Anderson Silva will hear lots of Chael Sonnen questions until June. | Photo: Marcelo Alonso
1. Anderson Silva (31-4)
The world’s best pound-for-pound fighter left little doubt as to who rules the 185-pound ranks with a flawless August performance against Yushin Okami in Rio de Janeiro. All signs now point to a championship rematch with Chael Sonnen in the first quarter of 2012, once “The Spider” rehabs a sore shoulder.
2. Chael Sonnen (26-11-1)
Although all signs pointed toward a rematch with Anderson Silva after Sonnen’s October submission of Brian Stann, the controversial middleweight from Oregon still has one more hurdle to clear. On Jan. 28 in Chicago, Sonnen will meet powerful wrestler Mark Munoz to determine the No. 1 contender to Silva’s title.
3. Yushin Okami (26-6)
Japan’s top MMA export fell well short in his long-awaited August rematch with UFC champ Anderson Silva, succumbing to punches for the first time since 2003. While he had to play visitor to Silva in Rio de Janeiro, Okami will hold home field advantage when he attempts to get back on track against Tim Boetsch at UFC 144 in Saitama, Japan.
4. Mark Munoz (11-2)
The former Oklahoma State wrestler notched the biggest win of his career on Nov. 5, stopping Chris Leben between the second and third rounds of their UFC 138 main event. The “Filipino Wrecking Machine” now stands on the cusp of title contention and can firm up his status as No. 1 contender with a win over Chael Sonnen on Jan. 28 in Chicago.
5. Nate Marquardt (31-10-2)
After a testosterone replacement therapy debacle caused Marquardt’s June ouster from the UFC, the Greg Jackson student inked a contract with the London-based British Association of Mixed Martial Arts. Now, Marquardt has his first opponent, fellow UFC vet Yoshiyuki Yoshida, against whom he’ll vie for the vacant BAMMA welterweight title on Feb. 11.
6. Demian Maia (15-3)
After coming up short in a tough fight against Mark Munoz, Maia got back on track with an October decisioning of Jorge Santiago. The Brazilian jiu-jitsu black belt will look to creep back into title contention on Jan. 28, when he’ll face Michael Bisping at UFC on Fox 2.
7. Brian Stann (11-4)
Stann had no answer for the ground attack of Chael Sonnen at UFC 136, submitting to the former title contender in the second frame. The loss snapped a three-fight winning streak which saw Stann polish off Chris Leben, Jorge Santiago and Mike Massenzio.
8. Michael Bisping (22-3)
Things weren’t looking up for “The Count” in the first round of his Dec. 3 encounter with rival “TUF 14” coach Jason Miller, but Bisping took the driver’s seat from there, thumping an exhausted “Mayhem” with knees and punches to a third-round stoppage. Bisping will waste no time in returning to the cage: On Jan. 28, he’ll meet former title contender Demian Maia at UFC on Fox 2 in Chicago.
9. Vitor Belfort (20-9)
Belfort rebounded from a crushing loss to Anderson Silva by punching out Japanese star Yoshihiro Akiyama in August. The “Phenom” is already filling up his dance card for 2012: After his Jan. 14 collision with Anthony Johnson in Rio de Janeiro, Belfort will coach opposite Wanderlei Silva on “The Ultimate Fighter: Brazil” before rematching “The Axe Murderer” in June.
10. Luke Rockhold (8-1)
Rockhold bounded from Strikeforce challenger to 185-pound champ in September, pushing his perfect promotional record to 7-0 with a five-round decision win over Brazilian grappler Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza. His first defense will come on Jan. 7 when he faces UFC vet Keith Jardine in Las Vegas.
Other contenders: Tim Kennedy, Hector Lombard, Rousimar Palhares, Jorge Santiago, Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza.
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