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)Werdum in the last 18 months has lost the UFC heavyweight title, turned 40 years old and gone 2-2 inside the Octagon. Those facts, combined with his recent homophobic war of words with UFC interim lightweight champion Tony Ferguson, would lead one to believe that things were not going so hot for “Vai Cavalo.” Instead, he was given a last-second replacement opponent at UFC 216 and tapped an overmatched Walt Harris with an armbar in 65 seconds. Now, Mark Hunt’s recent admission of early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy has allowed Werdum to slide into the UFC Fight Night 121 headliner against Marcin Tybura, where he again figures to be a favorite.
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.” A timeline for his return remains uncertain.
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. Eight 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)When Minakov relinquished his Bellator MMA heavyweight title, briefly negotiated with the UFC and then opted to sign with home-base promotion Fight Nights Global, the primary question was whether or not the undefeated Russian would face quality opposition. The last six fights have been a mixed bag in that regard, but Minakov does have a tough, underrated opponent next on the docket. He will face fellow Bellator vet Tony Johnson Jr. at Fight Nights Global 82 on Dec. 16.
10. Mark Hunt (13-11-1, 1 NC)After a nearly 20-year career, it looked like Hunt may be done as an elite prizefighter in March, when fellow former K-1 World Grand Prix champ Alistair Overeem devastated him with knees. Three months later in his native Auckland, New Zealand, the 43-year-old outlasted big-hitting contender Derrick Lewis, stopped him in the fourth round and earned headlining duty at UFC Fight Night 121 in his adopted hometown of Sydney. That was until the UFC became aware of an editorial “The Super Samoan” had written for Players Voice in which he admitted to early signs of chronic traumatic encephalopathy, leading to his removal from the slated main event with Marcin Tybura.
Other Contenders: Blagoy Ivanov, Cheick Kongo, Derrick Lewis, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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