1. Stipe Miocic (17-2)Miocic defended his UFC heavyweight title just once in 2017 -- a May blasting of Junior dos Santos in just over two minutes. His 2018 campaign will get started quickly and intensely, though, as Miocic will look for a UFC record third straight heavyweight title defense against Francis Ngannou at UFC 220 on Jan. 20 in Boston.
2. Francis Ngannou (11-1)Courtesy of his devastating Dec. 2 knockout of Alistair Overeem, Ngannou has won 10 fights in a row, all by stoppage. More importantly, his 6-0 record in the UFC has earned him a shot at heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic at UFC 220 on Jan. 20. “The Predator” has been so impressive in the Octagon that he opened as a -160 favorite despite being the challenger.
3. Alistair Overeem (43-16, 1 NC)Headed into UFC 218 in Detroit, Overeem was 6-1 in his last seven bouts, was coming off of wins over Mark Hunt and Fabricio Werdum and found himself in position to land another crack at UFC champion Stipe Miocic. With just one uppercut, Francis Ngannou splattered Overeem and sent the former K-1 World Grand Prix winner back to the drawing board.
4. Fabricio Werdum (23-7-1)When autumn began, Werdum was 1-2 in his last three fights, had just turned 40 years old and lost his trilogy with rival Alistair Overeem. Suddenly, he got an unexpected and easy 65-second payday against Walt Harris and then got to step in for Mark Hunt to face Marcin Tybura in the UFC Fight Night 121 main event. Out of nowhere, Werdum is now 3-1 in the last 15 months. Then again, he is still facing assault charges for hurling a boomerang at welterweight Colby Covington during their confrontation in Sydney, so his situation could still be better.
5. 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.” A timeline for his return remains uncertain, though American Kickboxing Academy stablemate Daniel Cormier recently indicated that Velasquez was back at full strength and had resumed training.
6. Junior dos Santos (18-5)Dos Santos is 3-4 with three knockout losses in his last seven bouts, but owing to his splitting a pair of bouts with champion Stipe Miocic and the dire nature of the heavyweight talent pool, “Cigano” could have been back in another title fight if he had beaten red-hot Francis Ngannou at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta. However, dos Santos was pulled from the contest on Aug. 18 after being informed of a potential USADA violation that placed the former heavyweight champ in limbo. Dos Santos is now one of three top-10 Sherdog heavyweights currently embroiled in a USADA case.
7. Vitaly Minakov (21-0)Will Bellator MMA ever want their former heavyweight champion back? Will the UFC ever make a serious offer? On Dec. 16, Minakov punched out a quality opponent in Tony Johnson Jr. in the second round, moving to 21-0 as a pro. Obviously, Minakov’s exploits came for his native promotion, Fight Nights Global, igniting further questions as to whether or not the Russian heavyweight will sign another “big fight” contract or stay with his home company.
8. 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. Ten months later, there is still no update on Rothwell’s case.
9. Josh Barnett (35-8)In a USADA test in December 2016, Barnett tested positive for an undisclosed banned substance, giving him his fourth blown drug test in 15 years. However, after nearly eight months of silence, Barnett reappeared recently with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast and said he had been informed he likely would not face a suspension as a result of a diluted, contaminated supplement. The UFC and USADA have yet to comment on Barnett’s case.
10. Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC)After a nearly 20-year career, it looked like Hunt may be done as an elite prizefighter in March, when fellow former K-1 World Grand Prix champ Alistair Overeem devastated him with knees. Three months later in his native Auckland, New Zealand, the 43-year-old outlasted big-hitting contender Derrick Lewis, stopped him in the fourth round and earned headlining duty at UFC Fight Night 121 in his adopted hometown of Sydney. That was until the UFC became aware of an editorial “The Super Samoan” had written for Players Voice in which he admitted to early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, leading to his removal from the slated main event with Marcin Tybura. Now medically cleared, Hunt will collide with Curtis Blaydes at UFC 221 on Feb. 11 in Perth, Australia.
Other Contenders: Curtis Blaydes, Blagoy Ivanov, Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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