1. Stipe Miocic (16-2)The UFC’s reigning and defending heavyweight champion has been outspoken recently about his desire for a newer, fatter contract, feeling as though he let himself down by being a “company man” and signing his previous deal without negotiating. However, Miocic will next get the chance to avenge his only loss in the last four years, as he faces former champion Junior dos Santos at UFC 211 on May 13 in Dallas.
2. Fabricio Werdum (21-6-1)If Werdum had his druthers and could choose a loss to avenge, it stands to reason that the former UFC heavyweight champion would want to rematch the man who took his title and humiliated him in front of 45,000 Brazilian fans: Stipe Miocic. However, if “Vai Cavalo” is to get a second crack at Miocic or the heavyweight champion's next challenger -- Junior dos Santos, who shockingly knocked out Werdum in his October 2008 UFC debut -- he will likely have to settle another score first: Werdum is expected to face rival Alistair Overeem in a rubber match at UFC 213 on July 8.
3. 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.”
4. Alistair Overeem (42-15, 1 NC)In a bout crucial for his career, Overeem successfully rebounded from his knockout loss to UFC champ Stipe Miocic, as he overcame several heavy strikes from 2001 K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt at UFC 209 in March. In the third round, the Dutchman crushed Hunt with a salvo of knees, which sets up another major assignment for “The Demolition Man.” He is expected to meet Fabricio Werdum at UFC 213 on July 8 to break their 1-1 deadlock against one another in a rubber match.
5. Junior dos Santos (18-4)There was not much inspiring about dos Santos getting lined up to rematch Stefan Struve on Feb. 19 in the main event of the second UFC Fight Night card in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Struve’s injury left dos Santos without an opponent and eventually led to his being pulled from the card. However, it was a stroke of luck for “Cigano,” who will now rematch Stipe Miocic at UFC 211 on May 13. Dos Santos, the last man to defeat the current champion, won a five-round unanimous decision over Miocic in December 2014.
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.
7. Josh Barnett (35-8)Despite an incredibly distinguished career and being one of MMA’s all-time greatest heavyweights, Barnett’s repeated drug test failures have haunted him. Now, it looks like that notorious reputation is going to get more sordid: The United States Anti-Doping Agency has flagged Barnett for an undisclosed banned substance related to a Dec. 9 drug test. If Barnett’s test failure is confirmed, it will be the former UFC champ’s fourth blown test since 2001.
8. Francis Ngannou (10-1)Hot off of his 92-second destruction of Andrei Arlovski in Denver, Ngannou was briefly linked to a potential May bout with Stefan Struve -- before the Dutch “Skyscraper” came out and said reports of the fight were mistaken. There is a growing desire to see “The Predator” step up in competition in his next assignment.
9. Vitaly Minakov (19-0)The circumstances surrounding Minakov just get stranger and stranger. After discussing his desire to fight in the UFC and then saying he was re-negotiating with Bellator MMA after the company had stripped him of its heavyweight title, Minakov was nearly knocked out by American journeyman D.J. Linderman on Feb. 23. After all that, the 19-0 Russian will make his next appearance for home base promotion Eurasia Fight Nights on June 2, taking on UFC veteran Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva, who has won just once in his last nine bouts.
10. Derrick Lewis (18-4, 1 NC)With a 9-2 mark in the UFC and six straight wins, Lewis has earned himself a step up to the big leagues in the heavyweight division. On June 11 in New Zealand, “The Black Beast” will get it, as the promotion has lined up Lewis to face former K-1 World Grand Prix winner Mark Hunt in his native Auckland. The bout is the third straight main event billing for the Houston native.
Other Contenders: Andrei Arlovski, Mark Hunt, Blagoy Ivanov, Cheick Kongo, Alexander Volkov.
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