Junior dos Santos' next dance partner will be Alistair Overeem in 2012. | Photo: Sherdog.com
1. Junior dos Santos (14-1)
Coming off of a UFC title win witnessed by tens of millions live in November, Junior dos Santos is primed for the internationally high-profile fight of his career in 2012, as he will take on Alistair Overeem in a bout that will uniquely tie up the heavyweight lineages of the UFC, Pride and Strikeforce. If you were feeling generous, you could even throw in the K-1 World Grand Prix.
2. Cain Velasquez (9-1)
Cain Velasquez is back in the gym and training to bounce back from losing the UFC heavyweight strap to Junior dos Santos in November. Now, the American Kickboxing Academy product is expected to return to action in April, where he might tangle with former Strikeforce standout Antonio Silva.
3. Alistair Overeem (36-11, 1 NC)
On Dec. 30, Alistair Overeem turned in the most intense UFC debut since Anderson Silva’s demolition of Chris Leben in 2006. By steamrolling former UFC champion Brock Lesnar into retirement in Las Vegas, “The Demolition Man” has locked up a shot at the heavyweight mantle against Junior dos Santos later this year.
4. Fabricio Werdum (14-5-1)
After over three years outside of the Octagon, Fabricio Werdum will return to the UFC at UFC 143 on Feb. 4. In opposition, the Brazilian finds himself up against the slightly-more-svelte Roy Nelson, who took apart Werdum’s former training partner Mirko Filipovic in October.
5. Shane Carwin (12-2)
Faced with the first two-fight skid of his career after suffering losses to Brock Lesnar and Junior dos Santos, Carwin was expected to compete at UFC 141 in December. However, the Grudge Training Center product was dealt yet another injury setback in October and will instead undergo back surgery with eyes on a mid-2012 return.
6. Frank Mir (16-5)
Mir can now lay claim as the first man to both knock out and submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. The impressive and brutal submission came in their Dec. 10 rematch, when Mir snapped the Brazilian great’s right humerus with a vicious first-round kimura to settle their rivalry once and for all.
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (33-7-1, 1 NC)
Long regarded as one of MMA’s finest heavyweight grapplers, Nogueira suffered his first submission loss in more than 40 bouts on Dec. 10 when he had his right arm snapped by a Frank Mir kimura. The 35-year-old underwent surgery on the broken limb at the end of 2011 and is expected to resume training in mid-2012.
8. Josh Barnett (31-5)
The final of Strikeforce’s world heavyweight grand prix is just awaiting final confirmation on Daniel Cormier's hand injury. Assuming Cormier's hand is cleared, he and “The Warmaster” in the will bring an end to the tournament March 3 in Columbus, Ohio.
9. Daniel Cormier (9-0)
Daniel Cormier’s breakout win over Antonio Silva came at a cost, as his broken hand continues to slow progress toward his Strikeforce grand prix final against Josh Barnett. Tentatively scheduled for March 3, Cormier’s hand needs to get back to form to ensure the fight comes off for that date in Columbus, Ohio.
10. Brendan Schaub (8-2)
Brendan Schaub seemed to be narrowing in on a title shot prior to his surprising upset defeat against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira in Rio de Janeiro this past August. “The Hybrid” will return to the cage at UFC 145 in Montreal on March 24, where he will take on another heavyweight looking to recover lost hype in Ben Rothwell.
Other contenders: Fedor Emelianenko, Cheick Kongo, Cole Konrad, Roy Nelson, Antonio Silva.
Previously fifth-ranked Brock Lesnar exits the rankings after announcing his retirement.
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