’Jonny Bones’ is eying Rashad Evans or Dan Henderson in 2012. | Photo: Sherdog.com
1. Jon Jones (15-1)
After the best single-year campaign in MMA history, Jon Jones is playing the waiting game. If former training partner and accused “special night”-ruiner Rashad Evans is victorious against Phil Davis on Jan. 28 and emerges healthy, Jones might meet the former champion in April. If Evans can’t go, it might be Dan Henderson. Either way, “Jonny Bones” is set for more major opposition in 2012.
2. Dan Henderson (29-8)
Dan Henderson’s fate, for now, will be determined by Rashad Evans on Jan. 28. If Evans tops Phil Davis and stays healthy, Henderson will be in search of an opponent for April or May. If not, “Hendo” might find himself lucking into a fight against UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones, his third bid for a UFC title.
3. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6)
The former UFC titleholder fought back valiantly, but Rua could not overcome the deficit created by ex-Strikeforce champ Dan Henderson through the first three stanzas of their Nov. 19 encounter. The Brazilian came up on the short end of a brutal, 25-minute decision against Henderson and has now lost two of three since taking the title from Lyoto Machida in May 2010.
4. Rashad Evans (16-1-1)
Evans didn’t miss a beat upon returning from a 14-month hiatus. After snuffing out Tito Ortiz in August, the ex-UFC champ will attempt to affirm his status as top contender in the 205-pound division on Jan. 28, when he takes part in a long-awaited matchup against fellow collegiate wrestling standout Phil Davis.
5. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9)
Jackson was halted for the first time since 2005 and submitted for only the second time in his career on Sept. 24 when he ran up against red-hot champion Jon Jones at UFC 135. Now, the Memphis native looks to get back on track in front of the Japanese audience he used to so love in Pride when he meets Ryan Bader at UFC 144.
6. Lyoto Machida (17-3)
Things were looking up for Machida in his Dec. 10 title confrontation with Jon Jones. The Brazilian karateka’s unorthodox style was proving an apt foil to the young champ until a second-round guillotine detached Machida from consciousness and dashed his hopes of once again holding the UFC light heavyweight title.
7. Phil Davis (9-0)
Finally healed from the knee injury which derailed his 2011 campaign, Davis will be right back in the thick of things upon his return. The former Penn State Nittany Lion will face the man he was supposed to fight in August, Rashad Evans, on Jan. 28 in what could prove to be a No. 1 contender’s bout.
8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5)
In December, Antonio Rogerio Nogueira assaulted Tito Ortiz to the body. However, his April assignment will be a much tougher one, as he heads to Stockholm to battle once-beaten Swedish prospect Alexander Gustafsson in the headliner of April 14's UFC on Fuel 2.
9. Alexander Gustafsson (13-1)
Alexander Gustafsson proved he was ready for A-level tests in December by blowing out respected veteran Vladimir Matyushenko. Now, “The Mauler” will get to move to the next echelon in his backyard, as the UFC touches down in Sweden on April 14 with Gustafsson headlining against Brazilian veteran Antonio Rogerio Nogueira.
10. Forrest Griffin (18-7)
After losing his UFC light heavyweight title in 2008 and being embarrassed by Anderson Silva in 2009, Griffin strung together back-to-back victories over Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. That streak came to an abrupt halt on Aug. 27, however, when the man Griffin shockingly submitted in 2007, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, took revenge in the form of a first-round knockout at UFC 134.
Other contenders: Rafael Cavalcante, Rich Franklin, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Vladimir Matyushenko, Gegard Mousasi
With the entry of Alexander Gustafsson, previously 10th-ranked Rafael Cavalcante falls to the contenders list.
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