1. Cain Velasquez (12-1)
Velasquez successfully defended the UFC heavyweight title for the first time on May 25 with an 81-second battering of Antonio Silva -- a full two minutes faster than their bloody first encounter one year earlier. The decisive win solidified the 31-year-old American Kickboxing Academy fighter’s reputation as MMA’s premier big man; more importantly, it set the stage for a rubber match with Junior dos Santos, which is set for UFC 166 in Houston.
2. Junior dos Santos (16-2)
In his first fight since relinquishing the UFC title to Cain Velasquez in December, “Cigano” used superior speed and a varied offensive attack to take out Mark Hunt at UFC 160. Dos Santos finished Hunt late in the third frame with a spinning hook kick -- a highlight-reel knockout that put the Brazilian on course for a third bout against Velasquez in October.
3. Fabricio Werdum (17-5-1)
Werdum proved he is deserving of serious title consideration at UFC on Fuel TV 10, as he became just the second man to ever submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, forcing “Minotauro” to tap to an armbar in the second round of the June 8 headliner. Barring injury, Werdum’s championship dreams will have to wait, as Cain Velasquez-Junior dos Santos 3 has been booked for the fall.
4. Daniel Cormier (12-0)
It might not have been the most spectacular of beginnings, but Cormier dominated former heavyweight king Frank Mir from bell to bell in his Octagon debut at UFC on Fox 7. The American Kickboxing Academy product still plans on a move to 205 pounds, but the weight cut will be a gradual process, as Cormier will face Roy Nelson in a heavyweight clash at UFC 166 before changing divisions.
5. Antonio Silva (18-5)
Back-to-back finishes of Alistair Overeem and Travis Browne earned “Bigfoot” a rematch with Cain Velasquez, but that is where the magic ran out for the 6-foot-4 heavyweight. Silva once again succumbed to first-round punches from Velasquez at UFC 160, ending the Brazilian’s hopes of claiming UFC gold anytime in the near future. The Strikeforce veteran will attempt to get back on the winning track in December, when he squares off with former K-1 standout Mark Hunt in Australia.
6. Josh Barnett (33-6)
After more than 4,000 days away from the Octagon, Barnett reminded everyone why he is one of the world’s best heavyweights at UFC 164. The expected grappling duel with Frank Mir never transpired, as “The Warmaster” controlled the abbreviated heavyweight clash in the clinch, finishing his opponent with a vicious knee and punches on the mat. Next, the former heavyweight ruler meets Travis Browne at UFC 168.
7. Frank Mir (16-8)
Mir’s highly anticipated showdown with Josh Barnett was over before it could really get going. Barnett battered Mir in the clinch, landing punches, elbows and knees before one final, thudding knee strike swiftly dropped the Jackson’s MMA representative. Barnett sealed the victory with follow-up punches, giving Mir three straight defeats for the first time in his career. It could very well be do or die for the jiu-jitsu ace in his next bout, as he clashes with Alistair Overeem in November.
8. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira (34-8-1, 1 NC)
Nogueira continued his recent trend of alternating wins and losses, as he followed an October triumph over Dave Herman with a submission defeat to Fabricio Werdum at UFC on Fuel TV 10. Do not expect the 37-year-old “Minotauro” to hang it up anytime soon, however. Although he may no longer be a title contender, Nogueira is arguably Brazil’s most beloved fighter and should continue to catch marquee fights in the UFC.
9. Travis Browne (15-1-1)
Despite a flashy record and more than his share of dominant victories, Browne entered his co-headlining bout with Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night 26 as a relatively unknown commodity. Some serious resilience followed by a highlight-reel front kick did plenty to change that perception, however, as Browne’s first-round stoppage of the “Demolition Man” has made the 6-foot-7 Hawaiian a serious player in the heavyweight division. Browne will look to continue his ascent on Dec. 28, when he locks horns with Josh Barnett in Las Vegas.
10. Alistair Overeem (36-13, 1 NC)
On the heels of a devastating loss to Antonio Silva, Overeem’s mystique took another significant hit at UFC Fight Night 26, as the massive Blackzilians member suffered a first-round knockout to Travis Browne; it was his second setback in three Octagon appearances. His title hopes in the rearview mirror, Overeem will attempt to resurrect his career by defeating Frank Mir at UFC 167.
Other contenders:Gabriel Gonzaga, Mark Hunt, Stipe Miocic, Roy Nelson, Stefan Struve.
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