The UFC has closed the book on 2023 which means it is time to look ahead to the next chapter of mixed martial arts.
With no UFC event until Jan. 13, the world's premier MMA organization is now in its makeshift offseason. That allows for some time — not a lot — to look ahead at the promotion's future and predict who will hold the belt in exactly 12 months.
Before we look at 2024 futures lines, we have to reflect on how 2023 turned out. For me, personally, my 2023 futures could not have been worse. In my defense, anybody who claims to have predicted Sean Strickland to be the middleweight champion and Alex Pereira as the light heavyweight king is lying.
In total, I went just 1-14 in 2023 predictions leading to a -1.92 unit result. Alexandre Pantoja was the only bet to cash, though four others competed for the belt, one went down with an injury, and several others were left at the doorstep of contention. Chalk that up to one of the strangest calendar years in recent MMA history.
Putting this year behind us and entering the new year with a clean slate, there is a lot to like in 2024. Let's get into it.
Below are my favorite single bets for each division based on odds value. View my full MMA betting picks and record including all 2023 and 2024 futures bets here.
All odds and lines according to DraftKings Sportsbook. Odds are subject to change. If you're looking to bet on UFC action, DraftKings Sportsbook has a terrific promo offer! New users that sign up with the link below will receive $150 in bonus bets if they simply place a $5 wager!
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Flyweight
Manel Kape +1200
Flyweight is arguably the toughest to predict a champion for with the talent margin so thin and the belt being passed around ever since the departure of Demetrious Johnson. Regardless, I took a shot on Kape in 2023 and will do so again in 2024.
Despite his success, Kape could not have been unluckier in 2023. The former RIZIN champion entered the promotion in 2021 as an immediate backup to a title fight before getting current champion Alexandre Pantoja in his debut. The UFC clearly believes in his potential and sees his star ability.
However, Kape has struggled to climb the rankings to no fault of his own, having three high-profile bouts canceled in 2023. Kape most recently had an opportunity to fight No. 3 ranked Kai Kara-France before the New Zealand native pulled out, forcing him to take a stay-busy fight against a short-notice debutant.
If Kape can make it to Fight Night at a more successful clip in 2024, the potential and skill are all there. The line is way too wide for a guy the UFC is trying to feed into a title fight.
Other bets: Brandon Moreno +250, Amir Albazi +400
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Bantamweight
Marlon Vera +1000
There are many other names that I like as the future bantamweight champion but the next title challenger being listed at 10-1 underdog odds cannot be ignored.
This division has gotten predictably abnormal since Sean O'Malley gained control of the belt as Vera has now found himself in a title fight despite getting dominated by a guy ranked above him just two fights ago. Even so, timing and storylines have favored Vera and the No. 6 ranked bantamweight is now headlining UFC 299 against a guy he has a win over.
O'Malley has continued to discredit the lone loss in his career to Vera as a leg injury caused the end of the fight. To his credit, the champion has rebounded in a big way since the defeat and now enters the rematch with the belt.
Though the loss was not the 'fluke' that O'Malley claims it was, the American was winning round one up until the injury that resulted in a first-round TKO win for Vera. Either way, Vera matches up with the champion very well, setting the scene for a fascinating rematch.
Vera is one of the best defensive fighters in the UFC as well as one of the most powerful. The Ecuadorian does not throw much in volume but when he does, it typically lands and more often than not makes an impact. The longer the fight goes the more it favors Vera and his one glaring weakness in wrestling is not O'Malley's strong suit.
If Vera beats O'Malley in March, look for him to hold onto the belt. I don't expect him to be the most dominant champion, but I also don't expect a title defense from Vera if he does claim the belt until 2025.
Other bets: Merab Dvalishvili +250, Umar Nurmagomedov +275, Cory Sandhagen +500
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Featherweight
Ilia Topuria +240
Coming off of a brutal knockout loss, there are few guys worse to face for Alexander Volkanovski than Topuria.
There is no such thing as a flawless mixed martial artist, but Topuria is about as well-rounded as it gets. The Georgian has displayed his explosive knockout power recently in the UFC but it has really been his elite grappling that has been his calling card for the majority of his career.
