russian who has a 2-round gas tank. The guy has to fix that for sure if he wants to contend for the title but skill for skill, he appears to be the most talented mixed martial artist in the UFC’s Featherweight Division.

There are also a couple of knockout artists with some long odds that may have a chance to steal the belt late in the year. Let’s get to those guys, a few others, and make our prediction for the holder of the UFC’s Featherweight World Title when the proverbial ball drops on 2021.

The online sportsbook BetOnline has provided us with these betting odds. Please make your wager directly from this article and thank us in a year when it cashes. Let’s hope so, at least.

Sodiq Yussuff: +2000

Another 20-1 guy with some value? I think so. He isn’t Islam Makhachev at (+2000) to hold the Lightweight World Title but Super Sodiq is a force. He has dynamite in his hands, the speed to back it up, as well as a takedown and ground and pound game he put on display in his last fight against Andre Fili.

He is just 11-1 right now and it appears that the promotion is taking their time with him. He has defeated Gabriel Benitez and Andre Fili who are both very solid fighters but not top ten.

I believe if Super Sodiq has a super year then he will finish 2021 inside the top 5.

They have him 10th right now which is kinda surprising considering he doesn’t have any big wins but at the same time, they understand the height of his ceiling.

If he had a fight scheduled early this year and could make a move to 7th in the first quarter, I might be inclined to take out a flyer on Yussuff but nothing as of yet, and he hasn’t been that active overall in his career with the UFC.

Josh Emmett: +1600

Another banger! I like to see Josh Emmett getting the respect he has earned. His Fight of the Year nominated win over Shane Burgos in 2020 did not receive enough clout, in my opinion.

I think Shane Burgos is an absolute terror and a bad matchup for a guy like Josh Emmett who doesn’t mind waiting on the perfect opportunity to strike. He did, in fact, find those opportunities against Burgos and now the Bay Area raised brawler is 16-2.

He only has 4 fights since 2017, though, and he is going to have to make much faster turnarounds if he wants a title shot in 2021. Sure, Josh Emmett could backdoor it and get himself to the front of the line but even then, he is just 5’6” and against near 6-footers like Max Holloway, Calvin Kattar, and Zabit who is 6’1”, he is likely going to have a lot of problems.

He would be a fun pick if he were more active but he doesn’t even have a fight scheduled yet for this year.

Jeremy Stephens: +1400

Who the foo…

Sorry, Jeremy. I had to. Some jokes have staying power and in regards to today’s conversation of which UFC Featherweights have a good chance to be the world champ at the end of the year, it’s not a bad time to tell this joke again.

He really isn’t in the running for the belt anymore. Jeremy had his shot but he was never quite championship material. He proved that he could more or less beat anyone on any given day but he himself has some losses, 18 of them in fact.

Jeremy has dropped 4 straight fights and lost 9 of his previous 14.

The company definitely loves the guy and they realize he has been fighting mostly the best guys in the world. Lil Heathen is a lot of fun but that’s where it stops today.

Chan Sung Jung: +1000

Was The Korean Zombie exposed in his last fight with Brian Ortega? Or was it just Brian’s day?

I don’t know. The Zombie wasn’t necessarily exposed. This was more of just an illustration of how good he is. I think he is a top ten fighter but that’s where it stops. I believe Kattar, Arnold Allen, Sodiq Yussuff, Dan Ige, and Shane Burgos would all beat him and he is ranked higher than all of them.

People really liked The Zombie. That’s why so many people kept betting him up when he fought Ortega. That was fine with me and we took the over in that fight as well which, of course, hit.

The company will likely give him a step down in competition in his next fight and thus farther away from title contention. I say this because they need a star in as many different countries as they can get and right now, he is easily the biggest mixed martial arts fighter coming out of the ROK.

Also, he is coming off of a loss and doesn’t have a fight scheduled yet for ‘21.

Yair Rodriguez: +900

Yair might be done in the UFC. USADA has busted him for evading testing or more specifically not providing his whereabouts for a certain time period. They don’t play and you have to let them know anytime you go somewhere.

