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. He will look to hold that spot against up-and-comer Stipe Miocic at UFC 173 in May.
3. Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1)Since returning to the UFC in February 2012, Werdum has been impressive in dispatching Roy Nelson, Mike Russow and Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira. That string of victories had “Vai Cavalo” in line for a title shot, but with Cain Velasquez on the mend, the grappling ace has chosen not to wait on the champion. Werdum will face Travis Browne in the UFC on Fox 11 headliner on April 19.
4. 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.
5. Travis Browne (16-1-1)Browne capped off a remarkable 2013 with a brutal stoppage of Josh Barnett in the first round at 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, Browne’s next step toward title contention will be a date with Fabricio Werdum at UFC on Fox 11.
6. 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 series of vicious Browne elbows ended Barnett’s night just 60 seconds into their encounter.
7. Alistair Overeem (37-13, 1 NC)With his back against the wall, “The Reem” put a beating of epic proportions on former heavyweight titlist Frank Mir at UFC 169. Displaying much-improved cardio, the hulking Dutchman battered Mir for 15 minutes at the Prudential Center in New Jersey to halt a two-fight skid in the Octagon.
8. 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. The 37-year-old “Minotauro” is not hanging up his four-ounce gloves just yet, however, as a bout with cult hero Roy Nelson has been targeted for the UFC’s return to the United Arab Emirates on April 11.
9. Stipe Miocic (11-1)Miocic has rebounded nicely from a second-round knockout loss at the hands of Stefan Struve in September 2012, posting back-to-back unanimous verdicts over Roy Nelson and Gabriel Gonzaga in his last two outings. The 31-year-old Ohioan probably needs at least one more victory over a top-10 foe to merit serious title consideration; that win could come at UFC 173, where Miocic will face ex-champion Junior dos Santos.
10. Mark Hunt (9-8-1)Hunt’s improbable drive toward title contention was cut short by Junior dos Santos at UFC 160, but the “Super Samoan” rebounded to give one of 2013’s most memorable performances in his next outing. The 39-year-old Pride Fighting Championships veteran went toe-to-toe with Antonio Silva for 25 enthralling minutes at UFC Fight Night 33, with the end result being one of the most satisfying draws in recent memory. The hard-hitting Kiwi has set his sights on Alistair Overeem next, though nothing has been officially scheduled.
Other Contenders: Gabriel Gonzaga, Cheick Kongo, Vitaly Minakov, Roy Nelson, Brendan Schaub.
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