1. Jon Jones (17-1)
After a relatively farcical win over Vitor Belfort at UFC 152 in Toronto, many were expecting Jones to get a do-over date with Dan Henderson or rematch Brazilian former champion Lyoto Machida. Instead, “Bones” will coach opposite Chael Sonnen on the 17th season of “The Ultimate Fighter” before defending his UFC light heavyweight title against the brash Oregonian on April 27.
2. Dan Henderson (29-8)
Henderson’s knee injury was the pivotal event in what quickly escalated into one of MMA’s biggest stories of 2012: the cancelation of UFC 151. Many hoped Henderson would finally get a crack at Jon Jones in 2013, but the former two-division Pride titleholder is now taking a backseat to occasional training partner Chael Sonnen and will instead tackle Lyoto Machida, likely at UFC 157 in February.
3. Rashad Evans (17-2-1)
Despite wishful talks of fighting Anderson Silva at 185 pounds, Evans will meet Antonio Rogerio Nogueira at UFC 156 on Super Bowl weekend. The former UFC light heavyweight champion has not seen action since his failed title bid against former training partner Jon Jones in April.
4. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (21-6)
It took the better part of four rounds, but “Shogun” punched out Brandon Vera late in their Aug. 4 headliner on Fox. Next up for the Brazilian is a showdown with Swedish up-and-comer Alexander Gustafsson, another bout bound for network TV and one which could decide the next 205-pound challenger at UFC on Fox 5 on Dec. 8.
5. Lyoto Machida (18-3)
Machida had a chance to challenge Jon Jones for the UFC crown for a second time in September, he but turned it down in hopes of securing a full training camp date down the line. Instead, Chael Sonnen got the call as Jones’ next foe, and the Belem, Brazil, native will be forced to go back to work in the 205-pound division. Next up: a date with Dan Henderson in February.
6. Phil Davis (10-1, 1 NC)
Two months after his false start against Wagner Prado in Los Angeles, “Mr. Wonderful” got back on the right track in Rio de Janeiro. Davis dominated Prado in their second encounter, putting on a wrestling clinic before he locked up a sensational anaconda choke for the tap in the second frame. The 28-year-old Pennsylvanian will next face former champion Forrest Griffin at UFC 155 on Dec. 29.
7. Alexander Gustafsson (14-1)
Sweden’s top export put himself on the verge of title contention with his April decision win against Thiago Silva, and his next matchup could put Gustafsson over the top. In the most significant fight of his young career, “The Mauler” will square off against onetime champion Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on Fox in December.
8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5)
Injury derailed Nogueira’s second UFC main event, which was to come against Swedish up-and-comer Alexander Gustafsson on April 14. Instead, “Minotoro” opted for surgery for an injured patella and watched from the sidelines as Gustafsson went out and cruised past Thiago Silva. The 36-year-old Brazilian will draw perhaps an even tougher assignment in February, when he meets Rashad Evans at UFC 156.
9. Ryan Bader (14-3)
Following the most important win of his career against Quinton Jackson, Bader bit off more than he could chew with another ex-champion in Lyoto Machida. Having been scorched by “The Dragon” in the second round of their August encounter, the former Arizona State University wrestler will likely have to take a step down on the 205-pound ladder.
10. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-10)
Jackson was slated to fulfill the final bout on his UFC contract against Glover Teixeira in Rio de Janeiro, but an injury took “Rampage” out of the Oct. 13 bout. After running through replacement Fabio Maldonado at UFC 153, Teixeira called for the UFC to rebook his fight with Jackson, and the promotion obliged. The two will lock horns at UFC on Fox 6 on Jan. 26 in Chicago.
Other contenders:Rafael Cavalcante, Forrest Griffin, Attila Vegh, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Glover Teixeira.
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