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1. Daniel Cormier (22-1)The best thing you can say about Cormier’s effort at UFC 230 was that it was predictable. “DC” landed multiple takedowns on underdog Derrick Lewis before securing a tapout with a rear-naked choke at the 2:14 mark of the second stanza. Cormier became the first fighter to defend titles from two divisions in UFC history. He also set the stage for his anticipated showdown with Brock Lesnar early next year, targeting UFC 235 on March 2 for his farewell bout.
2. Alexander Gustafsson (18-4)Gustafsson has completed the rehabilitation process for his injured shoulder and is ready to return to the Octagon after recently inking a new UFC contract. After a rumored matchup with ex-middleweight champion Luke Rockhold fell through, “The Mauler” was supposed to square off with fellow former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir at UFC 227 on Aug. 4 in Los Angeles. However, shortly after Oezdemir withdrew from the bout due to a broken nose, Gustafsson was also forced to exit the event as a result of a “minor injury.” The layoff has proven to be worth the wait, however, as Gustafssson will rematch rival Jon Jones for the vacant light heavyweight crown in the UFC 232 headliner on Dec. 29.
3. Ryan Bader (26-5)Bader was absolutely overwhelming against Matt Mitrione, grounding and dominating “The Ultimate Fighter 10” veteran to take a unanimous decision at Bellator 207. The reigning 205-pound king will advances to the finals of Bellator’s heavyweight grand prix, where he will face the legendary Fedor Emelianenko on Jan. 26 in Los Angeles.
4. Anthony Smith (31-13)Smith became a certified light heavyweight contender at UFC Fight Night Moncton, as he survived some early round adversity to submit former title challenger Volkan Oezdemir with a rear-naked choke at the 4:26 mark of round three in the evening’s headliner. “Lionheart’s” 205-pound resume now includes finishes of Oezdemir, Mauricio Rua and Rashad Evans. Smith has won six of his last seven UFC appearances overall.
5. Volkan Oezdemir (15-3)Oezdemir suddenly seems far removed from his meteoric rise to No. 1 contender in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. After being dominated by Daniel Cormier in a title bout at UFC 220, “No Time” returned to action against Anthony Smith at UFC Fight Night 138 in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada. The Swiss fighter started well, but ultimately faltered in losing to a former middleweight via third-round submission. Fortunately for Oezdemir, he resides in a shallow division where a two-fight winning streak could propel him back to contention.
6. Jan Blachowicz (24-7)Don’t look now, but Blachowicz is currently the owner of the longest active winning streak in the UFC’s light heavyweight division. Once on the verge of losing his UFC roster spot after dropping four of five fights inside the Octagon, Blachowicz has since rebounded to win four consecutive bouts. Most recently, the 35-year-old Pole spoiled Nikita Krylov’s Octagon return with a second-round submission victory at UFC Fight Night 136 in Moscow.
7. 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, where he dropped Ovince St. Preux with a left hook before submitting his opponent with a standing guillotine choke in the opening stanza. The 35-year-old Swede was forced to withdraw from a proposed bout with fellow contender Glover Teixeira at UFC Fight Night 134, but will return to action against Corey Anderson at UFC 232 on Dec. 29.
8. Thiago Santos (19-6)While he was plenty dangerous enough as a middleweight, Santos seems to have found a home at 205 pounds. “Marreta” improved to 2-0 as a light heavyweight at UFC 231, winning a slugfest against British knockout artist Jimi Manuwa. Couple that with a stoppage of Eryk Anders one fight prior, and the 34-year-old Brazilian is suddenly a person of in a shallow division. Overall, Santos has won seven of his last eight UFC bouts across two weight classes.
9. Corey Anderson (11-4)Anderson further distanced himself from consecutive knockout losses to Jimi Manuwa and Ovince St. Preux, as he filled in for Volkan Oezdemir in the UFC Fight Night 134 co-main event and dominated Glover Teixeira to a unanimous decision in Hamburg, Germany. “The Ultimate Fighter 19” winner will attempt to continue his ascent up the rankings when he squares off against Ilir Latifi at UFC 232.
10. Dominick Reyes (10-0)Reyes passed his first true test in the Octagon, going the distance to outpoint perennial gatekeeper Ovince St. Preux at UFC 229. After dispatching his first three UFC foes inside of a round, Reyes showed enough of a gas tank to survive when the quick finish didn’t come. “The Devastator” still has improvements to make, but he is nonetheless an interesting new face in a division filled with aging talent.
Other Contenders: Jimi Manuwa, Ovince St. Preux, Misha Cirkunov, Vadim Nemkov, Phil Davis.
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