1. Fabricio Werdum (20-5-1)Werdum became the 14th undisputed UFC heavyweight champion in June 2015, unifying his interim title with that of two-time champ Cain Velasquez by submitting the American Kickboxing Academy star via a third-round guillotine choke. Once considered a one-dimensional grappler with limited striking, the Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt has evolved into a well-rounded mixed martial artist, as evidenced by the potent standup which precipitated his finish of Velasquez and previous stoppage of Mark Hunt. Since rejoining the UFC three years ago, Werdum has gone 6-0 with two submissions and two knockouts. He is expected to defend his title against Stipe Miocic at UFC 198 on May 14.
2. Cain Velasquez (13-2)Returning from an injury-laden layoff of nearly two years, Velasquez struggled mightily and ultimately surrendered his heavyweight crown to Fabricio Werdum at UFC 188. Whether due to ring rust or the Mexico City altitude, Velasquez faded fast after the opening round; by the third frame, Werdum’s strikes rocked him into an ill-advised takedown attempt which ended in a guillotine choke submission. It was the first submission loss of Velasquez’s career and his first defeat since falling to Junior dos Santos in November 2011.
3. Alistair Overeem (40-14, 1 NC)Overeem collected the 40th victory of his MMA career with an upset knockout of former titlist Junior dos Santos at UFC on Fox 17. The action leading up to the finish was hardly scintillating, as the “Demolition Man” fought cautiously and avoided early exchanges before unloading with his famously heavy hands. Overeem has won three fights in a row, his first winning streak since joining the UFC in December 2011. He will meet former UFC champion Andrei Arlovski atop a UFC Fight Night event on May 8.
4. Junior dos Santos (17-4)Since losing the UFC heavyweight title in his 2012 rematch with Cain Velasquez, dos Santos has been unable to gain any sort of momentum in the sport’s most tumultuous division. “Cigano” was a heavy favorite to defeat Alistair Overeem on Dec. 19, but the Brazilian wound up doing very little before he was punched out late in the second round. Dos Santos will look to right his ship against Ben Rothwell in their UFC Fight Night headliner on April 10.
5. Stipe Miocic (14-2)Miocic’s savage beating of Mark Hunt lasted the better part of five rounds, but the Ohioan needed only 54 seconds to take out Andrei Arlovski with punches at UFC 195. The first-round finish moved Miocic’s Octagon record to 8-2 and prompted the 6-foot-4 big man to call for the next shot at the UFC heavyweight title. He will get his wish when he challenges Fabricio Werdum for the championship on May 14.
6. Andrei Arlovski (25-11, 1 NC)Arlovski’s surprise return to the ranks of the heavyweight elite was dealt a heavy blow at UFC 195 in the form of a Stipe Miocic right hand. “The Pit Bull” had a six-fight winning streak busted when we was stopped by Miocic in just 54 seconds, ending any immediate hope for Arlovski to reclaim the UFC heavyweight title. The defeat marked Arlovski’s first knockout loss since he was felled by Sergei Kharitonov in 2011. The Belarusian will collide with Alistair Overeem at a UFC Fight Night event on May 8.
7. Ben Rothwell (36-9)Rothwell on Jan. 30 became the first man to choke out Josh Barnett, putting the 6-foot-4 Wisconsinite on a four-fight winning streak, his best since 2007. Although there is currently a line forming for a crack at champ Fabricio Werdum, it is no problem for “Big Ben,” whose stated objective is to “[lay] waste to the entire division.” Rothwell will lock horns with former champion Junior dos Santos on April 10.
8. Travis Browne (18-3-1)Browne collected an ugly, foul-marred win on Jan. 17 in Boston, as he polished off Matt Mitrione with third-round punches after twice poking him in the eye. Nonetheless, the fight put “Hapa” back in the win column eight months after he was knocked out by Andrei Arlovski. Browne began his UFC stint on a 7-1-1 tear but has alternated wins and losses in his last four outings.
9. Mark Hunt (10-10-1)Hunt rebounded from the worst beating of his career against Stipe Miocic to torch Antonio Silva at UFC 193. In the long-awaited rematch of their five-round majority draw in December 2013, Hunt took out “Bigfoot” with a glancing but concussive right hand to the side of the head and follow-up punches just 3:41 into the first round. The 41-year-old “Super Samoan” has gone 2-2 in his last four appearances, with wins over Silva and Roy Nelson sandwiched around losses to Miocic and Fabricio Werdum. Hunt will next meet Frank Mir in a UFC Fight Night headliner on March 20.
10. Vitaly Minakov (17-0)Bellator’s unbeaten heavyweight champion is back, but he is not competing inside the Bellator MMA cage. Minakov remains under contract with the stateside promotion, though the two parties have reached a “stalemate” regarding his next fight, according to the fighter’s management. In the meantime, Minakov has racked up three wins in his native Russia, most recently scoring a Dec. 11 submission of ex-UFC fighter Josh Copeland.
Other Contenders: Josh Barnett, Karol Bedorf, Ruslan Magomedov, Matt Mitrione, Roy Nelson.
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