1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)Velasquez removed any doubt as to who is the best heavyweight in the world by administering a brutal beating to Junior dos Santos at UFC 166. The final bout of the trilogy was never really in doubt, as the American Kickboxing Academy representative dominated in the clinch and rarely allowed his opponent any space to unleash his formidable boxing. While Velasquez was expected to next defend his title against Fabricio Werdum, that matchup will have to wait, as shoulder surgery could keep the champion on the shelf until late 2014.
2. Junior dos Santos (16-3)No one can question the heart of “Cigano,” but the former heavyweight titleholder is likely to remain exactly that as long as Cain Velasquez sits atop the division. The Brazilian was unable to deal with the constant pressure of the American Kickboxing Academy standout at UFC 166, eventually losing via technical knockout in the fifth round. Despite back-to-back lopsided defeats to Velasquez, dos Santos remains a clear No. 2 in the weight class.
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 their June 8 headliner. Unfortunately for Werdum, shoulder surgery could potentially sideline Velasquez for most of 2014. He has said he is willing to wait, but the Brazilian could receive another opponent in the interim.
4. Daniel Cormier (13-0)A significantly lighter Cormier kept his unblemished record intact at UFC 166, cruising to a clear-cut unanimous verdict over Roy Nelson in the co-main event. Cormier departs the UFC’s heavyweight division with a 2-0 record. His 205-pound debut will take place against former champion Rashad Evans at UFC 170 in February.
5. Antonio Silva (18-5, 1 NC)In one of the UFC’s most memorable heavyweight slugfests, the massive Brazilian traded blows with Mark Hunt for a full 25 minutes at UFC Fight Night 33. What appeared to be one of the most satisfying draws in history lost much of its luster when “Bigfoot” was flagged for elevated testosterone after the bout, resulting in a nine-month suspension for the former No. 1 contender.
6. Travis Browne (16-1-1)Browne capped off a remarkable 2013 with a brutal stoppage of Josh Barnett in the first round of UFC 168. As “The Warmaster” attempted a double-leg takedown, he was met with a series of savage elbows by the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian. With victories over Barnett, Gabriel Gonzaga and Alistair Overeem in his rearview mirror, a date with fellow title hopeful Fabricio Werdum could be next for “Hapa.”
7. Josh Barnett (33-7)Barnett entered UFC 168 as the odds-on favorite in his showdown against Travis Browne, and a win was expected to propel “The Warmaster” into the title discussion. The former UFC heavyweight champion’s significant edge in experience proved meaningless, however, as a serious of vicious Browne elbows ended Barnett’s night just 60 seconds into their encounter.
8. Frank Mir (16-8)Mir’s highly anticipated showdown with Josh Barnett was over before it could really get going. Barnett battered Mir in the clinch, landing punches, elbows and knees before one final, thudding knee strike swiftly dropped the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts representative. Barnett sealed the victory with follow-up punches, giving Mir three straight defeats for the first time in his career. It could very well be do or die for the jiu-jitsu ace in his next bout, as he clashes with Alistair Overeem on Feb. 1.
9. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-8-1, 1 NC)Nogueira continued his recent trend of alternating wins and losses, as he followed an October 2012 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.
10. Gabriel Gonzaga (16-7)Onetime title contender Gonzaga has surged back to relevance with three resounding wins in 2013. After an April loss to Travis Browne, “Napao” has finished two opponents in a combined 1:50, punching out Dave Herman at UFC 162 before demolishing Shawn Jordan at UFC 166. Gonzaga will attempt to continue his resurgence against Stipe Miocic at UFC on Fox 10.
Other Contenders: Mark Hunt, Stipe Miocic, Roy Nelson, Alistair Overeem, Stefan Struve.
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