Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration
1. Daniel Cormier (22-1, 1 NC)The best thing you can say about Cormier’s effort at UFC 230 was that it was predictable. “DC” landed multiple takedowns on underdog Derrick Lewis before securing a tapout with a rear-naked choke at the 2:14 mark of the second stanza. Cormier became the first fighter to defend titles from two divisions in UFC history. Cormier previously set March 20 as a retirement date, but lingering issues from a back injury suffered before UFC 230 will force “DC” to fight beyond his 40th birthday.
2. Stipe Miocic (18-3)Heavyweight title reigns are fleeting, even if you have authored the longest such reign in UFC history. That proved to be the case for Miocic, who fell to reigning light heavyweight king Daniel Cormier via first-round knockout in the UFC 226 headliner. The defeat snapped a six-fight winning streak for the Ohio firefighter, who had bested Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem during his stay at the top.
3. Junior dos Santos (21-5)After going 3-3 during a six-bout stretch from 2012 to 2017, Junior dos Santos appears to be revitalized. The former heavyweight king won his third consecutive bout at UFC Wichita, defeating Derrick Lewis via technical knockout 1:58 into the second round of their headlining encounter. In his last three contests — all of which occurred in headlining bouts — dos Santos has bested Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Blagoy Ivanov to climb back into championship contention.
4. Francis Ngannou (13-3)Francis Ngannou lost much of his luster as the heavyweight division’s “Next Big Thing” during a disappointing first half of 2018 in which he dropped lackluster decisions against Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis. However, “The Predator” has since reversed course with back-to-back first-round stoppages of Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez in his most recent two Octagon appearances. While the Cameroonian-born Frenchman may never be built for long, drawn-out fights, his knockout power makes him one of the most fearsome talents in the division.
5. Derrick Lewis (21-7)Lewis was one of the UFC’s breakout stars of 2018, defeating Marcin Tybura, Francis Ngannou and Alexander Volkov to earn a shot at Daniel Cormier’s heavyweight title at UFC 230. 2019 didn’t start out nearly as well for “The Black Beast,” who fell to Junior dos Santos via second-round technical knockout in the UFC Wichita headliner on March 9. On the heels of the first-two fight losing streak of his professional career, Lewis has some work to do to reach his previous heights. First, he’ll undergo knee surgery in hopes of a late 2019 return to the Octagon.
6. Alexander Volkov (30-7)Volkov was well on his way to his fifth consecutive Octagon triumph at UFC 229, as he was comfortably outlanding Derrick Lewis in the waning seconds of their featured bout. Then, “The Black Beast” crushed Volkov with a massive right hand and followed him to the mat, finishing the contest with powerful ground-and-pound at the 4:49 mark of the third frame. At 29 years old, Volkov still has plenty of time to contend for heavyweight gold in a shallow division. The Russian will return against Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 20.
7. Curtis Blaydes (11-2)Blaydes got back to doing what he does best at UFC Nashville, as he dominated Justin Willis with his wrestling and ground-and-pound en route to a unanimous decision victory. Blaydes was in complete control, earning 30-25 and 30-26 scorecards en route to his fifth victory in his last six Octagon appearances. More importantly, “Razor” Blaydes showed he could bounce back from what could have been a disheartening 45-second technical knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in his previous fight. Thus far, Ngannou is the only man to defeat Blaydes — with two stoppage wins — in the UFC.
8. Alistair Overeem (44-17)A move to Elevation Fight Team provided Overeem with a fresh outlook following consecutive brutal knockout losses, and “The Reem” responded with a first-round stoppage of Sergey Pavlovich in the UFC Fight Night 141 co-main event. The 38-year-old Dutchman showcased formidable ground-and-pound in handing the Pavlovich, a UFC newcomer, his first career defeat. Overeem is now 9-6 during his tenure with the Las Vegas-based promotion and will look to improve upon that mark in a matchup with Alexander Volkov at UFC Fight Night in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 20.
9. Alexey Oleynik (57-11-1)Oleynik officially ushered in the UFC’s Russian era with a first-round submission of Mark Hunt in the UFC Fight Night 136 headliner in Moscow. The 41-year-old “Boa Constrictor” is now 6-2 in the Las Vegas-based promotion since his 2014 debut, making him a sneaky contender in a division constantly in need of fresh faces. Oleynik will next face Walt Harris at UFC Ottawa on May 4.
10. Ryan Bader (27-5)Bader etched himself into history when he knocked out Fedor Emelianenko in the Bellator 214 headliner to become the first two-division champion in promotion history. After vanquishing “The Last Emperor,” Matt Mitrione and Muhammed Lawal to claim the vacant heavyweight crown, Bader, also the reigning 205-pound king, must decide which belt he is going to defend first. Bader already has a heavyweight challenger lined up after Cheick Kongo outpointed Vitaly Minakov in a title eliminator bout at Bellator 216.
Other Contenders: Cheick Kongo, Vitaly Minakov, Tai Tuivasa, Justin Willis, Philipe Lins.
Continue Reading » Light Heavyweight