Cain Velasquez (above) is unquestionably the world’s top heavyweight. | Sherdog.com
1. Cain Velasquez (9-0)
The hope was that Velasquez would make the first defense of his UFC heavyweight title in April or May against Junior dos Santos. However, rehab did not mend his torn rotator cuff, and surgery became a necessity. Therefore, the first defense of the new champion will likely come this summer -- or later.
2. Brock Lesnar (5-2)
Recluse? What recluse? The infamously standoffish Lesnar is now in the middle of taping the 13th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” where he will coach against Junior dos Santos. The season will set up a high-stakes heavyweight clash between the two, likely on June 11 at UFC 131, which might mark the UFC’s return to Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
3. Fabricio Werdum (14-4-1)
With his elbow injury healing, Werdum looks ready to return to action. Coming off his June win against Fedor Emelianenko, “Vai Cavalo” will be cast right back into the fire, as he takes on Strikeforce heavyweight champion Alistair Overeem in the quarter-finals of the promotion’s heavyweight grand prix, slated for April 9 in Japan.
4. Fedor Emelianenko (31-2, 1 NC)
The world’s eyes are fixed on East Rutherford, N.J., waiting to see if “The Last Emperor” can respond to his shocking June loss to Fabricio Werdum. Emelianenko returns to action Feb. 12 in the first round of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix against mammoth Brazilian Antonio Silva.
5. Junior dos Santos (12-1)
Rather than wait for UFC heavyweight champion Cain Velasquez to heal from his rotator cuff injury, “Cigano” has opted to stay active. Dos Santos will coach opposite Brock Lesnar on the 13th season of “The Ultimate Fighter,” culminating in a clash between the two heavyweights, tentatively scheduled for UFC 131 on June 11.
6. Shane Carwin (12-1)
Carwin was scheduled to face “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 10 winner Roy Nelson at UFC 125 on Jan. 1. However, due to ongoing spinal problems, he opted for surgery. After a successful procedure, the Colorado native has returned to training and now eyes a purported bout with Cheick Kongo at UFC 131.
7. Frank Mir (14-5)
After a rumored fight with hot heavyweight prospect Brendan Schaub fell through, Mir has signed on to meet former International Fight League champion Roy Nelson at UFC 130 on May 28. The pair has a history, as Nelson previously defeated Mir in a grappling match at a North American Grappling Association event.
8. Alistair Overeem (34-11, 1 NC)
MMA fans have wanted to see the 2010 K-1 World Grand Prix winner back inside the cage against high-level, meaningful heavyweight opponents. They will finally get their wish on April 9. Strikeforce has plans for Overeem to meet Fabricio Werdum in their hotly-anticipated quarter-final matchup in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix in Japan.
9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (32-6-1, 1 NC)
“Minotauro” continues to mend from the hip surgery that took him out of a rematch with Frank Mir in September. Nogueira now targets August’s UFC show in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, as his desired comeback date. It would be a fitting return for one of Brazil’s greatest MMA idols.
10. Antonio Silva (15-2)
Silva has the chance to shock the world, put a wrench in the works, tip over the apple cart and many other metaphors. On Feb. 12, “Bigfoot” takes on longtime heavyweight ruler Fedor Emelianenko in the opening round of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix, in what is easily the biggest fight of his career.
Other contenders: Josh Barnett, Cole Konrad, Roy Nelson, Ben Rothwell, Brendan Schaub.
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