1. Georges St. Pierre (23-2)
After his triumphant Nov. 17 return against Carlos Condit, many quickly wondered if GSP would next be occupied by defending his title against Johny Hendricks or meeting Anderson Silva in their much-ballyhooed super fight. The answer? Neither. St. Pierre will settle his beef with former would-be challenger Nick Diaz on March 16 in Montreal.
2. Carlos Condit (28-6)
A neck injury has forced Rory MacDonald out of his rematch with Condit at UFC 158, but life does not get any easier for “The Natural Born Killer.” Instead, the Jackson’s Mixed Martial Arts export will look to erase the bitter memory of his November defeat to Georges St. Pierre against heavy-handed wrestler Johny Hendricks at the Bell Centre in Montreal on March 16.
3. Johny Hendricks (14-1)
With five straight victories, including impressive knockouts of Jon Fitch and Martin Kampmann, to his credit, Hendricks has the look of a No. 1 contender -- even if UFC matchmaking says otherwise. Originally scheduled to face Jake Ellenberger at UFC 158, Hendricks must now get past Carlos Condit in Montreal to maintain his lofty status in the division.
4. Nick Diaz (26-8, 1 ND)
He has not fought in nearly a year and lost his last bout. However, the beef between Diaz and Georges St. Pierre -- as well as the investment in their previously scheduled bout -- has led the UFC to give the Californian his second straight crack at 170-pound gold come UFC 158 in March.
5. Demian Maia (18-4)
Suffice it to say, Maia could be a problem for the rest of the welterweight division. The former middleweight standout is now 3-0 at 170 pounds after running a grappling clinic on perennial top 10 entrant Jon Fitch en route to a unanimous decision at UFC 156.
6. Jon Fitch (24-5-1, 1 NC)
Fitch was the most visible and controversial fighter to be released during a recent 16-fighter purge by the UFC. Though the former Purdue Boilermaker has just one victory in his last four outings, he remains one of the toughest outs in the world in his weight class. Fitch is rumored to have signed with another Las Vegas-based MMA promotion -- the World Series of Fighting.
7. Martin Kampmann (20-6)
After 12 months spent clawing his way into contention with three straight wins over quality welterweights, Kampmann’s title hopes were dashed in less than a minute at UFC 154. The heavy left hand of Johny Hendricks dealt the Danish “Hitman” his first clean knockout loss and sent Kampmann back down the 170-pound ladder for the time being.
8. Jake Ellenberger (28-6)
Thanks to an injury to Rory MacDonald, Ellenberger traded one high-profile foe for another at UFC 158. Instead of trading punches with fellow knockout-minded wrestler Johny Hendricks, “The Juggernaut” will meet former UFC middleweight standout Nate Marquardt in a featured bout on March 16.
9. Ben Askren (11-0)
Askren quieted some of his critics on Jan. 24 by finally finishing a challenger to his Bellator title inside the scheduled five rounds. The “Funky” wrestler from the University of Missouri spent three rounds grounding, pounding and battering Karl Amoussou before the cageside physician put an end to the Frenchman’s suffering. Next up for Askren will be an as-yet-unscheduled defense against seventh-season tournament winner Andrey Koreshkov.
10. Rory MacDonald (14-1)
Revenge will have to wait. Fresh off a shellacking of B.J. Penn at UFC on Fox 5 in December, MacDonald lobbied for --and was eventually granted -- a rematch with Carlos Condit on his home soil. However, a neck injury forced “Ares” off the UFC 158 bill, leaving his UFC 115 loss to Condit unavenged, at least for now.
Other contenders: Josh Koscheck, Robbie Lawler, Nate Marquardt, Mike Pierce, Tarec Saffiedine.
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