He is at least out of the title picture for 2021 due to this so moving on…

Zabit Magomedsharipov: +700

Now, you’re starting to realize what I meant about the depth of this division. Zabit is a legit title challenger and there are more than a couple fighters ahead of him on the betting board.

The 29 year old Russian is 18-1 with 14 consecutive victories including a record of 6-0 inside the Octagon with 3 finishes. Standing tall at 6’1 with narrow shoulders and long arms creating a moderate 73” reach.

I say moderate because The Korean Zombie has the same reach but stands at 5’7” tall. Jon Jones is just 3 inches taller than Zabit but has nearly a foot more of wingspan.

Zabit is my twin, body-wise and even in the face. He undoubtedly is a dead ringer for Abraham Lincoln all the way down the mustacheless beard or Khabeard as the hardcores say. I have gone as Abe Lincoln more than once on Halloween and even owned Fremont Street in Las Vegas one year.

That’s about where our comparisons end, though, other than him fading in the third round. I am definitely guilty of that. If he can show us that he can go for at least 3 rounds so he could potentially win a decision in a title or main event fight, then I definitely believe in Zabit Magomedhsaripov for world champion in 2021.

He just doesn’t fight very much; only twice a year since joining the ranks of the UFC. Zabit doesn’t have a fight scheduled for 2021 yet either which pulls me away from making a play here on him.

He has the abilities and would arguably be favored against any of the fighters ranked above him. I think Kattar beats Holloway and challenges Volkanovski next. Zabit will maybe take one fight during that time.

Against who, though? I think it needs to be Brian Ortega who is surprisingly ranked 2nd behind Max. Even with Brian’s improved striking, I don’t know if it will be enough to get the better of the Russian.

So, I would say both Brian and Zabit are one fight away from the belt. I edge the Russian, though, if that fight is between the two.

Then, a rematch with Kattar goes down and Zabit won’t have the option to negotiate for a 3 round fight in his contract. Most people who watched the matchup with Kattar and Zabit feel that Calvin would have won the fight had it been scheduled for 5.

Maybe Abe was honest with himself and started to take his cardio and conditioning more seriously. I do think Zabit has a good chance of being champ and a much better one than his betting odds suggest.

So, I think that warrants a small play here on Zabit.

Calvin Kattar: +600

I have already mentioned Calvin’s name several times today and I do feel good about him versus Max Holloway. Getting him where his betting odds peaked at (+185) would have been a dream but the (+155) we tipped him at is still awesome.

I think he is down to (+140) right now and that appears to be where he is going to stay. I think he should be (-150) myself. Max is a specialist who doesn’t really have any plan B or at least he has never shown it to us.

Holloway is pretty freakin’ awesome at throwing straight punches, using his range, keeping his hips back to avoid takedowns, and winning decisions. He is awesome at that.

Guess what?

Calvin Kattar is a better boxer who is coming off of one of the most brutal standing elbow KO’s you will ever see. The New Englander has also evolved his striking game to where he throws a lot of kicks.

That was the difference against Zabit when the two men fought and Cal has since brought up that area of his MMA game. He is just as tall as Max and has 3 inches of reach.

I think Holloway, who has even lost two in a row, is still getting too much respect from the sportsbooks. So, Calvin beats Max and I assume he likely fights Volkanovski next where I give him the edge in that fight too.

I think Kattar will be champion before the end of the year. Whether or not he is still the champ when the curtain closes on 2021 is another question. I think he would have to beat Brian Ortega or Zabit as well.

All three of these men match up well and since we are getting 7 to 1 and 6 to 1 for both Zabit and Cal, I say put a sprinkle of cash on each fighter.

Brian Ortega: +400

T-City! As long as Brian gets his wrestling game caught up, the sky is truly the limit for this kid. He has been in there and taken a beating before, shown a ton of heart, went back to the drawing board and into the lab.

Now, he is truly 2.0 with a solid striking base. I just saw him on Kevin Ross’s Instagram the other day. Kevin is one of the best Muay Thai fighters to come out of the United States of all time.

