1. Cain Velasquez (12-1)
Velasquez successfully defended the UFC heavyweight title for the first time on May 25 with an 81-second battering of Antonio Silva -- a full two minutes faster than their bloody first encounter one year earlier. The decisive win solidified the 30-year-old American Kickboxing Academy fighter’s reputation as MMA’s premier big man; more importantly, it set the stage for a rubber match with Junior dos Santos, which is set for UFC 166 in Houston.
2. Junior dos Santos (16-2)
In his first fight since relinquishing the UFC title to Cain Velasquez in December, “Cigano” used superior speed and a varied offensive attack to take out Mark Hunt at UFC 160. Dos Santos finished Hunt late in the third frame with a spinning hook kick -- a highlight-reel knockout that put the Brazilian on course for a third bout against Velasquez in October.
3. Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1)
Werdum proved he is deserving of serious title consideration at UFC on Fuel TV 10, as he became just the second man to ever submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, forcing “Minotauro” to tap to an armbar in the second round of the June 8 headliner. Barring injury, Werdum’s championship dreams will have to wait, as Cain Velasquez-Junior dos Santos 3 has already been booked for the fall.
4. Daniel Cormier (12-0)
It might not have been the most spectacular of beginnings, but Cormier dominated former heavyweight king Frank Mir from bell to bell in his Octagon debut at UFC on Fox 7. The American Kickboxing Academy product still plans on a move to 205 pounds, but the weight cut will be a gradual process, as Cormier will face Roy Nelson in a heavyweight clash at UFC 166 before changing divisions.
5. Antonio Silva (18-5)
Back-to-back finishes of Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne earned “Bigfoot” a rematch with Cain Velasquez, but that is where the magic ran out for the 6-foot-4 heavyweight. Silva once again succumbed to first-round punches from Velasquez at UFC 160, ending the Brazilian’s hopes of claiming UFC gold anytime in the near future.
6. Alistair Overeem (36-12, 1 NC)
After returning to the Octagon from a year-long suspension, Overeem’s arrogance led to his demise in the form of a third-round knockout loss to Antonio Silva at UFC 156. An injury forced the former Strikeforce champion out of a proposed meeting with Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, but the “Demolition Man” has a new target, as he will lock horns with Travis Browne at UFC Fight Night 26 on Aug. 17.
7. Frank Mir (16-7)
For years, mixed martial arts fans pined for a showdown between Mir and Josh Barnett, two of the best grapplers in the heavyweight division. At long last, the two submission specialists will square off at UFC 164 in Milwaukee on Aug. 31, as Mir attempts to avoid his third consecutive defeat within the Las Vegas-based promotion.
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-8-1, 1 NC)
Nogueira continued his recent trend of alternating wins and losses, as he followed an October triumph over Dave Herman with a submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum at UFC on Fuel TV 10. Do not expect the 37-year-old “Minotauro” to hang it up anytime soon, however. Although he may no longer be a title contender, Nogueira is arguably Brazil’s most beloved fighter and should continue to catch marquee fights in the UFC.
9. Josh Barnett (32-6)
For the first time since March 22, 2002, Barnett is a UFC employee. “The Warmaster” recently came to terms with the Las Vegas-based promotion on a multi-fight contract and will step into the Octagon against Frank Mir at UFC 164. The ex-heavyweight titlist has lost just once in 10 bouts since 2008 -- a decision defeat to Daniel Cormier in the Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix final.
10. Stipe Miocic (10-1)
Regarded as one of the heavyweight division’s more intriguing prospects in 2012, the hype surrounding Miocic seemed to die with a technical knockout loss to Stefan Struve in September. However, the Ohioan re-established himself as a person of interest in the division with a dominant triumph over Roy Nelson at UFC 161. An underdog heading into the bout, Miocic confounded “Big Country” with punching combinations and movement throughout, all while staying out of range of the portly Las Vegan’s renowned right hand for his fourth UFC win in five appearances.
Other contenders:Travis Browne, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mark Hunt, Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve.
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