1. Stipe Miocic (17-2)Miocic has on his resume successful UFC title defenses against Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem, both via knockout. With just one more defense of his throne, Miocic will have the most heavyweight title defenses in UFC history in a single reign. The question: Who will the challenger be? Our answer should be revealed on Dec. 2 in Detroit, where Overeem and fast-rising contender Francis Ngannou square off in what appears to be a no-brainer title eliminator, even if it is not officially promoted as such by the UFC.
2. Alistair Overeem (43-15, 1 NC)Sometimes -- and this seems especially true in the heavyweight division -- matchups just make sense. Even before Overeem claimed a majority decision over Fabricio Werdum in their rubber match in July, the MMA world was banging the drum for “The Demolition Man” to meet the hottest prospect in the division: Francis Ngannou. Now it is official. Overeem will look to clinch a second shot at UFC heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic on Dec. 2, when he meets Ngannou at UFC 218 in a de facto title eliminator.
3. Fabricio Werdum (22-7-1)Following his majority decision loss to rival Alistair Overeem in their third head-to-head encounter in July, a 40-year-old Werdum needed a major win to bounce back in the UFC heavyweight title picture. He was lined up to face fearsome puncher Derrick Lewis at UFC 216 on Oct. 7, but a pair of bulging discs knocked “The Black Beast” out of the contest on fight night. Instead, Werdum, who has spent 12 years fighting the true heavyweight elite, was gifted a last-minute bout with Walt Harris; the former heavyweight champion needed all of 65 seconds to effortlessly mount and armbar “The Big Ticket” in what amounted to a surprise tune-up fight.
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.” Velasquez now expects to return in the new year.
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)Ngannou has won nine fights in a row, the last five of them inside the Octagon, where he has finished all five of his opponents. The 31-year-old Cameroonian has emerged as perhaps the most coveted heavyweight prospect since current UFC champ Stipe Miocic six years ago, and as such, fans are eager to see “The Predator” take a jump in competition. They will soon get their wish. A victory next time out figures to earn him a shot at the aforementioned Miocic: Ngannou takes on perennial heavyweight stud Alistair Overeem at UFC 218 on Dec. 2 in Detroit.
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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