1. Anderson Silva (33-4)
If the champion himself is to be believed, Anderson Silva is going to spend much of 2013 on the sidelines. However, we should get a better picture of what plans “The Spider” really has early next year, as the outcome of January’s Michael Bisping-Vitor Belfort fight could put the fire to Silva’s feet.
2. Chael Sonnen (27-12-1)
Sonnen nearly snuck his way into a UFC 151 title shot against light heavyweight king Jon Jones, but the champion balked at the fight on short notice. However, after Jones dispatched Vitor Belfort, the ever-talkative Sonnen managed to gab his way into a coaching spot on “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 17 and a shot against “Bones” in April. Not bad for a guy who has not fought at 205 pounds in more than six years.
3. Chris Weidman (9-0)
Chris Weidman had an ideal fight set for UFC 155 against potent veteran Tim Boetsch, unbeaten at middleweight. Unfortunately, a shoulder injury took the Serra-Longo fighter off of the Dec. 29 bill, leaving Costa Philippou against Boetsch instead and “The All-American” waiting until next year to build on his growing hype at 185.
4. Michael Bisping (23-4)
At UFC 152 in Toronto, Bisping was in the driver’s seat for most of his bout with Brian Stann, dictating the action en route to a unanimous decision. However, despite having 13 official UFC wins, “The Count” will still need at least one more bout to secure a date with Anderson Silva in the suddenly packed 185-pound division. He draws Vitor Belfort in the UFC on FX 7 main event in January.
5. Tim Boetsch (16-4)
With hard work and a little luck, Tim Boetsch is 4-0 at middleweight. Things are looking even brighter for “The Barbarian” too: after originally being installed as a considerable underdog to surging prospect Chris Weidman, Weidman’s shoulder injury has left Boetsch with a more manageable bout against Costa Philippou at UFC 155.
6. Mark Munoz (12-3)
Munoz appeared on the brink of contention after four straight wins against Chris Leben, Demian Maia, C.B. Dollaway and Aaron Simpson. The title talk came to a screeching halt on July 11, however, when the former Oklahoma State University wrestler was dealt a bloody knockout at the hands of unbeaten up-and-comer Chris Weidman.
7. Vitor Belfort (21-10)
Despite getting battered and submitted at UFC 152, the opportunistic Belfort surprised many onlookers by locking up an armbar on Jon Jones. That good grace should equate to some fan excitement when Belfort returns to 185 pounds for his main event matchup with Michael Bisping on Jan. 19.
8. Yushin Okami (27-7)
Back in August 2006, Yushin Okami made a successful UFC debut by winning a unanimous decision over Alan Belcher. Fast forward more than six years later, and the Japanese standout will have to replicate his win to keep pace in the UFC middleweight division, as he rematches “The Talent” at UFC 155 on Dec. 29.
9. Luke Rockhold (10-1)
Luke Rockhold was scheduled to defend his Strikeforce middleweight title against Lorenz Larkin on Jan. 12, but once again, the bout was nixed. This time, it was a wrist injury that put the champion on the sideline. Fortunately for Rockhold, it gives him time to heal up before an inevitable UFC debut.
10. Brian Stann (12-5)
Brian Stann came up short against Michael Bisping this past September, but the Silver Star recipient’s high profile and action-oriented style will always keep him in big fights. Up next, Stann meets one of the exciting fighters in MMA history, Wanderlei Silva, in front of a crowd at Saitama Super Arena in Japan for UFC on Fuel TV 8 on March 3.
Other contenders:Alan Belcher, Hector Lombard, Jake Shields, Alexander Shlemenko, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
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