1. Luke Rockhold (15-2)Former Strikeforce middleweight champ Rockhold added a shiny new UFC belt to his trophy case with a rousing victory over previously undefeated Chris Weidman at UFC 194. The American Kickboxing Academy stud used hellacious ground-and-pound to slice up and ultimately pound out Weidman in the fourth frame. Several options exist for Rockhold’s first title defense: a rematch with Weidman, a dance with presumptive top contender Yoel Romero or a chance for revenge against the only man to beat Rockhold on the big stage, Vitor Belfort.
2. Chris Weidman (13-1)Weidman’s reign atop the middleweight division came to an end after two and a half years when he was brutalized by Luke Rockhold at UFC 194. The “All-American” had racked up 13 straight wins to begin his career, including two now-legendary victories against 185-pound G.O.A.T. Anderson Silva.
3. Yoel Romero (11-1)Romero’s fearsome power was on full display at UFC 194, as the Cuban wrestler nearly polished off Ronaldo Souza in the opening round. In the end, Romero was forced to withstand a “Jacare” comeback in order to earn a split decision; nonetheless, the win should secure the “Soldier of God” a shot at the UFC middleweight belt in the near future.
4. Ronaldo Souza (22-4, 1 NC)Souza battled back from an early knockout scare but could not sway the judges at UFC 194, where “Jacare” dropped a razor-thin split decision to Yoel Romero in a likely title eliminator. The loss marked the Brazilian jiu-jitsu ace’s first stumble since he dropped the Strikeforce middleweight title to Luke Rockhold in 2011.
5. Vitor Belfort (25-11)Belfort emerged victorious from his rubber match with Dan Henderson on Nov. 7, knocking out his fellow legend in the opening round with a head kick and follow-up punches. It was the fourth stoppage win for the Brazilian in his last five outings and his first since being blown up by Chris Weidman in their May title bout.
6. Lyoto Machida (22-7)Machida sought to implement his distance striking against Yoel Romero on June 27 but was taken down and knocked out cold by the wrestler’s elbows in round three. The defeat marked Machida’s first back-to-back losses since 2010 and brought his record in the UFC middleweight division to 3-3.
7. Michael Bisping (27-7)The indefatigable Bisping used constant movement and technical striking to outpoint Thales Leites across five rounds on July 18 in the main event of UFC Fight Night in Glasgow, Scotland. The victory puts “The Count” on his first winning streak since 2011, as he had alternated wins and losses in his previous eight Octagon appearances. After the win, Bisping stated that he is seeking rematches with Vitor Belfort and Dan Henderson. Those two men have since been paired in a trilogy match. Meanwhile, an injury forced Bisping to withdraw from a fight against Robert Whittaker at UFC 193 in November. He will return to the stage opposite Gegard Mousasi at a UFC Fight Night event in London on Feb. 27.
8. David Branch (17-3)The reigning World Series of Fighting champion has made a name for himself as the best middleweight competing outside the Octagon, winning eight of nine since exiting the UFC in 2011. Branch punched out longtime 185-pound ranker Yushin Okami to defend his belt. On Sept. 18, the Renzo Gracie student scored a quick submission of Teddy Holder to capture the vacant WSOF light heavyweight title and become the company’s first two-division champ.
9. Thales Leites (25-5)The new and improved Leites started his second UFC stint with a bang, using a combination of black-belt level Brazilian jiu-jitsu and sharpened striking to rack up five straight wins against likes of Tim Boetsch and Francis Carmont. The Brazilian’s hot streak ended in July, when he was outworked by Michael Bisping in a five-round decision loss.
10. Mamed Khalidov (31-4-2)Khalidov made his only fight of 2015 an impressive one, as the Polish star demolished countryman Michal Materla in just 31 seconds to take the Konfrontacja Sztuk Walki middleweight title. Though his numbers are astonishing -- one loss in 30-plus fights since 2005, including 11 straight wins -- Khalidov remains an outlier due to his sporadic schedule and inability to fight top-shelf competition.
Other Contenders: Derek Brunson, C.B. Dollaway, Uriah Hall, Gegard Mousasi, Robert Whittaker.
Continue Reading » Welterweight