There’s avenging a loss, and then there’s what Cain Velasquez did against Junior dos Santos at UFC 155.
With relentless wrestling and a fearless game plan, the 30-year-old Velasquez spent the better part of five rounds abusing the man who knocked him out 13 months prior. The Brazilian never really looked to be in the fight, as Velasquez attacked from the opening bell and rarely eased up on the gas, eventually taking back the UFC heavyweight crown via lopsided unanimous decision.
The American Kickboxing Academy stud also takes dos Santos’ place on this iteration of our rankings, albeit further down the list than most of his fellow UFC champs for the time being. Velasquez will have a chance to further climb the ladder with his next defense, which could come in a long-awaited matchup against muscle-bound Dutch striker Alistair Overeem. That’s no guarantee, however: Overeem must first overcome recent Velasquez victim Antonio Silva at UFC 156 in February.
1. Anderson Silva (33-4)
Just when it looked like we might not see “The Spider” for a while, Silva made a surprise appearance at October’s UFC 153. The UFC’s middleweight ace once again moved up to 205 pounds, this time to salvage the injury-ravaged Rio de Janeiro card with a makeshift main event against Stephan Bonnar. To the surprise of no one, Silva made quick work of the normally durable veteran and quickly returned to the sideline, where he figures to stay until mid-2013. While it’s long been figured that Silva is approaching the end of his career, UFC President Dana White stated in December that he recently turned down an eight-fight contract with the company -- and instead asked for a 10-fight deal.
2. Georges St. Pierre (23-2)
The welterweight division’s French Canadian king finally came off the shelf in November after a frustrating 18-month layoff. Showing no signs of the knee injury that had kept him from the cage, GSP got right back to his old ways, sweeping interim champ Carlos Condit in a five-round affair to unify the UFC’s 170-pound belts. For a moment, Zuffa seemed dead-set on getting St. Pierre and fellow pound-for-pound luminary Silva together for a mega-fight; instead, GSP’s next bout will be a long-anticipated fight against former Strikeforce titlist Nick Diaz at UFC 158.
3. Jon Jones (17-1)
It was a turbulent year for Jones, who weathered opponent changes, angry bosses and a drunk driving arrest but came out the other side with his UFC light heavyweight title intact. The latest test for “Bones” was a September encounter with Vitor Belfort, who nearly pulled off a miracle armbar early at UFC 152 but eventually succumbed to a Jones keylock in round four. Jones will have a little time off before his next defense, but it will not be all rest: the 25-year-old is set to coach opposite Chael Sonnen on the next season of “The Ultimate Fighter” before the two meet at UFC 159 in April.
4. Jose Aldo (21-1)
Aldo managed only one fight in 2012, as injuries twice nixed bouts with Roufusport prospect Erik Koch. The Brazilian was also forced to withdraw from a UFC featherweight title defense against Frankie Edgar in September. In what will be his highest-profile bout to date, Aldo will now take on former lightweight top dog Edgar on Feb. 2 in the main event of UFC 156 -- the company’s annual Super Bowl weekend card in Las Vegas. It is the kind of victory that could go a long way to making people forget about his recent inactivity and injury issues.
5. Benson Henderson (18-2)
After claiming and defending the UFC lightweight title in a pair of hotly contested wins over Edgar, Henderson left little doubt in his latest defense. Before an audience of millions on network TV, Henderson grounded, pounded and ultimately took a unanimous decision over top contender Nate Diaz. Henderson’s recent run at 155 pounds has given him one of the strongest records in all of MMA. Things will not get any easier in 2013 for the man who presides over arguably the most talent-rich division in the UFC, with the presence contenders like Anthony Pettis and Gray Maynard lining up for a shot at the belt, not to mention incoming Strikeforce champ Gilbert Melendez.
6. Dan Henderson (29-8)
Henderson’s unceremonious knee injury at least temporarily put the brakes on his improbable three-division run past the age of 40. Despite White’s recent statements about a slow recovery, the former Pride Fighting Championships and Strikeforce titleholder insists he’s healthy and on schedule for a February return. Henderson may have lost his crack at Jones to occasional training partner Sonnen, but the Olympian still believes he’s on target for a high-stakes Feb. 23 date against former UFC light heavyweight champion Lyoto Machida.
7. Frankie Edgar (14-3-1)
Two close losses to fellow pound-for-pound entrant Benson Henderson are nothing to hang one’s head about. Edgar still boasts a strong recent resume against the lightweight division’s aces and is now bound for 145 pounds. “The Answer” will have a chance to put another Zuffa title on his mantle in February, along with arguably the biggest win of his career, as he takes on featherweight ruler Aldo in a pound-for-pound clash that onlookers have been calling for consistently over the last two years.
8. Gilbert Melendez (21-2)
Melendez’s on-again, off-again Strikeforce lightweight title defense against Pat Healy was rescheduled for the company’s final show on Jan. 12. One problem: Melendez’s knee injury still was not healed, forcing him off the show. However, we now get what the world really craves: Melendez against Top 10, elite lightweights on a fight-in, fight-out basis. The Cesar Gracie product figures to make his Octagon debut in early 2013 and should factor in against the major players at 155 pounds almost immediately. It has been a long time coming.
9. Cain Velasquez (11-1)
In a division historically thin on high-level talent, it’s easier to earn consideration as an all-time great. That’s not to say Velasquez has had a easy run in his nearly five-year UFC stint, which has seen him dispose of Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, Brock Lesnar and Antonio Silva. What’s more, on Dec. 29, the wrestler from Arizona State University avenged the only blemish on his record by laying waste to dos Santos in a 25-minute rout. Now once more with gold and a legacy to defend, Velasquez will next likely face former Strikeforce champ Overeem, provided the “Demolition Man” can get past Silva at UFC 156.
10. Demetrious Johnson (16-2-1)
As we begin to wonder what various pound-for-pound greats might look like fighting a weight class above the one they dominate, Johnson is becoming one of the few truly successful fighters to actually fulfill the “drop a weight class and dominate” expectation. The first UFC 125-pound champ has picked up major wins over Ian McCall and Joseph Benavidez in 2012 and has the chance to up his unbeaten mark as a flyweight on network television in the New Year. “Mighty Mouse” makes the first defense of his flyweight title at the UFC on Fox 6 in Chicago against “Ultimate Fighter” winner John Dodson.
With the entry of Velasquez, previously ninth-ranked dos Santos falls outside the pound-for-pound Top 10.