1. Johny Hendricks (15-2)Hendricks’ heavy hands and powerful wrestling base came through as advertised at UFC 167, giving longtime welterweight ace Georges St. Pierre all he could handle across 25 minutes. His performance was not enough to persuade the judges to crown a new champion, but with GSP’s decision to vacate the title, “Bigg Rigg” will get another shot at earning championship gold when he faces Robbie Lawler in the UFC 171 headliner.
2. Carlos Condit (29-7)At UFC Fight Night 27, Condit avenged the loss that occurred in his promotional debut and also authored one of the finest performances of his career to date, scoring a fourth-round technical knockout over Martin Kampmann. Unfortunately, a proposed clash with Matt Brown at UFC on Fox 9 fell through when “The Immortal” withdrew due to herniated discs in his back. With Brown out of the picture, “The Natural Born Killer” will face Tyron Woodley at UFC 171.
3. Robbie Lawler (22-9, 1 NC)After a spotty middleweight run in Strikeforce, the “Ruthless” one has looked positively reinvigorated in the UFC welterweight division. Lawler began the year with knockouts of Josh Koscheck and Bobby Voelker, and he capped it with a sensational outing against Rory MacDonald at UFC 167 which netted him a split decision win and a spot in the top 10. As a reward, Lawler will battle Johny Hendricks for the vacant welterweight strap at UFC 171.
4. Rory MacDonald (15-2)MacDonald played it safe against heavy hitter Jake Ellenberger in their July encounter and came out with a unanimous decision. He could not repeat the feat against slugger Robbie Lawler, as the veteran bombed MacDonald and surged past the young Canadian in the third round of their UFC 167 meeting. “Ares” will attempt to return to his winning ways when he locks horns with Demian Maia at UFC 170.
5. Ben Askren (12-0)After a dominant run as Bellator’s welterweight king, Askren’s season of free agency left many scratching their heads. Spurned by Bellator CEO Bjorn Rebney and UFC President Dana White, the “Funky” one has elected to take his talents to Asia to compete for the One Fighting Championship promotion. Askren is expected to make his One FC debut in March or April.
6. Jake Shields (29-6-1, 1 NC)It is rarely pretty, but Shields knows how to get the job done on fight night. The Cesar Gracie pupil earned his second consecutive welterweight triumph by taking a grueling, five-round split verdict over Demian Maia at UFC Fight Night 29. Shields will face an entirely different type of challenge in his next outing, as he meets the knockout-minded Hector Lombard at UFC 171.
7. Demian Maia (18-4)After posting impressive triumphs against Dong Hyun Kim, Rick Story and Jon Fitch to begin his UFC welterweight tenure, the Brazilian’s run of success came to an end against Jake Shields at UFC Fight Night 29. For five grueling rounds, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace was outgrappled and outmaneuvered by the former Strikeforce champion, as he ultimately dropped a disappointing split decision on his home soil. Next, Maia clashes with Tristar Gym product Rory MacDonald at UFC 170.
8. Jake Ellenberger (29-7)Ellenberger talked a good game in the weeks leading up to his UFC on Fox 8 showdown with Rory MacDonald, but come fight night, the Nebraskan’s ominous promises of violence never materialized in a disappointing decision loss. “The Juggernaut” was set to face former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine in the UFC Fight Night 34 main event, but a hamstring injury forced Ellenberger out of that confrontation.
9. Matt Brown (18-11)Less than three years ago, Brown was on the verge of losing his spot in the UFC after being submitted in three consecutive fights. Since then, “The Immortal” has staged a remarkable career comeback, stringing together a six-fight winning streak. Alas, Brown’s attempt to shed his gatekeeper label for good will have to wait, as a back injury forced him out of a UFC on Fox 9 conflict with former No. 1 contender Carlos Condit.
10. Tyron Woodley (12-2)When Woodley dials up the aggression, the results can be frightening. Just ask Josh Koscheck, whom the Strikeforce veteran blasted with a pair of right hands to earn a first-round knockout victory at UFC 167. Woodley will attempt to keep his momentum going when he squares off with Carlos Condit at UFC 171.
Other Contenders: Steve Carl, Jon Fitch, Martin Kampmann, Dong Hyun Kim, Tarec Saffiedine.
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