1. Stipe Miocic (17-2)Miocic has enjoyed one of the best runs in heavyweight MMA history over the last four years, but now finds himself without an obvious next contender for what could be his record-setting third consecutive UFC title defense. UFC President Dana White said Miocic might have fought light heavyweight champion Jon Jones at UFC 218 in December before Jones' second failed USADA test. Miocic may stay on the Dec. 2 card, but with Jones out, Junior dos Santos embroiled in his own USADA drama and Cain Velasquez on the sidelines, surging Francis Ngannou might be the only option.
2. Alistair Overeem (43-15, 1 NC)It will not be remembered as an exciting, classic trilogy, but Overeem and Fabricio Werdum had their rubber match at UFC 213, where the Dutchman pulled out a narrow majority decision to take a 2-1 lead in their rivalry. Despite his career being defined by a shaky chin and accompanying inconsistency, the 37-year-old Overeem, after nearly 18 years as a pro fighter, is 6-1 in his last seven Octagon appearances. His lone loss in that span came in a heavyweight title challenge against Stipe Miocic in September, when “The Reem” had the champion hurt early before eating the canvas.
3. Fabricio Werdum (21-7-1)Werdum might be 40 years old and 1-2 in his last three bouts, but the former UFC champion is still one of the five best heavyweights ever and is always eager to compete. Keen to erase the recent memory of losing a close majority decision in his July rubber match with Alistair Overeem, “Vai Cavalo” has signed on to face big-hitting “Black Beast” Derrick Lewis at UFC 216 on Oct. 7 in Las Vegas.
4. Cain Velasquez (14-2)After being forced out of his UFC 207 rematch with Fabricio Werdum over his use of cannabidiol, Velasquez underwent successful back surgery in early January. Following his operation, Velasquez took to social media in March to state that while he was excited to get back into the Octagon, he could not commit to a timeline for his return, stating he was “listening to [his] body.”
5. Junior dos Santos (18-5)Dos Santos is 3-4 with three knockout losses in his last seven bouts, but owing to his splitting a pair of bouts with champion Stipe Miocic and the dire nature of the heavyweight talent pool, “Cigano” could have been back in another title fight if he had beaten red-hot Francis Ngannou at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta. However, dos Santos was pulled from the contest on Aug. 18 after being informed of a potential USADA violation that placed the former heavyweight champ in limbo. Dos Santos is now one of three top-10 Sherdog heavyweights currently embroiled in a USADA case.
6. Ben Rothwell (36-10)Rothwell was scheduled to get a major bout in his next outing, as the Wisconsinite was penciled in to face former UFC champion Fabricio Werdum at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas. However, in early March, the UFC announced that Rothwell had been flagged for a banned substance in a U.S. Anti-Doping Agency test administered on Feb. 6, putting his immediate future in doubt. Seven months later, there is still no update on Rothwell's case.
7. Josh Barnett (35-8)In a USADA test on Dec. 9, Barnett tested positive for an undisclosed banned substance, giving him his fourth blown drug test in 15 years. However, after nearly eight months of silence, Barnett reappeared recently with UFC color commentator Joe Rogan on “The Joe Rogan Experience” podcast and said he had been informed he likely would not face a suspension as a result of a diluted, contaminated supplement. The UFC and USADA have yet to comment on Barnett's case.
8. Francis Ngannou (10-1)With nine straight wins via stoppage and five of them coming in the UFC, Ngannou is the hottest thing to hit the MMA heavyweight ranks since current champion Stipe Miocic hit his stride four years ago. The 30-year-old Cameroonian was on track for a potential date with Miocic, as he was lined up to meet former UFC champion and recent title challenger Junior dos Santos at UFC 215 in Edmonton, Alberta. However, dos Santos' pre-fight USADA test failure nixed the bout and left “The Predator” without a dance partner. Ngannou may luck out yet: With his hype, winning streak and lack of a No. 1 challenger for Miocic, he could wind up in a title fight come UFC 218 in December.
9. Vitaly Minakov (20-0)Minakov stayed busy on June 2, taking a fight in his native Russia for his home base promotion Fight Nights Global and knocking out a shopworn Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva in the second round. A seven-year pro, the 32-year-old Minakov is unbeaten in 20 fights, but it remains anyone's best guess if he will end up back in Bellator MMA, where he previously held the heavyweight title, the UFC or stay as a feature attraction for Fight Nights Global.
10. Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC)At 43 years old and having installed himself as the modern MMA heavyweight division's Earnie Shavers, Hunt is unlikely to grab another UFC title shot. Nonetheless, as he reminded us in his native Auckland, New Zealand, in June, when he punched out rising contender Derrick Lewis in the fourth round, “The Super Samoan” can still throw hands and expose a not-ready-for-primetime prospect. The 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix will get a chance to do it again his next time out and once more in a geographically preferential, headlining role: Hunt meets up-and-coming Polish contender Marcin Tybura in his adopted home of Sydney.
Other Contenders: Blagoy Ivanov, Cheick Kongo, Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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