1. Georges St. Pierre (23-2)
After his triumphant Nov. 17 return against Carlos Condit, many quickly speculated if GSP would next be occupied by defending his title against Johny Hendricks or meet Anderson Silva in their much-ballyhooed super fight. The answer? Neither. St. Pierre will settle his beef with former would-be challenger Nick Diaz on March 16 in Montreal.
2. Carlos Condit (28-6)
A soft touch for the recently bloodied title challenger? A quick-and-dirty tuneup fight? No way. “The Natural Born Killer” was right back to work just weeks after his bout against Georges St. Pierre. Condit is set to rematch fast-rising welterweight prospect Rory MacDonald, a man he stopped in the third round of their entertaining June 2010 bout.
3. Johny Hendricks (14-1)
Following his Nov. 17 decimation of Martin Kampmann, Hendricks seemed like the most likely next challenger for the UFC welterweight title. However, whether owing more to business financials or the whims of the UFC and Georges St. Pierre, the "Bigg Rigg” will need to bide his time against tough Top 10 entrant Jake Ellenberger at UFC 158 in March, while GSP defends his crown against Nick Diaz.
4. Nick Diaz (26-8, 1 ND)
He has not fought in nearly a year and lost his last bout. However, the beef between Diaz and Georges St. Pierre -- as well as the investment in their previously scheduled bout -- has led the UFC to give the Californian his second straight crack at 170-pound gold come UFC 158 in March.
5. Jon Fitch (24-4-1, 1 NC)
Fitch seldom gets any favors in the matchmaking department, and his next outing is no different. After persevering in thrilling fashion against prospect Erick Silva in October, Fitch is back against another Brazilian on Feb. 2, taking on former middleweight title challenger Demian Maia at UFC 156.
6. Martin Kampmann (20-6)
After 12 months spent clawing his way into contention with three straight wins over quality welterweights, Kampmann’s title hopes were dashed in less than a minute at UFC 154. The heavy left hand of Johny Hendricks dealt the Danish “Hitman” his first clean knockout loss and sent Kampmann back down the 170-pound ladder for the time being.
7. Jake Ellenberger (28-6)
It looked like Ellenberger’s welterweight title dreams might have gone up in flames when he was knocked out by Martin Kampmann in June. He has since earned a unanimous verdict on Jay Hieron, putting him in position for a much more important bout with Johny Hendricks at UFC 158 on March 16.
8. Josh Koscheck (17-6)
A bulging disc in his back kept “The Ultimate Fighter” Season 1 alumnus on the sideline for the latter half of 2012. “Kos” makes his return to action on Feb. 23, when he squares off with dangerous slugger Robbie Lawler at UFC 157 in Anaheim, Calif.
9. Ben Askren (11-0)
Askren quieted some of his critics on Jan. 24 by finally finishing a challenger to his Bellator title inside the scheduled five rounds. The “Funky” wrestler from the University of Missouri spent three rounds grounding, pounding and battering Karl Amoussou before the cageside physician put an end to the Frenchman’s suffering. Next up for Askren will be an as-yet-unscheduled defense against seventh-season tourney winner Andrey Koreshkov.
10. Rory MacDonald (14-1)
In the biggest fight of his young career, MacDonald destroyed faded icon B.J. Penn over 15 one-sided minutes at UFC on Fox 5. After a dominant display, MacDonald called out former tormentor Carlos Condit, who bested him in June 2010. The young Canadian will get the chance to avenge his lone career loss March 16 at UFC 158 in Montreal.
Other contenders:Demian Maia, Nate Marquardt, Mike Pierce, Mike Pyle, Tarec Saffiedine.
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