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1. Stipe Miocic (20-3) Miocic closed the book on his rivalry with Daniel Cormier in the UFC 252 headliner, earning a unanimous decision triumph to retain his heavyweight title at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Aug. 15. In addition to taking two of three from Cormier in what was a memorable trilogy, Miocic’s sixth victory in a heavyweight championship bout tied him with Randy Couture for the most in the history of the division. The Ohio-based firefighter, who also holds the record for most consecutive heavyweight title defenses, is now at or near the top of any GOAT debate in his weight class. A rematch with Francis Ngannou could be on the horizon, while light heavyweight Jon Jones also looms large should “Bones” decide to move up in weight.
2. Daniel Cormier (22-3, 1 NC) Cormier had a chance to end his mixed martial arts tenure in style at UFC 252, but it simply wasn’t meant to be. The American Kickboxing Academy captain engaged in a competitive five-round battle in his heavyweight championship trilogy against Stipe Miocic, battling through a knockdown and an eye poke to ultimately lose a unanimous decision. In the aftermath of the defeat, Cormier reiterated his plans to retire, stating that he is only interested in fighting for championships at this point in his career. If it does indeed prove to be farewell, the former two-division champion is a surefire UFC Hall of Famer when the time comes. However, there’s always a chance “DC” won’t want to go out with a loss.
3. Francis Ngannou (15-3) Ngannou bolstered an already-fearsome reputation at UFC 249, when he demolished the previously unbeaten Jairzinho Rozenstruik in just 20 seconds. It was the fourth straight first-round finish and eighth inside of a round overall in UFC competition for “The Predator,” who would appear to be the logical next title challenger now that Miocic and Cormier have settled their trilogy. In the meantime, Ngannou’s attempt to stoke the flames for a Jon Jones superfight fell short — at least for the time being.
4. Curtis Blaydes (14-2, 1 NC) Blaydes set a heavyweight record with 14 takedowns in a unanimous decision win over Alexander Volkov in the UFC on ESPN 11 main event on June 20. While the Elevation Fight Team product fatigued in the championship rounds, he still had enough left in the tank to earn his fourth consecutive UFC triumph. Blaydes will return to action when he faces Derrick Lewis in a matchup of heavyweight contenders at a UFC event on Nov. 28.
5. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-1) Rozenstruik waited for an opening against Junior dos Santos at UFC 252 and once it arrived, “Bigi Boy” capitalized, flooring his Brazilian foe with a two-punch combination before clinching victory with a flurry of follow-up blows for a stoppage victory at the 3:47 mark of Round 2. Rozenstruik was able to bounce back from a 20-second KO loss to top contender Ngannou in May and added “Cigano” to a list of knockout victims that also includes Alistair Overeem and Andrei Arlovski.
6. Derrick Lewis (24-7) Lewis took a risky approach against Alexey Oleynik in the UFC Fight Night 174 main event, as he elected to grapple with his veteran opponent for a round at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. After nearly being submitted, Lewis quit messing around and stopped the Russian with punches 21 seconds into the second frame. Lewis, who said he wants to slim down by 15 to 20 pounds before his next fight, has won three straight and is the UFC’s all-time heavyweight knockout leader. “The Black Beast” has drawn a date with takedown machine Curtis Blaydes at a UFC event on Nov. 28.
7. Alexander Volkov (31-8) Though he had a few positive moments in the championship rounds, Volkov couldn’t stay upright long enough to truly threaten Curtis Blaydes in a unanimous decision loss at UFC on ESPN 11 on June 20. After beginning his promotional tenure with four consecutive triumphs, the former Bellator MMA champion has dropped two of his last three Octagon appearances. Volkov will lock horns with Walt Harris in the co-main event of UFC 254 on Oct. 24.
8. Alistair Overeem (47-18) Overeem played the long game against Augusto Sakai, rallying for a fifth-round technical knockout victory in the UFC Fight Night 176 headliner at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Sept. 5. The Dutchman’s ability to make strategic adjustments has allowed him to remain a heavyweight contender as he enters his 40s, and another victory could have him knocking on the door of his second title shot within the Las Vegas-based promotion.
9. Junior dos Santos (21-8) Dos Santos was able to keep Jairzinho Rozenstruik at bay for about a round and a half at UFC 252 before disaster struck and “Cigano” suffered a technical knockout defeat at the 3:47 mark of Round 2 in their heavyweight feature. That makes three consecutive KO/TKO defeats for the former champion, perhaps signaling that the affable Brazilian’s best days in the Octagon are behind him.
10. Ryan Bader (27-6, 1 NC) Bader may be permanently relocate to heavyweight after Bellator 244, where he relinquished his 205-pound title to Vadim Nemkov in a second-round head-kick KO defeat at Mohegan Sun Arena in Uncasville, Connecticut. The setback snapped an eight-bout unbeaten streak for former Arizona State University wrestling, who still retains the promotion’s heavyweight crown. A rematch with Cheick Kongo could be on the horizon for Bader.
Other Contenders: Cheick Kongo, Walt Harris, Vitaly Minakov, Alexey Oleynik, Augusto Sakai.
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