1. Johny Hendricks (16-2)Hendricks battled tooth-and-nail for five rounds with Robbie Lawler at UFC 171, where the Oklahoman’s determination and conditioning earned him the vacant UFC welterweight title. “Bigg Rigg” has now won seven of eight fights in the last three years, his lone loss coming against absent ruler Georges St. Pierre. Hendricks will return from biceps and shin surgeries sooner than expected for a Dec. 6 rematch with Robbie Lawler.
2. Robbie Lawler (24-10, 1 NC)It did not take long for Lawler to once again become the UFC’s top welterweight contender; in truth, he never vacated the spot. Only four months after dropping a hard-fought, five-round decision to Johny Hendricks, the 32-year-old American Top Team fighter has collected wins over Matt Brown and Jake Ellenberger. Those victories have put Lawler in line for a rematch with Hendricks at UFC 181 in December.
3. Rory MacDonald (18-2)MacDonald capped an outstanding 2014 campaign on Oct. 4 with a punishing third-round knockout of former Strikeforce champion Tarec Saffiedine. The 25-year-old Canadian believes he should be next in line for a title shot, and with wins over Saffiedine, Tyron Woodley and Demian Maia in the last eight months, it is a hard claim to deny.
4. Tyron Woodley (13-3)After a forgettable performance against Rory MacDonald at UFC 174, Woodley returned to top form on Aug. 23 in Macau, China. There, the American Top Team standout stepped in for the injured Hector Lombard and wrecked South Korean judoka Dong Hyun Kim with a counter right hand and follow-up punches, finishing their co-main event clash in just 61 seconds. “The Chosen One” will attempt to halt the momentum of unbeaten Kelvin Gastelum at UFC 183 on Jan. 31.
5. Carlos Condit (29-8)Condit missed out on a December bout with Matt Brown and then was handed an equally tough task in Tyron Woodley at UFC 171. Despite an exciting start to the fight, Condit’s leg gave out midway through the second round, putting an end to any immediate title hopes and giving Condit his third defeat in four fights. “The Natural Born Killer” has since undergone surgery to repair a torn ACL and remains sidelined indefinitely.
6. Hector Lombard (34-4-1, 1 NC)The blistering speed and powerful punches for which Lombard is known were on full display in the first round of his bout with Jake Shields at UFC 171. As the fight wore on, however, the judo specialist implemented throws, trips and submission defense to outwork Shields in a 15-minute unanimous decision. “Showeather” will next collide with returning veteran Josh Burkman at UFC 182 in January.
7. Matt Brown (19-12)Brown’s storybook resurgence reached its first road block when he ran up against Robbie Lawler on July 26 in San Jose, Calif. “The Immortal” was outgunned by Lawler in a five-round slobber-knocker, ending Brown’s impressive winning streak at seven. The Ohioan will return to action on Feb. 14 in Colorado against former Strikeforce titlist Tarec Saffiedine.
8. Ben Askren (14-0)Askren added another belt to his collection on Aug. 29, as the former Bellator welterweight ace claimed the 170-pound title in One Fighting Championship with an 84-second decimation of Nobutatsu Suzuki. Unbeaten in 14 fights and rapidly shedding the “blanket” reputation which once plagued him, Askren currently sits poised as the most dangerous 170-pounder outside of the UFC.
9. Jake Shields (30-7-1, 1 NC)Shields’ potent grappling chops were on full display in his Oct. 11 debut for World Series of Fighting. The American jiu-jitsu practitioner began his post-UFC career by traveling to hostile soil in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and forcing hometown favorite Ryan Ford to submit to a first-round rear-naked choke.
10. Demian Maia (19-6)Maia got his up-and-down run in the UFC welterweight division back on track with a one-sided victory against Alexander Yakovlev at “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil 3” Finale. The grappling ace from Wand Fight Team dominated his Russian opponent for 15 minutes to snap a two-fight losing skid and keep his spot amongst the 170-pound elite. However, an injury forced Maia to withdraw from an Aug. 23 pairing with Mike Pyle.
Other Contenders: Kelvin Gastelum, Dong Hyun Kim, Douglas Lima, Tarec Saffiedine, Rick Story.
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