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 they meet again on Dec. 29.
3. Alistair Overeem (36-11, 1 NC)
The Dutch “Demolition Man” remains suspended through December after failing a random drug test in Nevada with elevated testosterone levels. However, the news is not all bad for Overeem: the 32-year-old striker will return to the Octagon on Feb. 2, when he meets Antonio Silva at UFC 156.
4. Fabricio Werdum (16-5-1)
In his first fight on home soil in eight years, 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 a little more than two minutes. Werdum now finds himself on the cusp of serious UFC title contention. His next assignment will come in a rematch with Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira after the two men coach opposite one another on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” Season 2.
5. Daniel Cormier (10-0)
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 on Nov. 3, Cormier waited several weeks for a replacement opponent. Instead, one was never found and further injuries to the event eventually forced its cancellation. Before moving to the UFC, Cormier will fulfill his obligations to Strikeforce on Jan. 12 in a matchup with surging Dutchman Dion Staring.
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, their Nov. 3 clash fell apart due to an undisclosed Mir injury, leaving the Las Vegas fighter 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 de Janeiro at UFC 153, easily besting an overmatched Dave Herman on the feet before tapping him with an armbar in the second round. Nogueira may be in the twilight of his career, but as Brazil’s most beloved MMA fighter, the ultra-popular former Pride Fighting Championships titleholder will keep catching marquee fights in the UFC. He will next face Fabricio Werdum in a rematch in June following their stint as opposing coaches on Season 2 of “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil.”
8. Antonio Silva (17-4)
Reeling after two crushing defeats to Daniel Cormier and Cain Velasquez, Silva’s back was against the wall as he entered his Oct. 5 bout with the unbeaten Travis Browne as an underdog. However, “Bigfoot” came through in a big way, popping Browne with punches in the first round and getting his first UFC win. Silva will confront a far more formidable challenge in his next outing, as he squares off with Alistair Overeem at UFC 156 on Feb. 2.
9. Josh Barnett (31-6)
After over a decade away, former UFC heavyweight champion Josh Barnett is more or less set for a UFC return. The last step for “The Warmaster” is to ride out the rest of his Strikeforce deal, which will be fulfilled after his perfunctory Jan. 12 date against Austria’s Nandor Guelmino.
10. Mike Russow (15-2, 1 NC)
Russow received the A-list opponent for which he was looking at UFC 147, but the Chicago policeman looked out of his depth in Belo Horizonte, Brazil. It took less than half a round for former Brazilian jiu-jitsu world champion Fabricio Werdum to drop Russow standing and punctuate the bout on the canvas for a quick-and-dirty first-round knockout win. He will look to rebound on Jan. 6, when he answers the bell against Shawn Jordan in Chicago.
Other contenders:Travis Browne, Cheick Kongo, Mark Hunt, Ben Rothwell, Stefan Struve.
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