Topuria has always held power, and relied on it heavily in the earlier part of his career, but has begun to hone in on the technical aspect of boxing and muay thai to sharpen his skillset. A lot was made of Topuria getting knocked down by Jai Herbert in 2022 but without the height and length advantage, Volkanovski does not pose the same striking threat.
If Topuria can get past Volkanovski, few contenders will be able to beat him. A Max Holloway matchup would be interesting, but with his combination of boxing, power and superior grappling, Topuria has an advantage over every fighter in the division one way or another.
Other bets: Movsar Evloev +1800
2024 UFC Futures bet — Lightweight
Arman Tsarukyan +400
Though it does not appear likely that anyone will take the belt off of Islam Makhachev any time soon, Tsarukyan may be the fighter with the best chance.
Not only does Tsarukyan have the ability to match Makhachev's wrestling but the two have already competed in the past and the Armenian pushed the champion to his limits on short-notice. As UFC fans know, having a built-in storyline with the champion is an invaluable asset to have as an aspiring contender.
Justin Gaethje should be next in line for Makhachev, but after that, Tsarukyan is the next man up. Without an official lightweight title fight booked, however, it does seem unlikely that the belt will get defended twice in 2024.
In a head-to-head matchup with Makhachev, I still favor the champion, but not at the wide odds that the future lines predict. If Tsarykyan can dethrone the champion, nobody is touching him for the next couple of years. With that, we are essentially getting Tsarukyan at +400 to beat Makhachev which provides amazing value.
Other bets: Justin Gaethje +500, Jalin Turner +10000
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Welterweight
Shavkat Rakhmonov +250
For as much as I want to go with Belal Muhammad here, the value on Rakhmonov is way too generous to get past.
Although the UFC will do anything they can to avoid putting Muhammad in the title picture, it seems very likely that the 35-year-old will be the next challenger for Leon Edwards. However, Rakhmonov is not far behind. Though Muhammad likely is the next opponent for the champion, I also believe Rakhmonov's next fight will be for the belt.
Edwards is a heavy favorite to defend against Muhammad but is valued at just a pick 'em against Rakhmonov. Muhammad has a much better chance of winning the belt than the odds suggest but regardless of who is the champion once the Kazakh is in the picture, he will be the favorite.
Most believe Rakhmonov is already the best welterweight in the world and the UFC is fully behind him as well, pushing him to No. 3 in the rankings after submitting Stephen Thompson. Welterweight is not the most actively defended championship in the UFC and will likely only see two title fights in 2024 with Rakhmonov likely fighting for the belt towards the end of the year.
I got Rakhmonov at +450 in November but would still gladly take +250.
Other bets: Belal Muhammad +300
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Middleweight
Sean Strickland +400
As hard as it would be for fans to imagine Strickland holding the belt for multiple title defenses, the path for his unlikely title reign is not out of reach.
Without a doubt, Strickland will have to go through two tough title defenses at a minimum. There is no guarantee that he successfully defends the belt against Dricus du Plessis and even if he does, Khamzat Chimaev looms ahead.
Strickland's main weapons — his cardio and high output — appear to be the recipe to defeat both du Plessis and Chimaev to this point. And though he has not fought an elite wrestler to this point, the champion does boast an 84% takedown defense in his career. If Strickland can survive the first round against both challengers, his odds of notching title defenses increase tremendously.
It would seem unlikely for Strickland to be the guy to end Chimaev's hype or du Plessis' magical run in the UFC. Nevertheless, nobody thought he would have the belt to enter 2024 to begin with, so who's to say he can't get it done again?
Chimaev will be the popular bet in this spot but at +100 the value is not enough for a guy who is unreliable in even making it into the octagon. After three years of being touted as the 'next big thing,' Chimaev has yet to even be booked for a title fight.
