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 know 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, who gets a chance to return to the win column in a matchup against social media foil Derrick Lewis at UFC 226.
3. Alexander Volkov (30-6)Volkov has a deceptive way of winning fights sometimes, but his methods are undeniably effective. After falling behind early against Fabricio Werdum at UFC Fight Night 127, “Drago” used his superior cardio and striking to prevail with a fourth-round knockout. The 29-year-old Russian has won four straight fights in the UFC -- the second-longest active winning streak in the heavyweight division -- and six straight overall, and he could be nearing a title shot following his signature triumph over Werdum.
4. Fabricio Werdum (23-8-1)Werdum was reportedly going to headline the Ultimate Fighting Championship’s debut in Russia against Alexey Oleynik on Sept. 15, but a potential anti-doping violation for a failed out-of-competition drug test appears to have nixed those plans. The 40-year-old Brazilian called it a “misunderstanding” in a social media post shortly thereafter, but “Vai Cavalo” will remain sidelined until the situation is resolved.
5. Curtis Blaydes (10-1)If there was any doubt before, there is none now: Blaydes is a serious threat to the heavyweight division. “Razor” Blaydes followed up a dominant decision win over Mark Hunt at UFC 221 with a bloody and brutal elbow-induced third-round finish of Alistair Overeem at UFC 225. The Chicago native’s wrestling base makes him a formidable foe for many heavyweights, but even more encouraging for his future is the killer instinct he showcased against “The Reem” after a relatively conservative start. Blaydes has won four in a row.
6. Alistair Overeem (43-17)Overeem never looked comfortable against Curtis Blaydes, as “The Reem” struggled to defend his adversary’s takedowns before suffering a violent defeat via elbows in their UFC 225 encounter. While Overeem remains one of the division’s most skilled strikers, back-to-back brutal knockout defeats at the hands of Blaydes and Francis Ngannou could signal the end of the Dutchman’s time as a top contender.
7. Junior dos Santos (18-5)After being pulled from a proposed clash with Francis Ngannou at UFC 215 due to a potential anti-doping violation, dos Santos has been cleared to compete after it was determined a Brazilian compounding pharmacy gave the ex-champ a tainted supplement. “Cigano” will return to action at UFC Fight Night 133 in Boise, Idaho, where he welcomes former World Series of Fighting champion Blagoy Ivanov to the Octagon in the main event on July 14.
8. 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. 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.
9. Mark Hunt (13-12-1)After a unanimous decision loss to Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221, Hunt’s days in the promotion could be numbered. He has admitted he plans to leave the UFC upon the completion of his current contract, which has two fights remaining on it. One of those bouts will reportedly occur at a UFC Fight Night event in Moscow, where “The Super Samoan” has been rumored to replace Fabricio Werdum against Alexey Oleynik in the Sept. 15 main event.
10. Derrick Lewis (19-5)Lewis has been operating at a high level for nearly three years now. The 33-year-old “Black Beast” has won seven of his past eight bouts, his only setback resulting in a fourth-round technical knockout loss to 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt. Lewis managed to rebound in February, when he wiped out Marcin Tybura with punches in the third round of their UFC Fight Night 126 encounter. However, his degree of difficulty will increase significantly with his next assignment: a UFC 226 clash with Francis Ngannou on July 7.
Other Contenders: Cheick Kongo, Matt Mitrione, Alexey Oleynik, Tai Tuivasa, Marcin Tybura.
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