1. Stipe Miocic (17-2)The top of the heavyweight division is a position inherently intertwined with volatility in this sport, but in his second UFC heavyweight title defense, Miocic managed to avenge his last career loss against Junior dos Santos and do it in brilliant fashion. He needed less than half of a round to knock “Cigano” unconscious with punches at UFC 211 and atone for his December 2014 unanimous decision defeat. Miocic's win gives him two consecutive UFC heavyweight title defenses -- tied for the most in promotional history -- but more importantly, his win over dos Santos gives him yet another knockout over a legendary heavyweight.
2. Alistair Overeem (43-15, 1 NC)It will not be remembered as an exciting, classic trilogy, but Overeem and Fabricio Werdum had their rubber match at UFC 213, where the Dutchman pulled out a narrow majority decision to take a 2-1 lead in their rivalry. Despite his career being defined by a shaky chin and accompanying inconsistency, the 37-year-old Overeem, after nearly 18 years as a pro fighter, is 6-1 in his last seven Octagon appearances. His lone loss in that span came in a heavyweight title challenge against Stipe Miocic in September, when “The Reem” had the champion hurt early before eating the canvas.
3. Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1)It was not a barnburner, but the third showdown between Werdum and Alistair Overeem at UFC 213 was easily the most entertaining bout of their rivalry. “Vai Cavalo” dropped Overeem in the third round but could not finish off his rival and ultimately lost a close majority decision on the judges' scorecards. Outside of Werdum's UFC heavyweight title loss to Stipe Miocic in May 2016, “The Reem” is the only other man to defeat the Brazilian in a nearly eight-year span.
4. Cain Velasquez (14-2)After being forced out of his UFC 207 rematch with Fabricio Werdum over his use of cannabidiol, Velasquez underwent successful back surgery in early January. Following his operation, Velasquez took to social media in March to state that while he was excited to get back into the Octagon, he could not commit to a timeline for his return, stating he was “listening to [his] body.”
5. Junior dos Santos (18-5)Dos Santos saw his goal of regaining the heavyweight title dashed in a hurry at UFC 211, as champ Stipe Miocic needed less than two and a half minutes to polish him off and knock him out. Things are not getting any easier for “Cigano.” At UFC 215 on Sept. 9 in Edmonton, Alberta, the 33-year-old Brazilian will face fierce-punching French fighter Francis Ngannou in a fight where a knockout defeat could send dos Santos even further back in the heavyweight pack.
6. Ben Rothwell (36-10)Rothwell was scheduled to get a major bout in his next outing, as the Wisconsinite was penciled in to face former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas. However, in early March, the UFC announced that Rothwell had been flagged for a banned substance in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency test administered on Feb. 6, putting his immediate future in doubt.
7. Josh Barnett (35-8)Despite an incredibly distinguished career and being one of MMA’s all-time greatest heavyweights, Barnett’s repeated drug test failures have haunted him. Now, it looks like that notorious reputation is going to get more sordid: The United States Anti-Doping Agency has flagged Barnett for an undisclosed banned substance related to a Dec. 9 drug test. If Barnett’s test failure is confirmed, it will be the former UFC champ’s fourth blown test since 2001.
8. Francis Ngannou (10-1)Ngannou has won nine consecutive fights, all by stoppage, with a pristine and punishing 5-0 UFC record. None of those fights has lasted longer than 10 minutes. Now, “The Predator” is getting the step up in competition he desires, as he is scheduled to take on former UFC heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos at UFC 215 on Sept. 9 in Edmonton, Alberta. A win there would move the surging heavyweight prospect to the doorstep of a UFC title shot.
9. Vitaly Minakov (20-0)Minakov stayed busy on June 2, taking a fight in his native Russia for his home base promotion Fight Nights Global and knocking out a shopworn Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the second round. A seven-year pro, the 32-year-old Minakov is unbeaten in 20 fights, but it remains anyone's best guess if he will end up back in Bellator MMA, where he previously held the heavyweight title, the UFC or stay as a feature attraction for Fight Nights Global.
10. Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC)You just cannot keep “Mr. Hunto” down. In the middle of a lawsuit against his promoter after the Brock Lesnar debacle last summer and coming off of a brutal knockout loss to Alistair Overeem in March, it was unclear what “The Super Samoan” had left to offer at 43 years old, even in a desperate heavyweight division. Instead, Hunt returned on June 10 and turned in a fourth-round knockout of surging Derrick Lewis. Even better, he got to do it in front of his hometown crowd in Auckland, New Zealand.
Other Contenders: Blagoy Ivanov, Cheick Kongo, Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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