1. Stipe Miocic (16-2)The UFC’s reigning and defending heavyweight champion has been outspoken recently about his desire for a newer, fatter contract, feeling as though he let himself down by being a “company man” and signing his previous deal without negotiating. However, Miocic will next get the chance to avenge his only loss in the last four years, as he faces former champion Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas.
2. Fabricio Werdum (21-6-1)Werdum wants a chance to reclaim the UFC heavyweight title, whether it comes against Stipe Miocic, the man who took it from him in front of 45,000 Brazilians, or Junior dos Santos, the man who knocked him silly and right out of the UFC back in October 2008. However, if Werdum is to get another crack at the gold, he will need a new opponent first, as Ben Rothwell, his slated foe for the Miocic-dos Santos 2 undercard at UFC 211, was flagged for a potential doping violation in early March.
3. Cain Velasquez (14-2)UFC 207 was supposed to afford Velasquez the chance to avenge his UFC title loss to Fabricio Werdum. Instead, Velasquez’s admission that he was prepping for surgery after the bout and was using cannabidiol for pain relief led the Nevada Athletic Commission to pull the oft-injured American Kickboxing Academy ace from the bout.
4. Alistair Overeem (42-15, 1 NC)In a critical fight upon returning from his close-but-failed title bid against Stipe Miocic in September, Overeem turned in a brutal knockout at UFC 209 on March 4. Overeem overcame illness and some nasty elbows from Mark Hunt to eventually knock out “The Super Samoan” in the third round with a pair of brutal knees.
5. Junior dos Santos (18-4)There was not much inspiring about dos Santos getting lined up to rematch Stefan Struve on Feb. 19 in the main event of the second UFC Fight Night card in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Struve’s injury left dos Santos without an opponent and eventually led to his being pulled from the card. However, it was a stroke of luck for “Cigano,” who will now rematch Stipe Miocic at UFC 211 on May 13. Dos Santos, the last man to defeat the current champion, won a five-round unanimous decision over Miocic in December 2014.
6. Ben Rothwell (36-10)Rothwell was scheduled to get a major bout in his next outing, as the Wisconsinite was penciled in to face former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas. However, in early March, the UFC announced that Rothwell had been flagged for a banned substance in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency test administered on Feb. 6, putting his immediate future in doubt.
7. Josh Barnett (35-8)Despite an incredibly distinguished career and being one of MMA’s all-time greatest heavyweights, Barnett’s repeated drug test failures have haunted him. Now, it looks like that notorious reputation is going to get more sordid: The United States Anti-Doping Agency has flagged Barnett for an undisclosed banned substance related to a Dec. 9 drug test. If Barnett’s test failure is confirmed, it will be the former UFC champ’s fourth blown test since 2001.
8. Francis Ngannou (10-1)Hot off of his 92-second destruction of Andrei Arlovski in Denver, Ngannou was briefly linked to a potential May bout with Stefan Struve -- before the Dutch “Skyscraper” came out and said reports of the fight were mistaken. Now, with Alistair Overeem knocking out Mark Hunt, there is a growing desire to see “The Predator” step up in competition and meet the former K-1 World Grand Prix winner.
9. Vitaly Minakov (19-0)Minakov has been active recently, but he is as enigmatic as ever. After it seemed like a UFC deal was imminent for the unbeaten 32-year-old Russian, Minakov announced to the Russian media that he had restarted negotiations with Bellator MMA and revealed a return to the company was possible. Meanwhile, he took a tune-up fight with journeyman D.J. Linderman on Feb. 23 for his home-base promotion Eurasia Fight Nights and nearly got knocked out in the first round before recovering to stop Linderman in the third frame.
10. Derrick Lewis (18-4, 1 NC)With his second-round clobbering of Travis Browne on Feb. 19, Lewis has amassed a 9-2 UFC record and six straight wins, with five of those coming by knockout. Lewis is bound to catch a major assignment next time he hits the Octagon. In the meantime, “The Black Beast” will likely busy himself by posting more photoshopped images of himself and Ronda Rousey on social media.
Other Contenders: Andrei Arlovski, Travis Browne, Mark Hunt, Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione
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