Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration
1. Stipe Miocic (19-3)Down on the scorecards after three rounds, Miocic showed the ability to adjust at UFC 241, as he attacked Daniel Cormier’s body to set up a fourth-round technical knockout victory in their rematch in Anaheim, Calif. Not only was it a nice rebound from his KO loss to “DC” in their first meeting at UFC 226, but it refocused talks on Miocic as potentially the greatest heavyweight of all-time. The Ohio-based firefighter now owns five victories in UFC title bouts, the second most in the history of the heavyweight division. The promotion is planning on booking a trilogy bout between Miocic and Cormier, but it likely won’t occur until mid-2020 as the champion recovers from an eye injury.
2. Daniel Cormier (22-2, 1 NC)For three rounds, Cormier waded forward with total disregard for Stipe Miocic’s power in the UFC 241 headliner. That approach ultimately failed him in the fourth stanza, however, as Miocic began to dig to the body. Those blows gradually accumulated until Miocic was able to hurt “DC” and flurry for the finish at the 4:09 mark of the period. Recently, UFC president Dana White revealed that the promotion is planning on booking a trilogy fight between Cormier and Mioic. That bout likely won’t happen until mid-2020, as Miocic needs to recover from an eye injury suffered in their last fight.
3. Francis Ngannou (14-3)Ngannou has the type of tantalizing power that can put anyone to sleep in a matter of seconds, and he showcased it once again at UFC on ESPN 3, where he dispatched Junior dos Santos in a little more than one minute in the evening’s headliner in Minneapolis. “The Predator” has now authored three consecutive first-round finishes, putting a disappointing two-fight skid in the first half of 2018 squarely in his rearview mirror. Rather than wait on Daniel Cormier and Stipe Miocic to conclude their championship trilogy, Ngannou will stay active and face Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the UFC Columbus main event on March 28.
4. Curtis Blaydes (13-2)Blaydes couldn’t land a single takedown against Junior dos Santos in the UFC Fight Night 166 headliner in Raleigh, N.C., and it didn’t matter one bit. The Chicago native stunned his foe with a big right hand and then attacked with punches and knees near the fence for a technical knockout victory 66 seconds into the second round. “Razor” Blaydes is now 8-2 with one no contest within the Las Vegas-based promotion. Outside of two losses to top contender Francis Ngannou, Blaydes has been dominant against the majority of his opponents.
5. Junior dos Santos (21-7)Dos Santos may be inching closer to gatekeeper status following a second-round TKO defeat at the hands of Curtis Blaydes in the UFC Fight Night 166 main event. While “Cigano” did well defending his opponent’s takedowns, he had no answers for Blaydes’ powerful overhand right, which ultimately led to his demise. The 35-year-old Brazilian has now lost back-to-back fights via TKO and his last five defeat in UFC competition have come via knockout or technical knockout.
6. Derrick Lewis (23-7)Lewis’ penchant to go for broke saved him against Ilir Latifi at UFC 247. “The Black Beast” struggled at times with the grinding approach of the converted light heavyweight, but a furious final two minutes delighted the hometown Houston crowd and allowed Lewis to edge Latifi on the scorecards via unanimous decision. It wasn’t quite on the level of his Hail Mary finish of Alexander Volkov, but Lewis’ awareness is encouraging to see in a fight where he could have lost without a sense of urgency. Lewis has now won his last two fights in UFC competition, but the revelation that he has been dealing with “life or death” medical issue for more than a year could potentially be a cause for concern.
7. Alexander Volkov (31-7)Faced with an inexperienced opponent on short notice, Volkov authored a veteran performance against Greg Hardy at UFC Fight Night 163, picking his foe apart with straight punches and kicks at range to earn a unanimous decision in Moscow. Volkov’s cautious effort may have been a product of his last bout, when he was ahead on the scorecards against Derrick Lewis before losing via knockout with 11 seconds left in Round 3 at UFC 229. The 31-year-old Russian has won seven of his last eight professional fights.
8. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (10-0)Rozenstruik didn’t look quite ready for prime time during the early rounds of his headlining clash with Alistair Overeem at UFC on ESPN 7, but “Bigi Boy” landed a massive right hand to put his opponent away with just four seconds remaining in the fight. The result is a testament to the fight-ending power of Rozenstruik, whose four-fight KO/TKO streak is currently the longest in the Las Vegas-based promotion. Rozenstruik is nothing if not bold, as he called out fellow knockout artist Francis Ngannou following his victory. Rozenstruik will get his wish when he faces Ngannou at UFC Columbus on March 28.
9. Alistair Overeem (45-18)As he has aged, Overeem has adopted a conservative and efficient approach in the Octagon that has largely been successful. Unfortunately, “The Reem” was unable to make that style work for a full 25 minutes against Jairzinho Rozenstruik in the UFC on ESPN 7 headliner, as he was knocked out by a massive right hand at the 4:56 mark of Round 5. The loss has to be especially painful considering the 39-year-old Dutchman was well on his way to a decision victory prior to the decisive blow. Overeem will attempt to return to the win column against Walt Harris in the UFC Portland main event on April 11.
10. Ryan Bader (27-5, 1 NC)Bader was never in danger against Cheick Kongo in the Bellator 226 headliner, as he rattled the Frenchman on the feet before taking his opponent down and imposing his will on the mat. However, the bout ended prematurely due to an inadvertent eye poke from the Power MMA Team representative. As a result, Bader has a no contest on his record but is unbeaten in his last eight bouts dating back to September 2016. Bader will defend his light heavyweight belt for the first time since 2017 when he squares off against Vadim Nemkov at Bellator 243.
Other Contenders: Cheick Kongo, Walt Harris, Vitaly Minakov, Blagoy Ivanov, Justin Willis.
Continue Reading » Light Heavyweight