Other bets: Dricus du Plessis +500, Robert Whittaker +2000
2024 UFC Futures bet — Light Heavyweight
Magomed Ankalaev +450
Talent and rankings have never been an issue for Ankalaev in terms of becoming the champion. Many have long believed that Ankalaev is the best light heavyweight in the world and has only been held back by the UFC.
Ankalaev's last title fight ended in a draw that left a bad taste in Dana White's mouth, but if he can steal the hype off of Johnny Walker in February there is nothing left for him to do in the division. Champion Alex Pereira has been mentioning his name since winning the belt and has already said he prefers Ankalaev as his next opponent, strengthening his case.
There is no doubt that Ankalaev is not the exciting fighter that the past three light heavyweight champions have been. However, the Russian may be the most well-rounded of the group and has not lost since a hail mary submission in his UFC debut.
In 12 UFC fights, Ankalaev has lost four total rounds. It may not always be pretty or exciting, but other than the vacant title fight with Jan Blachowicz and the crazy submission from Paul Craig, he has never even seemed to be in trouble. If Ankalaev can avoid the chaotic striking of Walker he should be the first guy to truly exploit Pereira's lack of wrestling defense.
Other Bets: Aleksandar Rakic +1200
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Heavyweight
Tom Aspinall +175
Aspinall is the favorite to be the heavyweight champion at the end of 2024 and I'm sticking with him as long as the number is at plus money.
There has never been a heavyweight in UFC history with Aspinall's speed and agility both with his boxing and grappling ability. There is a world in which Jon Jones holds the title for another year largely based on inactivity but skill for skill, people are beginning to realize that Aspinall is truly the best heavyweight in the world.
The uncertainty of Jones' future plans is the only factor keeping the line on Aspinall at +175. After knocking Sergei Pavlovich unconscious on short notice, there is nobody in the division I would not confidently pick Aspinall to beat. Without even having the undisputed belt, many are already looking at the 30-year-old as the favorite to beat Stipe Miocic's record for most championship wins at at heavyweight.
Though Jones has talked Aspinall up to some degree, most still believe the two-division champion plans to retire after a legacy fight with Miocic. Should that happen, Aspinall will either be promoted to undisputed champion or fight for the vacant belt as a heavy favorite.
Other Bets: Jon Jones +450, Curtis Blaydes +5500
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Women's Strawweight
Tatiana Suarez +140
If and when Suarez finally gets her title shot she will likely win it. Injuries and bad timing have been the only factors slowing down her career thus far but she appears to be finally on the cusp of a title fight in 2024.
Though Yan Xioanan seemed like the next challenger after knocking out Jessica Andrade, the UFC has yet to commit to the Chinese prodigy causing some to wonder if she will get looked over. Unlike Yan, the promotion is clearly behind Suarez as a star and generational talent.
I do believe Yan will be champion Zhang Weili's next opponent but regardless of who wins Suarez should be in the picture in the following fight. A matchup with Weili would be tougher for Suarez, but as one of the few women in the division who can match the champion's physical attributes, I would still favor her to win the belt against anyone.
At 33 years old, Suarez's window is closing and her time has to be now. My only major concern is another major injury, which is always a worry with Suarez, but 2024 appears to finally be her year.
Other Bets: Yan Xiaonan +700
2024 UFC Futures Bet — Women's Bantamweight
Mayra Bueno Silva +500
Silva is not the flashiest pick but she should be the favorite to be the UFC women's bantamweight champion.
After Silva, Raquel Pennington and Julianna Peña, there is virtually no other viable contender in the division. Holly Holm and Miesha Tate are both always an arm's length away, but with both coming off of rough streaks a title shot in 2024 seems unlikely.
Silva is the favorite to defeat Pennington at UFC 297 and following that fight would be a defense against Peña. While Peña is the only star of the division, Silva has looked sensational since moving up to bantamweight while essentially walking through the entire division en route to a championship opportunity.
Until this division gets revived by a potential Valentina Shevchenko return or Tate climbing her way back up, predicting the champion is a tough ask. Though having the upcoming favorite to win the belt at +500 in an inactive division is an obvious pick.
Other Bets: Miesha Tate +5000
Game odds refresh periodically and are subject to change.