Ben Duffy/Sherdog.com illustration
1. Daniel Cormier (22-1, 1 NC)The best thing you can say about Cormier’s effort at UFC 230 was that it was predictable. “DC” landed multiple takedowns on underdog Derrick Lewis before securing a tapout with a rear-naked choke at the 2:14 mark of the second stanza. Cormier became the first fighter to defend titles from two divisions in UFC history. Cormier previously set March 20 as a retirement date, but he will now fight beyond his 40th birthday when he faces Stipe Miocic in a heavyweight championship rematch at UFC 241.
2. Stipe Miocic (18-3)Heavyweight title reigns are fleeting, even if you have authored the longest such reign in UFC history. That proved to be the case for Miocic, who fell to reigning light heavyweight king Daniel Cormier via first-round knockout in the UFC 226 headliner. The defeat snapped a six-fight winning streak for the Ohio firefighter, who had bested Francis Ngannou, Junior dos Santos and Alistair Overeem during his stay at the top. Miocic will get a chance to avenge his last defeat when he locks horns with Cormier in a heavyweight championship rematch on Aug. 17.
3. Junior dos Santos (21-5)After going 3-3 during a six-bout stretch from 2012 to 2017, Junior dos Santos appears to be revitalized. The former heavyweight king won his third consecutive bout at UFC Wichita, defeating Derrick Lewis via technical knockout 1:58 into the second round of their headlining encounter. In his last three contests — all of which occurred in headlining bouts — dos Santos has bested Lewis, Tai Tuivasa and Blagoy Ivanov to climb back into championship contention. Next, he’ll face Francis Ngannou in a potential title eliminator bout in the UFC on ESPN 3 headliner on June 29.
4. Francis Ngannou (13-3)Francis Ngannou lost much of his luster as the heavyweight division’s “Next Big Thing” during a disappointing first half of 2018 in which he dropped lackluster decisions against Stipe Miocic and Derrick Lewis. However, “The Predator” has since reversed course with back-to-back first-round stoppages of Curtis Blaydes and Cain Velasquez in his most recent two Octagon appearances. While the Cameroonian-born Frenchman may never be built for long, drawn-out fights, his knockout power makes him one of the most fearsome talents in the division. Ngannou will face ex-champ Junior dos Santos at UFC on ESPN 3 with a potential No. 1 contender’s spot on the line.
5. Derrick Lewis (21-7)Lewis was one of the UFC’s breakout stars of 2018, defeating Marcin Tybura, Francis Ngannou and Alexander Volkov to earn a shot at Daniel Cormier’s heavyweight title at UFC 230. 2019 didn’t start out nearly as well for “The Black Beast,” who fell to Junior dos Santos via second-round technical knockout in the UFC Wichita headliner on March 9. On the heels of the first-two fight losing streak of his professional career, Lewis has some work to do to reach his previous heights. First, he’ll undergo knee surgery in hopes of a late 2019 return to the Octagon.
6. Alexander Volkov (30-7)Volkov was well on his way to his fifth consecutive Octagon triumph at UFC 229, as he was comfortably outlanding Derrick Lewis in the waning seconds of their featured bout. Then, “The Black Beast” crushed Volkov with a massive right hand and followed him to the mat, finishing the contest with powerful ground-and-pound at the 4:49 mark of the third frame. At 29 years old, Volkov still has plenty of time to contend for heavyweight gold in a shallow division. The Russian will supposed to return against Alistair Overeem at UFC Fight Night in St. Petersburg, Russia, on April 20, but Volkov was pulled from the bout due to a rumored USADA violation.
7. Curtis Blaydes (11-2)Blaydes got back to doing what he does best at UFC Nashville, as he dominated Justin Willis with his wrestling and ground-and-pound en route to a unanimous decision victory. Blaydes was in complete control, earning 30-25 and 30-26 scorecards en route to his fifth victory in his last six Octagon appearances. More importantly, “Razor” Blaydes showed he could bounce back from what could have been a disheartening 45-second technical knockout loss to Francis Ngannou in his previous fight. Thus far, Ngannou is the only man to defeat Blaydes — with two stoppage wins — in the UFC. A matchup with Shamil Abdurakhimov is rumored to be in the works for UFC 242 in Abu Dhabi.
8. Alistair Overeem (45-17)Originally scheduled to face Alexander Volkov at UFC St. Petersburg, Overeem adjusted to an opponent change with no issue, as he stopped Alexey Oleynik via technical knockout 4:45 into the opening stanza of the evening’s headliner. “The Reem” gradually softened his foe with powerful knees, the last of which dropped Oleynik to the canvas. From there, Overeem unloaded with powerful ground-and-pound to earn his second consecutive win. The soon-to-be 39-year-old Dutchman appears to be interested in a rebooking with Volkov, and a third consecutive win could propel him right back into title contention.
9. Ryan Bader (27-5)Bader etched himself into history when he knocked out Fedor Emelianenko in the Bellator 214 headliner to become the first two-division champion in promotion history. After vanquishing “The Last Emperor,” Matt Mitrione and Muhammed Lawal to claim the vacant heavyweight crown, Bader, also the reigning 205-pound king, must decide which belt he is going to defend first. Bader already has a heavyweight challenger lined up after Cheick Kongo outpointed Vitaly Minakov in a title eliminator bout at Bellator 216.
10. Alexey Oleynik (57-12-1)Oleynik was aggressive from the outset against Alistair Overeem in the UFC St. Petersburg headliner, and while he even outlanded his Dutch opponent, he ultimately fell victim to “The Reem’s” more accurate and powerful striking in the opening stanza. The Russian submission entered the matchup having won four of his last five UFC appearances and deserves credit for taking a tough matchup on short notice following Alexander Volkov’s exit from the card. Oleynik will take on Walt Harris at UFC on ESPN 4 in San Antonio on July 20.
Other Contenders: Cheick Kongo, Vitaly Minakov, Blagoy Ivanov, Justin Willis, Philipe Lins.
Continue Reading » Light Heavyweight