They were working in a garage, though, as California continues to tighten their grip on its citizens. A true martial artist learns “The Way” and then uses this method of doing everything with excellence in their everyday lives.

This is when martial arts really starts to help a person evolve into the person they aspire to be. Unfortunately, in fighting, there isn’t much room for humility or even being honest with yourself. If you are coming up through the ranks and don’t feel that you can beat everyone in the world at your weight class, then you are in the wrong profession.

Fighting isn’t good for the ego. Martial arts alone is great for it but when you add in the competitive aspect, the learning curve lengthens.

Brian Ortega was able to buck this trend, though, and that is what was so darn impressive from his win over The Korean Zombie. The guy who was once lost on his feet, trained with a bunch of pro Muay Thai guys and what do ya know?!

Maybe more will take note but then again, maybe not because their ego will be in for a shot to the heart.

Can Ortega be the champ at the end of the year? I don’t favor him over Kattar or Zabit. I think Ortega can beat Volkanovski to get the belt but he will likely have to defend it before year’s end and that’s where I think the other two hold an advantage over him.

Max Holloway: +275

I won’t be too long here with Max. We have talked about him a lot already. He is the former champ and still very young but he has yet to evolve his skill set.

This goes back to the martial artist vs fighter thing. A martial artist will likely try out more new moves in training than the fighter would in training and in a fight. They want to do only what they can do at a high level and many times they never reach said level with any new techniques because the constant competition forces them to stick to what works.

I think Max Holloway did this for too long. A part of it is him living in Hawaii year-round and having a family. He isn’t putting months of training in down in Phuket or even South Florida. Volk was training at Tiger with a bunch of Russians and Thais while Max is top dog in his tiny little gym on a tiny little island.

But it’s not just that. Those are the circumstances but Max Holloway has never shown us that he has evolved his skill set and Alex took advantage of those holes.

I think Max has a decent year but I don’t favor him against other tall and long Featherweight fighters, Zabit and Calvin Kattar.

Alexander Volkanovski: +150

Again, the (+150) at the top of the betting board just isn’t worth it here. I love Alex but he is a very short guy who came out ahead on the scorecards against Max Holloway not once but twice.

Max is a master of winning decisions so that is no easy feat. Another difficult task is going to be holding onto this belt for the entirety of 2021. I think it will change hands a couple of times and Volk is going to lose his grip.

We could be wrong but I like Kattar and Zabit over Alexander as well and Ortega could pose some problems for the Russian Kiwi as well. The former 300 pounder rugby athlete, Volkanovski, is a truck and hits like a monster but that frame size is going to come back to bite him against one of these towering featherweights.

The Bets
Zabit Magomedsharipov
+700
Calvin Kattar
+600

In Conclusion

These are my guys and they each have excellent value because of the depth of the top 5 of this division.

Zabit is a few cardio/strength and conditioning sessions away from winning the first 3 rounds on the judges’ scorecards instead of the first two and that should be enough to get him the belt.

That is provided the Russian will get a world title shot but it should be in the cards as only Max Holloway, a man who just lost twice to the current champ, is ranked ahead of him. As far as the current champion goes, I am not that high on Volkanovski and apparently, neither is he.

Okay, bad joke but he is something like 5’6” soaking wet.

Max illustrated several flaws Volkanoski has in their rematch and I expect cleaner strikers who use their entire body to hit will have already taken note and when they get their chance, will take it out on the little guy’s head.

I have to stop demeaning the short guy. Those are the ones who catch me over the top with overhands.

I guess Brian Ortega doesn’t have terrible value at 4 to 1 but I favor these two men over him and they have better payouts.

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Mike Pruitt / Author

Mike has been covering sports professionally since 2017 but on the amateur scene for 25 years since when he was 12. Before the internet changed the world, he would keep detailed statistical box scores of NFL and NBA contests, write recaps, and voluntarily commentate games and fights alone in his room. Mike's military experience, Bachelors Degree, and employment thereafter were always rooted in engineering, science, and teaching. Now he enjoys being able to express himself through writing about football, golf, and car racing among other sports but most of all fighting as his life has been rooted in mixed martial arts including competing and teaching for the past 15 years.