1. Stipe Miocic (18-2)Miocic made history at UFC 220 in Boston, where he became the first heavyweight champion to defend his title three consecutive times by positively crushing acclaimed challenger Francis Ngannou over 25 minutes. In his next assignment, the Ohio native will look to further establish himself as one of the sport’s great heavyweights when he puts his belt on the line against 205-pound king Daniel Cormier in a champion-versus-champion blockbuster at UFC 226 on July 7.
2. Francis Ngannou (11-2)Ngannou might still be the Next Big Thing at heavyweight, but UFC 220 let us now that what is next is not necessarily what is now. Despite opening as a -160 favorite in the challenger’s role for his bout with champion Stipe Miocic, “The Predator” was pounded on the ground for 25 minutes and perhaps learned a valuable lesson or two. The loss snapped a 10-fight winning streak for Ngannou.
3. Alistair Overeem (43-16)Headed into UFC 218 in Detroit, Overeem was 6-1 in his last seven bouts, was coming off of wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum and found himself in position to land another crack at UFC champion Stipe Miocic. With just one uppercut, Francis Ngannou splattered Overeem and sent the former K-1 World Grand Prix winner back to the drawing board.
4. Fabricio Werdum (23-7-1)When autumn began, Werdum was 1-2 in his last three fights, had just turned 40 years old and lost his trilogy with rival Alistair Overeem. Suddenly, he drew an unexpected and easy 65-second payday against Walt Harris and then stepped in for Mark Hunt to face Marcin Tybura in the UFC Fight Night 121 main event, winning by unanimous decision. “Vai Cavalo” will look to improve to 4-1 in his last five bouts when he meets Alexander Volkov in the UFC Fight Night 127 headliner on March 17 in London.
5. Cain Velasquez (14-2)After being forced out of his UFC 207 rematch with Fabricio Werdum over his use of cannabidiol, Velasquez underwent successful back surgery in early January 2017. Following his operation, Velasquez took to social media in March to state that while he was excited to get back into the Octagon, he could not commit to a date for his return, saying he was “listening to [his] body.” A timeline for his comeback remains uncertain, though American Kickboxing Academy stablemate Daniel Cormier recently indicated that Velasquez was back at full strength and had resumed training.
6. Junior dos Santos (18-5)Dos Santos is 3-4 with three knockout losses in his last seven bouts, but owing to his splitting a pair of bouts with champion Stipe Miocic and the dire nature of the heavyweight talent pool, “Cigano” could have been back in another title fight if he had beaten red-hot Francis Ngannou at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta. However, dos Santos was pulled from the contest on Aug. 18 after being informed of a potential USADA violation that placed the former heavyweight champ in limbo. Dos Santos is now one of three top-10 Sherdog heavyweights currently embroiled in a USADA case.
7. Vitaly Minakov (21-0)Will Bellator MMA ever want its former heavyweight champion back? Will the UFC ever make a serious offer? Minakov on Dec. 16 punched out a quality opponent in Tony Johnson in the second round, moving to 21-0 as a pro. Obviously, Minakov’s exploits came under the banner of his native promotion, Fight Nights Global, igniting further questions as to whether or not the Russian heavyweight will sign another big-fight contract or stay with his home company.
8. Curtis Blaydes (9-1)Blaydes showcased both his chin and his wrestling ability in garnering a signature triumph over Mark Hunt at UFC 221 on Feb. 10. After being rocked and nearly finished in the opening stanza, “Razor” Blaydes proceeded to impose his will through takedowns and ground-and-pound over the final 10 minutes to take a unanimous verdict over “The Super Samoan.” With three straight wins under his belt, the up-and-coming Chicago native now eyes an appearance on home soil at UFC 225 in June.
9. Mark Hunt (13-12-1)Medically cleared by the UFC after admitting to signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy in a column for Players Voice last year, Hunt was set to make a triumphant homecoming in Perth, Australia, on Feb. 10. Unfortunately for “The Super Samoan,” Curtis Blaydes had other ideas. Hunt nearly scored one of his trademark knockouts in the first round of their UFC 221 encounter, but Blaydes survived and outwrestled his opponent down the stretch to earn a unanimous decision. Now 43, Hunt’s days in the promotion could be numbered, as he has admitted he plans to leave the UFC upon the completion of his current contract, which has two fights remaining on it.
10. 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. Nearly a year later, there is still no update on Rothwell’s case.
Other Contenders:Josh Barnett, Blagoy Ivanov, Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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