Cain Velasquez will finally meet Junior dos Santos in November. | Photo: Daniel Herbertson/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. The American Kickboxing Academy product now appears to be on track for a Nov. 19 title tilt with “Cigano” in San Jose, Calif.
2. Junior dos Santos (13-1)
Dos Santos took a chance, and that chance paid off. Instead of sitting on the shelf while UFC heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez recuperated from shoulder surgery, No. 1 contender “Cigano” took a June 11 bout with Shane Carwin, a replacement for original opponent Brock Lesnar. The Brazilian boxed his way to a unanimous decision win, taking Carwin the distance for the first time in his career and keeping his trajectory for an expected Nov. 19 showdown with Velasquez.
3. Alistair Overeem (35-11, 1 NC)
While it lacked the fireworks most expected, Overeem’s June 18 decision win over Fabricio Werdum nonetheless moved the “Demolition Man” along in Strikeforce’s 2011 heavyweight grand prix. After notching his most relevant win in years, Overeem will look to add another major scalp to his collection when he meets Antonio Silva in the tournament semifinals this fall.
4. Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1)
On June 18, 51 weeks after submitting Fedor Emelianenko in a shocking upset, Werdum found himself in an entirely different type of fight. Despite showing flashes of strong standup, the Brazilian spent much of his Strikeforce 2011 heayvweight grand prix quarterfinal attempting to pull guard and lure Alistair Overeem into his realm. The Dutchman stayed upright for almost the entire bout and did enough to walk away with a unanimous decision, evening the pair’s series at 1-1.
5. Brock Lesnar (5-2)
Lesnar’s old nemesis came back in May to take him down again. No, it wasn’t Frank Mir, but diverticulitis, the intestinal disease which first sidelined the hulking heavyweight in 2009. After being forced from his No. 1 contender’s bout with Junior dos Santos, Lesnar underwent surgery to remove 12 inches of his colon, but the ex-UFC champ is reportedly making a speedy recovery and is expected to return in early 2012.
6. Shane Carwin (12-2)
Carwin didn’t tire as he did in his title fight with Brock Lesnar, but the massive Coloradoan had little answer for Junior dos Santos’ strong striking in a three-round decision loss on June 11. After beginning his career with 12 consecutive stoppage wins, Carwin has now lost two in a row and will need to rebound in his next trip to the Octagon to stay among the company’s top big men.
7. Frank Mir (15-5)
The former UFC champ dominated Roy Nelson from bell to bell May 28 to take a unanimous decision. Going the distance for the first time since 2006, Mir looked strong throughout, though he was unable to put away an exhausted “Big Country” after taking the fight into deep water.
8. Antonio Silva (16-2)
When he burst on the scene in 2005, many hypothesized that Silva was the man to topple Fedor Emelianenko. The stakes changed, but on Feb. 12 in New Jersey, that is exactly what happened. “Pezao” pounded the legendary Russian, forcing a doctor stoppage after the second frame and punching his ticket to the semifinals of Strikeforce’s heavyweight grand prix, where he will face Alistair Overeem later this year.
9. Fedor Emelianenko (31-3, 1 NC)
Following the first back-to-back losses of his storied career, “The Last Emperor” seems a man on the brink. A win over thunder-fisted Strikeforce 205-pound champion Dan Henderson in their July 30 heavyweight bout could restore some luster to Emelianenko’s tarnished reputation. Given the Russian’s retirement talk in the wake of his February defeat at the hands of Antonio Silva, a loss could be disastrous.
10. Josh Barnett (30-5)
Competing for the first time in 11 months, the newly re-nicknamed “War Master” Barnett simply outclassed Brett Rogers in their June 18 Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix quarterfinal. The catch-wrestling stylist had Rogers on his back early and never relented, methodically working his ground game before tapping “The Grim” with a second-round arm-triangle choke. Awaiting Barnett in the tournament semifinals later this year will be Russian slugger Sergei Kharitonov.
Other contenders: Sergei Kharitonov, Cole Konrad, Roy Nelson, Mike Russow, Brendan Schaub.
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