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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 has been scheduled for UFC 260 on March 27.
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. Derrick Lewis (25-7, 1 NC) A considerable underdog heading into the UFC Fight Night 185 main event, Lewis showcased his considerable power against Curtis Blaydes, dropping his foe with a perfectly-timed uppercut and adding two massive ground strikes for good measure. In derailing Blaydes’ title hopes, “The Black Beast” re-established himself as a heavyweight contender with his fourth consecutive win. And by tying Vitor Belfort for the most knockout wins in UFC history, Lewis reminded the world just how dangerous the proverbial “puncher’s chance” can be.
4. 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. The UFC is reportedly targeting March 27 for the Ngannou vs. Miocic rematch.
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. Rozenstruik will return to action against Ciryl Gane at UFC Fight Night 186 on Feb. 27.
6. Curtis Blaydes (14-3, 1 NC) While it seemed likely that Blaydes would use his wrestling to overwhelm Derrick Lewis in the UFC Fight Night 185 headliner, it was a takedown attempt that ultimately led to his demise when Lewis dropped him with a powerful uppercut in the second round of their Feb. 20 bout in Las Vegas. Blaydes remains a difficult matchup for many in the division thanks to his wrestling acumen (he’s the all-time heavyweight leader in takedowns), but a trio of knockout losses in UFC competition indicates that his chin can fail him in critical moments. For now, Blaydes’ championship dreams will be put on hold until he can string a few more victories together..
7. Alexander Volkov (33-8) Volkov was in complete control in the UFC Fight Night 184 headliner as he bloodied Alistair Overeem with accurate and powerful punches en route to a second-round technical knockout victory at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas. The former Bellator MMA and M-1 Global champion still has his weaknesses – witness the 14 takedowns surrendered in a decision loss to Curtis Blaydes last June – but with victories in nine of his last 11 outings, “Drago” has the look of a serious contender in the UFC’s heavyweight division.
8. Alistair Overeem (47-19, 1 NC) Overeem has managed to extend his career thanks to a more measured approach that usually protects his declining chin. However, his tactics simply didn’t work at UFC Fight Night 184, where he was bloodied and battered by Alexander Volkov in a second-round TKO defeat on Feb. 6. Coming in, the Dutchman had won four of his previous five Octagon appearances and still entertained hopes of another UFC title run. Now, those dreams appear to be extinguished for good.
9. Ryan Bader (27-6, 1 NC) Bader relinquished his 205-pound title to Vadim Nemkov in a second-round head-kick KO defeat at Bellator 244. The setback snapped an eight-bout unbeaten streak for former Arizona State University wrestling standout, who still retains the promotion’s heavyweight crown. When he will defend it next is anyone’s guess, however, as Bader is set to enter the promotion’s light heavyweight grand prix, where he will rematch Lyoto Machida in a quarterfinal bout at Bellator 256 on April 9.
10. Ciryl Gane (7-0) Gane earned a signature triumph at UFC 256, when he defeated former heavyweight champ Junior dos Santos via technical knockout 2:34 into Round 2 of their featured encounter at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Dec. 12. That makes four UFC triumphs — and three finishes — for the 30-year-old Frenchman, who is rapidly trending upward in the promotion’s big-man division. He’ll face another stern test when he meets Jairzinho Rozenstruik at UFC Fight Night 186 on Feb. 27.
Other Contenders: Junior dos Santos, Timothy Johnson, Vitaly Minakov, Cheick Kongo, Walt Harris.
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