1. Jon Jones (19-1)Heading into the UFC 165 main event, Jones viewed his showdown with Alexander Gustafsson as a chance to cement his place as the greatest light heavyweight champion in the promotion’s history. While “Bones” surpassed Tito Ortiz’s record for 205-pound title defenses, he learned that the 6-foot-5 Swede measured up to the challenge in more ways than just height. Twenty five hard-fought minutes against “The Mauler” arguably exposed more chinks in the New York native’s armor than his previous five title defenses combined, perhaps giving hope to an entire division. A rematch will have to wait, as a showdown with surging Brazilian Glover Teixeira has been targeted for UFC 172.
2. Alexander Gustafsson (15-2)Gustafsson had far more than height on his side at UFC 165, as he battled Jon Jones tooth-and-nail for 25 minutes in their light heavyweight title tilt. Although the Swedish “Mauler” emerged on the wrong side of a unanimous decision, he undoubtedly gained more than a few fans in the process. Before he can get another shot at 205-pound gold, Gustafsson will have to defeat the unbeaten Jimi Manuwa in London on March 8.
3. Rashad Evans (19-3-1)It had been more than two years between stoppage wins for Evans, but he fixed that with a first-round finish at UFC 167. The former champion blew the doors off of fellow Fox Sports analyst Chael Sonnen, smashing the loud-mouthed Oregonian with ground punches and keeping Evans’ name in the discussion as one of the division’s elite. Next, “Suga” will welcome unbeaten American Kickboxing Academy product Daniel Cormier to the light heavyweight division at UFC 170.
4. Phil Davis (12-1, 1 NC)Once regarded as one of the light heavyweight division’s most promising talents, Davis’ career path took a detour following a lopsided loss to Rashad Evans at UFC on Fox 2. “Mr. Wonderful” got back on track at UFC 163, taking a controversial unanimous decision against former 205-pound kingpin Lyoto Machida. While many were not pleased with the ruling, Davis figures to be in line to face another contender upon his return to the Octagon.
5. Glover Teixeira (22-2)Teixeira needed an impressive performance at UFC Fight Night 28 in order to solidify his place as the UFC’s No. 1 light heavyweight contender, and he delivered with a first-round technical knockout against powerful wrestler Ryan Bader. The Brazilian was momentarily stunned by a left hand from his opponent, but he eventually recovered to drop the Power MMA Team member with a two-punch combination before swarming with punches on the ground to earn the stoppage. A winner of 20 straight fights, Teixeira will vie for Jon Jones’ 205-pound strap at UFC 172.
6. Dan Henderson (29-11)In recent years, two things have come to define Henderson’s mixed martial arts career: his devastating howitzer of a right hand and a cast-iron chin. At UFC Fight Night 32, Hendo’s jaw failed him for the first time in 40 professional fights, as he was knocked out by Vitor Belfort in the first round of their headlining bout. Coming off three straight losses and with his UFC contract expired, the 43-year-old faces some uncertainty heading into 2014.
7. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (21-5)“Minotoro” began the year with an upset victory over Rashad Evans at UFC 156. However, the rest of his 2013 campaign has been defined by injury. First, a herniated disc forced the Brazilian out of a UFC 161 showdown with Mauricio Rua. Then, Nogueira pulled out of a proposed clash with Alexander Gustafsson in London shortly after it was announced, citing lingering back issues.
8. Ryan Bader (16-4)Bader once again proved how dominant he can be against middle-of-the-road competition at UFC Fight Night 33, as “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 8 winner overwhelmed 41-year-old Anthony Perosh for three rounds en route to a unanimous decision victory. Bader underwent surgery for a broken hand after the fight; a date for his return to the Octagon is uncertain.
9. Gegard Mousasi (34-3-2)The former Dream and Strikeforce champion earned a handy decision in his April UFC debut against late replacement Ilir Latifi and subsequently underwent surgery for a torn ACL. Mousasi will drop to 185 pounds for his next appearance: a marquee matchup against Lyoto Machida on Feb. 8 in Brazil.
10. Chael Sonnen (28-14-1)Sonnen’s sudden and surprising return to prominence at 205 pounds came to an abrupt halt at the hands of Rashad Evans in the co-main event of UFC 167. After being taken down by his “UFC Tonight” broadcast partner, Sonnen succumbed to rough ground-and-pound toward the end of an opening round which never seemed competitive.
Other Contenders: Jimi Manuwa, Emanuel Newton, Mauricio Rua, Thiago Silva, Attila Vegh.
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