1. Daniel Cormier (20-1)Cormier’s latest UFC title bout was just another night at the office for “DC.” He took the best shots surging challenger Volkan Oezdemir had to offer at UFC 220 in Boston, then pounded out the Swiss fighter in seven minutes. With another championship win to his credit, Cormier has stated he is now targeting a March 2019 retirement and does not want to fight beyond the age of 40. Before that happens, Cormier will return to the heavyweight division to challenge reigning titlist Stipe Miocic in a champion-versus-champion superfight at UFC 226 on July 7.
2. Alexander Gustafsson (18-4)Volkan Oezdemir’s legal issues did not prevent him from challenging Daniel Cormier for the light heavyweight title at UFC 220, and Gustafsson, the promotion’s top-ranked contender, did not sit 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 (15-2)Oezdemir in 2017 was a shocking revelation with his wins over Ovince St. Preux, Misha Cirkunov and Jimi Manuwa. While the Swiss fighter will not be sent back into obscurity anytime soon, the 28-year-old was quickly brought back to Earth on Jan. 20. In his light heavyweight title challenge against Daniel Cormier at UFC 220, “DC” took Oezdemir’s best shots, took him down and pounded him out in the second round. Oezdemir will meet former champion Mauricio Rua at UFC 129 on May 19 in Santiago, Chile.
5. Phil Davis (18-4)Down 2-0 to Ryan Bader in a 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. “Mr. Wonderful” will next square off with two-time title challenger Linton Vassell in a featured bout at Bellator 200 in London.
6. Glover Teixeira (27-6)After his one-sided demolition and gruesome knockout loss against Alexander Gustafsson in May, it was perfectly reasonable to assume Teixeira’s near decade-long run as an elite 205-pound fighter may be done. Think again: At UFC on Fox 26 on Dec. 16, the Brazilian veteran pulled a quick turnaround on top-10 talent Misha Cirkunov, pounding him out in the first round.
7. Jan Blachowicz (22-7)Once on the verge of losing his job in the UFC after losing four of five in the Octagon, Blachowicz has since rebounded to win three straight. The most recent was the most significant, as he avenged an earlier defeat to Jimi Manuwa with a unanimous decision over the “Poster Boy” at UFC Fight Night 127 in London.
8. Jimi Manuwa (17-4)Manuwa’s brief time as a light heavyweight title contender may be over. Given an opportunity to send a message on home soil in a rematch against Jan Blachowicz at UFC Fight Night 127 in London, “Poster Boy” faltered badly, losing a clear-cut unanimous verdict in the co-main event. Now 38 years old, Manuwa has lost two straight after beginning his promotional tenure with wins in six of his first eight appearances.
9. Ilir Latifi (14-5)In a division badly in need of new contenders, Latifi is working hard to provide a fresh face. “The Sledgehammer” won for the fifth time in six Octagon appearances at UFC on Fox 28, as he dropped Ovince St. Preux with a left hook before submitting his opponent with a standing guillotine choke in the opening stanza. After the victory, the 34-year-old Swede called out reigning light heavyweight king Daniel Cormier. While that might be a bit farfetched, Latifi is set up nicely for a fight with a top contender at 205 pounds.
10. Misha Cirkunov (13-4)Coming off of an unceremonious 28-second knockout loss to Volkan Oezdemir in May, Cirkunov undoubtedly viewed a showdown with perennial-but-fading contender Glover Teixeira as a suitable bounce-back bout. Not so fast: As Cirkunov gained a quick advantage over the Brazilian, Teixeira stormed back to stop the Latvian-Canadian less than three minutes into the first round.
Other Contenders: Nikita Krylov, Tomasz Narkun, Mauricio Rua, Ovince St. Preux, Rashid Yusupov.
Continue Reading » Middleweight