1. Cain Velasquez (13-1)While Velasquez has not lost a bout inside the Octagon since 2011, injuries continue to get the better of the undisputed heavyweight champion outside the cage. Already out of action for one year, the American Kickboxing Academy star was forced to bow out of his Nov. 15 meeting with rival “The Ultimate Fighter: Latin America” coach Fabricio Werdum after suffering a knee injury in training. Instead, Velasquez underwent surgery on his right knee and, upon his return in 2015, will look to unify his belt with that of interim champion Werdum.
2. Junior dos Santos (17-3)Dos Santos continues to beat every UFC heavyweight not named Cain Velasquez. “Cigano” did not have an easy time on Dec. 13, but the Brazilian weathered an early assault from Stipe Miocic and came on strong in the latter frames of their five-round affair to earn a unanimous decision. While another title shot remains out of reach for the time being, dos Santos’ well-honed boxing and seemingly unbreakable chin make him a tough matchup for any man in the division.
3. Fabricio Werdum (19-5-1)It was not the belt for which he hoped, but Werdum nonetheless captured Ultimate Fighting Championship gold at UFC 180. Faced with hard-hitting late replacement Mark Hunt, the Brazilian fought cautiously until midway through the second round, where he leveled Hunt with a knee and punches to claim the interim heavyweight title. Now unbeaten in five appearances since returning to the UFC, Werdum will attempt to unify the titles in 2015 when champ Cain Velasquez returns from the sidelines.
4. Travis Browne (17-2-1)Browne rebounded from his April loss to Fabricio Werdum by blasting Brendan Schaub with a first-round uppercut and follow-up punches at UFC 181 -- a win “Hapa” credited to new coach Edmond Tarverdyan. The Hawaiian has scored knockouts in four of his last five bouts, none of which have left the first round.
5. Mark Hunt (10-9-1)Called up on short notice to replace Cain Velasquez in the main event of UFC 180, Hunt carried a puncher’s chance into his interim title bout with Fabricio Werdum -- and for a moment, it looked like the “Super Samoan” just might pull it off. However, after tagging Werdum with some hard shots early, Hunt succumbed to a second-round knee and follow-up punches, ending the 40-year-old New Zealander’s dream of UFC gold.
6. Stipe Miocic (12-2)Miocic got his rescheduled bout with former UFC champion Junior dos Santos on Dec. 13 and came up on the short end of a close five-round decision. The Ohioan inflicted damage on dos Santos in the early rounds but got dropped and outworked down the stretch, putting an end to Miocic’s three-fight winning streak and any immediate title-shot hopes.
7. Andrei Arlovski (23-10, 1 NC)After barely edging Brendan Schaub in a June split decision, few expected Arlovski to excel against Antonio Silva, a man to whom he had already lost in 2010. The former UFC heavyweight champ proved the oddsmakers wrong by rendering “Bigfoot” unconscious with a violent barrage of punches on Sept. 13, marking Arlovski’s first four-fight win streak since 2008.
8. Josh Barnett (33-7)Barnett entered UFC 168 as the odds-on favorite in his showdown against Travis Browne, and a win was expected to propel “The Warmaster” into the title discussion. The former UFC heavyweight champion’s significant edge in experience proved meaningless, however, as a series of vicious Browne elbows ended Barnett’s night just 60 seconds into their encounter.
9. Antonio Silva (18-6, 1 NC)Silva returned from a nine-month suspension for elevated testosterone on Sept. 13 with plenty to prove, especially fighting for the first time in his home country of Brazil. Unfortunately for “Bigfoot,” he encountered a much different Andrei Arlovski than the one he faced in 2010. The Belarusian turned out Silva’s lights with punches in less than three minutes, leaving Silva winless in his last three fights. Silva will return to the Octagon at UFC 184 in February, when he meets former champion Frank Mir.
10. Roy Nelson (20-10)It was a foregone conclusion that Nelson and Mark Hunt’s Sept. 20 bout in Japan would end in a knockout, but it was shocking nonetheless to see “Big Country” put to sleep by the “Super Samoan.” Nelson’s chin, which held up in three-rounders with Stipe Miocic and Junior dos Santos, could not handle a huge, second-round Hunt uppercut.
Other Contenders: Sergei Kharitonov, Matt Mitrione, Alexey Oleinik, Marcin Tybura, Alexander Volkov.
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