1. Daniel Cormier (19-1, 1 NC)It is impossible to say if Cormier will ever get to truly put to rest his tortured history with archrival Jon Jones. Regardless, Cormier remains the UFC light heavyweight champion and has a throne to defend. Somewhat curiously for the 205-pound division, it will come against a new challenger, as Cormier is scheduled to defend his title against Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 220 on Jan. 20 in Boston.
2. Alexander Gustafsson (18-4)It does not appear as though Volkan Oezdemir’s legal issues will prevent him from being the next man to challenge Daniel Cormier for the UFC light heavyweight title, so Gustafsson, the promotion’s top-ranked contender, is not sitting by idly. After three months of his left shoulder and collarbone being held together with a plate, “The Mauler” opted for surgery in late November and is now traversing the rehabilitation process.
3. Ryan Bader (24-5)Bader’s Bellator MMA career got off to a quick start, as he took the promotion’s 205-pound title from Phil Davis in June and then defended it easily against tough Brit Linton Vassell on Nov. 3. Now, there is even more potential at hand for “Darth Bader,” as he has joined the bracket for Bellator’s 2018 tournament to crown a new heavyweight champion. Bader’s quest to become a two-division champion begins in May, when he faces Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal in the quarterfinals.
4. Volkan Oezdemir (15-1)For a brief moment, it looked like Oezdemir getting arrested and charged with aggravated battery may put a kink in the plans for his being the next man to challenge for the UFC light heavyweight title. However, Oezdemir and his team have claimed self-defense in the incident and they remain confident he will face no serious legal repercussions. As a result, “No Time” has been lined up to face UFC champ Daniel Cormier at UFC 220 on Jan. 20 in Boston.
5. Phil Davis (18-4, 1 NC)Down 2-0 to Ryan Bader in their head-to-head series that has transferred from the UFC to Bellator MMA, Davis took a step toward a third encounter with the man who took his light heavyweight title in June. Davis won a handy unanimous decision over Leonardo Leite at Bellator 186, handing the jiu-jitsu ace his first pro MMA loss on the campus of his alma mater, Penn State University.
6. Jimi Manuwa (17-3)Manuwa was penciled in to face Przemyslaw Mysiala at UFC Fight Night 118 on Oct. 21, but Mysiala was unable to get a release from his promotional contract with Absolute Championship Berkut, leaving Manuwa waiting for a new date and opponent. “The Poster Boy” has publicly turned his gaze to the Misha Cirkunov-Glover Teixeira bout at UFC on Fox 26, stating that he would be ready to step in if either man falls out of the Dec. 16 contest.
7. Glover Teixeira (26-6)Teixeira was devastated over 21 minutes by Alexander Gustafsson in May, suffering a nasty fifth-round knockout defeat. Nonetheless, the perennial 205-pound standout opted for a difficult fight for his return, signing on to face Misha Cirkunov at UFC Fight Night 119 on Oct. 28. However, Teixeira was slower to heal than expected after recovering from hand surgery, so the Teixeira-Cirkunov clash has been moved to UFC on Fox 26 on Dec. 16 in Winnipeg, Manitoba.
8. Misha Cirkunov (13-3)Another victim of Volkan Oezdemir’s shocking 2017 campaign of terror, Cirkunov had his eight-fight winning streak -- all stoppages -- smashed in just 28 seconds by the Swiss exponent in May. The Latvian-Canadian was scheduled for comeback duty on Oct. 28 against Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 119, but the former UFC title challenger needed more time to heal his hand after surgery, leading to the fight being rescheduled for UFC on Fox 26 on Dec. 16. The booking should appeal to Cirkunov on some level, as he has gone from fighting a Brazilian in Sao Paulo to taking on Teixeira in his adopted home nation of Canada.
9. Ilir Latifi (13-5, 1 NC)In the modern UFC, if you want a particular fight, you are wise to ask for it. After his September win over Tyson Pedro, Latifi called out Ovince St. Preux, who in turn hollered back at the Swede when he head kicked Corey Anderson at UFC 217. With their mutual interest made explicit, Latifi and St. Preux will now square off on the UFC on Fox 27 main card on Jan. 27, when the Octagon heads back to Charlotte, North Carolina.
10. Nikita Krylov (23-5)Krylov on Oct. 13 made his second appearance for Fight Nights Global after requesting his release from the UFC. While opponent Emanuel Newton entered the bout 1-5 over his previous six outings, the former Bellator 205-pound champion had never been treated like this: Krylov swarmed him and collapsed “The Hardcore Kid” with a devastating knee strike in just 43 seconds. It was only the second time in Newton’s career -- the first since his November 2003 pro debut -- that he had been stopped with strikes. After the emphatic win, Krylov called out fellow UFC veteran Fabio Maldonado.
Other Contenders: Tomasz Narkun, Mauricio Rua, Ovince St. Preux, Linton Vassell, Rashid Yusupov.
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