From its beginnings as a glorified infomercial for Gracie Jiu Jitsu to today’s standing as arguably the world’s leading organization for Mixed Martial Arts, the UFC has seen plenty of change, struggles, and ultimately success. Oh, and some pretty damn good fights as well. And not just with John McCain and various groups trying to keep the sport underground. Enough has been written over the past 6 weeks looking at the past of the UFC. It’s time now to take a look forward to the near future, and see what is possibly in store through the end of 2009. Lightweight Division Current Champion: BJ Penn (13-5-1) After winning, and then relinquishing the welterweight belt in 2004, BJ Penn returned to the UFC in 2006 to try to regain the welterweight title. But after a loss to St. Pierre for the No. 1 contender slot, and then a subsequent loss to Matt Hughes, Penn took a coaching gig on “The Ultimate Fighter” and a fight against former LW Champion Jens Pulver. He won that fight easily, and then also defeated Joe “Daddy” Stevenson for the LW Championship. Later he defended his belt with a TKO of Sean Sherk, and failed in his attempt to hold both the LW and WW titles. Currently, BJ is training to face Number One Contender Kenny Florian at UFC 101. After Florian, though, there is a slight talent drop off in the 155 lb. division, with several fighters looking to make the step up to challenge for the belt. Currently, an undefeated Gray Maynard, Frankie Edgar, and Diego Sanchez all look to be viable contenders for the belt, though none are clearly above any of the others. That could change with Sanchez facing either the loser of the Florian/Penn fight or the winner of the Maynard/Huerta fight coming up in the next few weeks. Sherk could get himself back into contention if he goes back to his wrestling and gives up on the idea that he’s a boxer, but he’s behind a few people and needs to win a couple fights in a row. Prediction: BJ Penn easily defeats Florian, Sanchez fights for (and wins) the opportunity to challenge for the title, and Penn/Sanchez headlines the first big card of 2010. Welterweight Division Current Champion: Georges St. Pierre (19-2) St. Pierre has effectively cleared out the 170 lb. division of the UFC, and did so in dominating fashion. His only hiccup was a TKO loss to Matt Serra, which he avenged in winning back the title decisively at UFC 83. Since his loss to Serra, GSP has defeated Josh Koschek, Matt Hughes, Matt Serra, Jon Fitch, BJ Penn, and Thiago Alves and in those six fights, didn’t lose a round. A very valid argument could be made for placing him at the top of the P4P rankings. Currently, his future has yet to be decided. He suffered an injury in his win against Alves which will require some time to heal. In the meantime, it has been announced that the winner of the Mike Swick/Martin Kampmann will be St. Pierre’s next opponent. The only other contender at 170 worth mentioning is Jon Fitch, coming off of a victory over Paulo Thiago at UFC 100. Matt Hughes has mentioned wanting another title shot, but after his loss to Alves and his uninspired defeat of a smaller opponent in Matt Serra, is at least 2-3 wins from contention. Is a shot at Anderson Silva in GSP’s future? Nobody knows for sure. Prediction: Further dominance from GSP after he recovers from his groin injury until someone new steps up at 170. A speculated fight with Silva doesn’t happen until late in 2010, if at all. Middleweight Division Current Champion: Anderson Silva (24-4) Since his technically beautiful dismantling of Chris Leben at UFN 5 back in 2006, Silva has torn through the UFC’s Middleweight division, and even took a few seconds to go up to 205 and knock out James Irvin for good measure. He knocked out Rich Franklin twice, Nate Marquardt, choked out Dan Henderson, won a TKO over Patrick Cote due to Cote’s knee injury, and watched Thales Leites flop around for 5 rounds doing anything he could to avoid the wrath of “The Spider”. But just when the 185 pound division looked to be cleared out, things started getting interesting again. Yushin Okami is healthy again and fighting at UFC 103. Dan Henderson knocked Michael Bisping into next week. Nate Marquardt and Demian Maia are set to do battle at UFC 102. And an aged Wanderlei Silva is dropping down to 185 hoping to make some noise as well. All while Silva is looking forward to a matchup with Forrest Griffin at 205 lbs at UFC 101. Prediction: Silva beats Griffin. Marquardt beats Maia. Silva beats Marquardt again early in 2010. Henderson beats Okami and gets another shot at Silva mid 2010. Light Heavyweight Division Current Champion: Lyoto Machida (15-0) Initially an elusive counter striker content to out point his opponents, Machida has brutally knocked out his past two opponents, Thiago Silva and Rashad Evans on his way to winning the LHW Championship. Many have speculated that Machida has the tools to hold the belt a long time, but in a division that has seen just one successful title defense in nearly two years, that is a reaching speculation. Machida’s fist defense is against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, who back in his Pride days was an absolute wrecking machine, but has looked merely mortal since coming to the UFC. Rampage Jackson and Rashad Evans are set to do battle at the end of 2009 in a match that should determine the next challenger at 205 lbs. Forrest Griffin is still in the title mix, and should also be in contention if he can solve the puzzle that is Anderson Silva. Former champion Chuck Liddell looks to be a shadow of his former self and has decided to take a year off from fighting. Rich Franklin would like to make a run at the title, and speculation has him fighting Tito Ortiz at UFC 103, which is a good test to see where he stands in the mix at 205. And don’t forget TUF alumni Ryan Bader and Krzysztof Soszynski, both of which have looked great following their stints on the UFC branded reality show. Bader especially has looked like he has the tools to contend in a stacked Light Heavyweight Division. Prediction: Machida beats Rua. Rampage beats Evans. Machida beats Rampage. Silva beats Griffin. After that, LHW is up in the air. Heavyweight Division Current Champion: Brock Lesnar (4-1) After Randy Couture abruptly “retired” with the HW title, Frank Mir and Antonio Nogueira fought for the interim title, which Mir won with a TKO stoppage of Nogueira in the second round. Then Randy unretired, fought and lost to Brock Lesnar, who then went on to destroy Frank Mir to unify the Heavyweight title. Many people have dismissed Lesnar as having no talent and just winning on brute strength and size. However, Lesnar is a decorated wrestler and has a tremendous top control game that he used to render Mir’s Brazilian Jiu Jitsu useless. The question still on everyone’s mind is whether or not Lesnar can take a punch. He appeared to have been slightly rocked in his fights against Couture and Mir, and neither is known for their striking prowess. With Lesnar’s ground control and takedown ability, it may be a while until it’s known whether or not he can take a big shot from a heavyweight striker. The UFC’s Heavyweight division has been notoriously thin the past few years, but there is some up and coming talent looking for a shot at the belt in Cain Velasquez and Shane Carwin, who’ll meet at UFC 104, with the winner rumored to be Lesnar’s first title defense since unifying the title. Other rumors also have Fedor coming to the UFC to fight Lesnar, but Fedor in the UFC seems to be as likely as a documented visit from aliens. If it happens, it will be the biggest fight in the UFC ever. Prediction: Carwin beats Velasquez, and gets a shot at Lesnar. Fedor to the UFC rumors continue to waste bandwidth on internet messageboards and never comes to fruition.