1. Renan Barao (31-1, 1 NC)With one spectacular spinning back kick to the face of challenger Eddie Wineland, Barao continued to put more distance between himself and the “temporary” label at UFC 165. The Brazilian will attempt to lose that status for good when he welcomes reigning 135-pound titlist Dominick Cruz back to the Octagon at UFC 169.
2. Urijah Faber (30-6)Faber seems to be getting better with age -- at least when it comes to non-title bouts. The 34-year-old Team Alpha Male leader was impressive in dispatching rising star Michael McDonald at UFC on Fox 9, staggering “Mayday” with right hands before finishing the contest with his patented guillotine choke in the second round. Despite his well-documented failures in such bouts, it appears that Faber is once again on the verge of a title shot.
3. Michael McDonald (16-3)For McDonald, a win over Urijah Faber at UFC on Fox 9 might have signaled the beginning of a new era. However, Faber showed he still has plenty left in the tank by submitting “Mayday” in the second round of their co-main event clash. Just 22 years old, McDonald still has plenty of time to develop his skills.
4. Eddie Wineland (20-9-1)The hard-punching former WEC titlist was simply the latest in a long line of opponents -- 21 to be exact -- who were unable to solve the Renan Barao riddle. After a fairly competitive initial stanza with the interim bantamweight champion, Wineland was rudely separated from his title aspirations by a perfectly timed spinning back kick in the second round. Next, Wineland squares off with Yves Jabouin at UFC on Fox 10.
5. Raphael Assuncao (21-4)Assuncao earned his most significant bantamweight victory to date, taking a hard-fought split decision against T.J. Dillashaw at UFC Fight Night 29. Now 5-0 since moving to 135 pounds, Assuncao will next lock horns with the heavy-handed Francisco Rivera at UFC 170.
6. Brad Pickett (23-8)“One Punch” was certainly game in his UFC Fight Night 26 showdown with Michael McDonald, surviving a furious barrage of power punches in the bout’s first 90 seconds. While Pickett’s chin held up in round one, his submission defense ultimately failed him, as “Mayday” locked in a triangle choke to elicit a tap from the Brit in round two. Pickett will make his 125-pound debut against Ian McCall on March 8.
7. Eduardo Dantas (15-3)Dantas needed to erase the sting of an upset loss to Tyson Nam, and he did so at the expense of Nova Uniao stablemate Marcos Galvao. In dispatching Galvao via second-round knockout, “Dudu” showcased the hand speed and precise striking that made him a highly regarded prospect. An ankle injury will keep the Bellator bantamweight champion out of action until early 2014. He is expected to face Rafael Silva upon his return.
8. T.J. Dillashaw (8-2)In a bout that could have just as easily gone the other way, Dillashaw wound up on the wrong side of a split decision against fellow top 10 bantamweight Raphael Assuncao at UFC Fight Night 29. That setback brought a disappointing end to Dillashaw’s four-fight winning streak. The Team Alpha Male product will attempt to return to his winning ways against Mike Easton at UFC Fight Night 35.
9. Marlon Moraes (12-4)The hits just keep on coming for one of the World Series of Fighting’s breakout stars. Moraes overwhelmed wrestler Carson Beebe at the promotion’s sixth event, defending all of his opponent’s takedowns before winning via knockout 32 seconds into the first round. In addition to Beebe, the muay Thai specialist owns triumphs over Miguel Torres, Tyson Nam and Brandon Hempleman under the WSOF banner.
10. Takeya Mizugaki (19-7-2)From April 2009 to February 2012, Mizugaki alternated wins and losses under the Zuffa banner, solidifying his spot as a durable gatekeeper. After outpointing Nam Phan at UFC Fight Night 33, Mizugaki has won four straight inside the Octagon, raising expectations for the respected Japanese bantamweight.
Other Contenders: Iuri Alcantara, Bibiano Fernandes, Marcos Galvao, Tyson Nam, Francisco Rivera.
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