’Jonny Bones’ held onto his gold at UFC 140 with a brutal submission. | Photo: Sherdog.com
1. Jon Jones (15-1)
The UFC’s youngest champion was given his stiffest test to date on Dec. 10, but in the end, Lyoto Machida suffered the same fate as those who came before. “Bones” capped a monster year by choking out the Brazilian with a second-round guillotine and will now take a much-deserved hiatus before defending his title again in 2012.
2. Dan Henderson (29-8)
In spite of a scary fifth round, Henderson emerged from his UFC 139 main event against Mauricio “Shogun” Rua on Nov. 19 with a hard-earned unanimous nod. The win capped a banner 2011 for the 41-year-old which also included knockout victories over Fedor Emelianenko and Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante, and placed “Hendo” on the precipice of a UFC title shot.
3. Mauricio “Shogun” Rua (20-6)
The former UFC titleholder fought back valiantly, but Rua could not overcome the deficit created by ex-Strikeforce champ Dan Henderson through the first three stanzas of their Nov. 19 encounter. The Brazilian came up on the short end of a brutal, 25-minute decision against Hendo and has now lost two of three since taking the title from Lyoto Machida in May 2010.
4. Rashad Evans (16-1-1)
Evans didn’t miss a beat upon returning from a 14-month hiatus. After snuffing out Tito Ortiz in August, the ex-UFC champ will attempt to affirm his status as top contender in the 205-pound division on Jan. 28, when he takes part in a long-awaited matchup against fellow collegiate wrestling standout Phil Davis.
5. Quinton “Rampage” Jackson (32-9)
Jackson was halted for the first time since 2005 and submitted for only the second time in his career on Sept. 24 when he ran up against red-hot champion Jon Jones at UFC 135. Now, the Memphis native looks to get back on track in front of the Japanese audience he used to so love in Pride when he meets Ryan Bader at UFC 144.
6. Lyoto Machida (17-3)
Things were looking up for Machida in his Dec. 10 title confrontation with Jon Jones. The Brazilian karateka’s unorthodox style was proving an apt foil to the young champ until a second-round guillotine detached Machida from consciousness and dashed his hopes of once again holding the UFC light heavyweight title.
7. Phil Davis (9-0)
Finally healed from the knee injury which derailed his 2011 campaign, Davis will be right back in the thick of things upon his return. The former Penn State Nittany Lion will face the man he was supposed to fight in August, Rashad Evans, on Jan. 28 in what could prove to be a No. 1 contender’s bout.
8. Antonio Rogerio Nogueira (20-5)
“Little Nog” rebounded from the first back-to-back losses of his career in impressive fashion on Dec. 10, demolishing Tito Ortiz with first-round body blows at UFC 140. The next step is currently unknown for Nogueira, who now stands at 3-2 inside the Octagon.
9. Forrest Griffin (18-7)
After losing his UFC light heavyweight title in 2008 and being embarrassed by Anderson Silva in 2009, Griffin strung together back-to-back victories over Tito Ortiz and Rich Franklin. That streak came to an abrupt halt on Aug. 27, however, when the man Griffin shockingly submitted in 2007, Mauricio “Shogun” Rua, took revenge in the form of a first-round knockout at UFC 134.
10. Rafael Cavalcante (11-3)
Six months after dropping his Strikeforce light heavyweight title to Dan Henderson, “Feijao” returned to his violent ways on Sept. 10. After a strangely tepid opening round, Cavalcante exploded on Yoel Romero Palacio, punching out the Olympic freestyle silver medalist in their Strikeforce showdown.
Other contenders: Rich Franklin, Alexander Gustafsson, Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal, Vladimir Matyushenko, Gegard Mousasi.
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