1. Junior dos Santos (15-1)
With his May knockout of Frank Mir, dos Santos became the first man since Brock Lesnar to successfully defend the UFC heavyweight title. The hard-hitting Brazilian will try to repeat the feat before the year is through, as he’s set to rematch the man from whom he took the belt, Cain Velasquez, on Dec. 29.
2. Cain Velasquez (10-1)
Velasquez made a statement with his first-round battering of Antonio Silva, a win which put the American Kickboxing Academy product right where he wanted to be: title contention. Now, he’ll have a chance to redeem himself against the man who knocked him out and took his UFC title, Junior dos Santos, when the pair meet again on Dec. 29.
3. Alistair Overeem (36-11, 1 NC)
The “Demolition Man” remains suspended through December after failing a random drug test in Nevada with elevated testosterone levels, but the news isn’t all bad for Overeem. UFC President Dana White recently stated that when the Dutchman does return to the Octagon, he’ll likely do so as a top contender.
4. Fabricio Werdum (16-5-1)
In his first fight on home soil in eight years, Fabricio Werdum was sensational at UFC 147 in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. “Vai Cavalo” stormed Mike Russow out of the gate, knocking him down and out in just over two minutes. Almost four years after exiting the UFC, Werdum is on the cusp of serious UFC title contention.
5. Daniel Cormier (10-0)
Daniel Cormier’s attempts to fulfill his Strikeforce contract have been trying to say the least. After injury forced Frank Mir out of their slated bout, Cormier waited several weeks for another Nov. 3 opponent. Instead, one was never found and further injuries to the card eventually forced its cancelation. Cormier, if lucky, will get to fight in January to complete his deal.
6. Frank Mir (16-6)
There was considerable excitement when it was announced that the former UFC heavyweight champion would meet unbeaten Daniel Cormier in Strikeforce. However, the Nov. 3 clash fell apart due to an undisclosed Mir injury, leaving both the Vegas fighter as well as Cormier in limbo for the time being.
7. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-7-1, 1 NC)
Though he was expected to triumph, “Minotauro” nonetheless thrilled the fans inside the HSBC Arena in Rio at UFC 153, easily besting an overmatched Dave Herman on the feet before tapping him in the second round. Nogueira is in the twilight of his career, but as Brazil’s most beloved MMA fighter, the ultra-popular former Pride champ will keep catching marquee fights in the UFC.
8. Antonio Silva (17-4)
Coming off of two crushing defeats to Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez and entering his Oct. 5 bout with unbeaten Travis Browne as an underdog, Antonio Silva’s back was against the wall. However, “Bigfoot” came through in a big way, popping Browne with punches in the first round and getting his first UFC win.
9. Josh Barnett (31-6)
May’s lopsided loss to Daniel Cormier put Josh Barnett on the mend, waiting to fulfill the last fight on his Strikeforce deal. However, in addition to his own healing process, Barnett now has to contend with the confused circumstances between Strikeforce and Showtime, as well as a dearth of options for heavyweight opponents.
10. Mike Russow (15-2, 1 NC)
Mike Russow got the A-list opponent he was looking for at UFC 147, however, the Chicago policeman looked out of his depth in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It took less than half of the first round for former BJJ world champion Fabricio Werdum to drop Russow standing and punctuate the bout on the canvas for a quick-and-dirty first-round knockout win.
Other contenders:Travis Browne, Cheick Kongo, Mark Hunt, Ben Rothwell, Stefan Struve.
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