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1. Francis Ngannou (16-3) Ngannou brought the same ferocious knockout power into his rematch with Stipe Miocic at UFC 260, but improved takedown defense allowed him to use it much more effectively. The end result was a second-round knockout victory that made “The Predator” the 17th heavyweight champion in UFC history. The Cameroonian-born Frenchman has laid waste to some of the division’s best during his run to the top and if the promotion can make it happen, a victory over light heavyweight GOAT Jon Jones would only add to his overall legacy.
2. Stipe Miocic (20-4) When his wrestling failed against Francis Ngannou in the UFC 260 headliner, so did Miocic’s bid to make another successful heavyweight championship defense. Miocic saw his reign end in a second-round KO defeat at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on March 27, but that doesn’t change the fact that the Ohio-based firefighter has already established himself as the organization’s most consistent heavyweight king with records for most victories in title bouts and consecutive title defenses. Though requesting a trilogy wouldn’t be out of line for the 38-year-old, Miocic’s Octagon forays have become less frequent in recent years, making it unclear when he might be willing to return for another matchup with Ngannou – or anyone.
3. 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.
4. 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.
5. Ciryl Gane (8-0) While Gane might not have gained many new fans with his performance at UFC Fight Night 186, he was in complete control throughout his five-round verdict over Jairzinho Rozenstruik at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Feb. 27. In going 25 minutes for the first time in his career, “Bon Gamin” blended rangy kickboxing and timely takedowns while avoiding the formidable power of his opponent. Less than three years into his professional MMA career, the Frenchman appears to be progressing quickly as he climbs the ranks of the heavyweight division. Next, Gane will lock horns with former Bellator champ Alexander Volkov on June 26.
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. He’ll look to take another step toward contention when he faces Ciryl Gane in the main event of a UFC card on June 26.
8. Jairzinho Rozenstruik (11-2) Rozenstruik appeared tentative throughout the UFC Fight Night 186 main event, and the end result was a forgettable five-round decision loss to Ciryl Gane at the UFC Apex in Las Vegas on Feb. 27. After beginning his promotional tenure with four consecutive knockout victories, “Bigi Boi” has dropped two of his last three Octagon appearances in contrasting fashion – the gun-shy effort vs. Gane and a 20-second KO defeat to Francis Ngannou at UFC 249..
9. 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 — especially considering that Overeem was released from his UFC contract in March.
10. Junior dos Santos (21-9) It’s been tough sledding of late for dos Santos, who has dropped four consecutive UFC bouts by knockout or technical knockout. The most recent defeat was also the most difficult to swallow for the former heavyweight king, as he believes Ciryl Gane utilized illegal elbows in his first-round stoppage win at UFC 256 this past December. Regardless, the 37-year-old Brazilian must hope his chin holds up as he attempts to regain the form that saw him win four of five Octagon appearances from 2016 to 2019. “Cigano” will have do to so outside the UFC, as he was released from the Las Vegas-based promotion in March.
Other Contenders: Timothy Johnson, Cheick Kongo, Walt Harris, Tom Aspinall, Chris Daukaus.
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