For the first time since UFC 145, Jon Jones will face an opponent who is not an oversized middleweight.
After notching victories over Vitor Belfort and Chael Sonnen in his last two outings, the Jackson’s MMA representative will square off with lanky Swede Alexander Gustafsson at UFC 165 in September. It is a matchup for which Jones asked, his reasoning being that many feel Gustafsson’s skill set matches up nicely with the talented champion.
The Jones booking was hardly the only significant news for the sport’s elite. Welterweight king Georges St. Pierre will make his next title defense against heavy-handed wrestler Johny Hendricks in November at UFC 167, while Cain Velasquez squares off with Junior dos Santos for a third time in October.
Elsewhere, a knee injury to Anthony Pettis nixed his highly anticipated showdown with 145-pound champ Jose Aldo. Instead, the Brazilian will defend his crown against Chan Sung Jung at UFC 163 in Rio de Janeiro.
1. Anderson Silva (33-4)
There is not much left, if anything at all, for Silva to accomplish at middleweight. He is the most dominant champion the division has ever seen and has mopped the floor with virtually every challenger sent his way. When a fighter is this good, it becomes hard to find worthy opponents, but the UFC seems to think it has one in Chris Weidman, who will attempt to dethrone the 38-year-old Brazilian come July 6 at UFC 162. How do the middleweights match up? While Weidman is an accomplished wrestler and unbeaten in MMA, he has fewer fights (nine) than Silva has consecutive title defenses (10).
2. Georges St. Pierre (24-2)
St. Pierre kept his chokehold on the 170-pound class by dominating Nick Diaz in a five-round rout at UFC 158, adding the brash Californian to a list of victims which includes Carlos Condit, Jake Shields, Jon Fitch, B.J. Penn and Matt Hughes. Still only four months removed from an 18-month hiatus due to ACL reconstruction, GSP said after the bout that he was looking to take a break. When he returns at November’s UFC 167, St. Pierre will have to deal with another tough challenger in Johny Hendricks.
3. Jon Jones (18-1)
Facing an undersized opponent he was expected to handle with ease, Jones still impressed with his April 27 demolition of Chael Sonnen. The first-round TKO tied “Bones” with Tito Ortiz for a record fifth defense of the UFC light heavyweight title and, more importantly, paved the way for even bigger and more competitive bouts. When the 25-year-old mends from a nasty toe injury, he will face Swedish “Mauler” Alexander Gustafsson in the main event of UFC 165 on Sept. 21.
4. Jose Aldo (22-1)
In his first title defense since January 2012, Aldo held off hard-charging former lightweight champion Frankie Edgar in the UFC 156 headliner. Shortly thereafter, 155-pound contender Anthony Pettis informed UFC President Dana White that he would like to drop a weight class to face the Brazilian champion. After initially balking at the match, Aldo and his team agreed to square off with Pettis at UFC 163 on Aug. 3, only to see Pettis sidelined by a knee injury. Instead, Aldo will put his bout on the line against the popular “Korean Zombie,” Chan Sung Jung.
5. Benson Henderson (19-2)
After a dominant victory over Nate Diaz in December, “Smooth” returned to his habit of winning closely contested decisions at UFC on Fox 7. Paired with former Strikeforce titlist Gilbert Melendez, Henderson held off his foe to earn a razor-thin split verdict. There will be no immediate rematch for “El Nino,” however, as Henderson will next defend his crown against surging Canadian T.J. Grant. While Henderson has yet to finish an opponent in seven Octagon appearances, his resume -- which also includes wins over Frankie Edgar (twice), Jim Miller and Clay Guida -- remains one of the strongest in the sport today.
6. Cain Velasquez (12-1)
Velasquez celebrated Memorial Day in Las Vegas with his first successful defense of the UFC heavyweight strap. The sport’s top big man steamrolled Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva at UFC 160, setting up an October rubber match with Junior dos Santos, whom Velasquez dominated across five rounds in December to take back the belt. Dos Santos remains the only blemish on Velasquez’s record, which includes first-round finishes of Silva (twice), Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Brock Lesnar.
7. Gilbert Melendez (21-3)
At UFC on Fox 7, Melendez proved he belonged among the divisional and pound-for-pound elite by giving reigning UFC 155-pound champion Benson Henderson all he could handle in the headliner. It was not enough to get the nod from two of the three cageside judges, however, as the Skrap Pack member’s pace slowed slightly down the stretch en route to losing a controversial split decision. The narrow nature of the defeat means that “El Nino” will not be too far removed from title consideration. A bout against Diego Sanchez appears to be in the cards for the fall.
8. Demetrious Johnson (17-2-1)
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. Johnson remained unbeaten at flyweight and established himself as a champion with staying power at UFC on Fox 6. In front of a national television audience, “Mighty Mouse” survived the knockout power of John Dodson early, then had plenty left in reserve for the championship rounds to close out a unanimous decision victory in his first 125-pound title defense. Johnson’s second title defense will also take place on network television, as he takes on surging contender John Moraga at UFC on Fox 8.
9. Joseph Benavidez (18-3)
For years, while he toiled and overachieved at 135 pounds, MMA fans and pundits believed Benavidez had the potential to be the best flyweight fighter in the world. With the 125-pound class now installed in the UFC, the 28-year-old Team Alpha Male representative is doing his best to prove them right. Despite falling to Demetrious Johnson in a close September five-rounder for the UFC flyweight belt, Benavidez is already back in title contention after outworking former divisional ruler Ian McCall in a unanimous decision at UFC 156 and knocking out Shooto veteran Darren Uyenoyama at UFC on Fox 7.
10. Renan Barao (30-1)
Barao successfully defended the UFC interim bantamweight strap against 22-year-old prospect Michael McDonald at UFC on Fuel TV 7 in February. With a resume that includes triumphs over Brad Pickett, Scott Jorgensen, Urijah Faber and the aforementioned “Mayday,” Barao has earned his place atop the division, even if his title comes with a “temporary” label. Barao was on track for a defense against Eddie Wineland in the main event of UFC 161, but the Brazilian was sidelined by a foot injury.