1. Stipe Miocic (15-2)The bubble may burst, but for now, it is a good time to be a Cleveland sports fan. The Cavaliers won their first NBA championship, the Indians are in first place in the American League Central and Miocic has UFC heavyweight gold. Now, MMA’s favorite firefighter-stroke-championship fighter gets the chance to put on a show for his city: Miocic will make the first defense of his heavyweight title against Alistair Overeem at UFC 203 on Sept. 10.
2. Fabricio Werdum (20-6-1)Werdum ended up flat on his back in front of 45,000 Brazilian fans in Curitiba in May, as Stipe Miocic embarrassed him at UFC 198. Werdum’s quest to regain the UFC heavyweight title originally was set to run through Ben Rothwell at UFC 203 on Sept. 10, but an unspecified injury to Rothwell forced him to withdraw from the bout. Now, “Vai Cavalo” will look to reproduce his April 2014 unanimous decision over Travis Browne, who has stepped into Rothwell’s spot.
3. Cain Velasquez (14-2)It was his first fight in 13 months and just his second bout in over two and a half years, but Velasquez did not look hampered by injuries or ring rust at UFC 200. There, he absolutely destroyed perennial top 10 heavyweight Travis Browne, stopping him in the first round with an onslaught of punches. Velasquez is now lobbying for a shot at the winner of the UFC 203 main event between current champion Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem; and he may end up as a favorite entering another UFC title bid, even as a challenger.
4. Alistair Overeem (41-14, 1 NC)Since he entered the Octagon going on six years ago, onlookers have wondered when or if Overeem would get a chance to fight for the UFC heavyweight title. “The Demolition Man” is finally primed for his title opportunity, as his four straight wins -- he most recently knocked off Andrei Arlovski -- have earned him a crack at newly minted champion Stipe Miocic at UFC 203, in Miocic’s backyard of Cleveland, Ohio.
5. Junior dos Santos (18-4)Dos Santos executed a perfect game plan in his April 10 bout with Ben Rothwell, as the hard-hitting Brazilian used his speed and boxing prowess to beat “Big Ben” to the punch for five rounds. It was the sharpest outing for “Cigano” since he lost his UFC heavyweight belt to Cain Velasquez in 2013; now, dos Santos will look to string together back-to-back wins for the first time since 2011.
6. Andrei Arlovski (25-12, 1 NC)Arlovski’s last two opponents, Stipe Miocic and Alistair Overeem, both knocked out “The Pit Bull,” and now they are going to fight one another over UFC gold at UFC 203 in September. In order for the 37-year-old former UFC champion to get another shot at the heavyweight title, Arlovski will first have to deal with another perennial standout heavyweight on the comeback trail. He will take on fellow former UFC champ Josh Barnett in the main event of a UFC Fight Night card on Sept. 3 in Hamburg, Germany.
7. Ben Rothwell (36-10)Rothwell’s surprise four-fight winning streak was snapped by Junior dos Santos in April, but the Wisconsin native was afforded a big-name fight in his return, signing on to face recently dethroned champ Fabricio Werdum at UFC 203 on Sept. 10. However, Rothwell suffered an undisclosed injury in training and was forced to pull out of the event, with Travis Browne stepping into his spot against the former UFC heavyweight boss.
8. Vitaly Minakov (18-0)Eighteen opponents have tested Minakov and every single one of them has failed. Most recently, it was long-time K-1 veteran Peter Graham on June 17, as he was victimized by an armbar from the Fight Nights Team star in 62 seconds. The question surrounding the former Bellator MMA heavyweight champ is not whether or not he is an elite heavyweight -- he most certainly is -- but whether or not he will ever become a full-time fighter and wind up in the UFC.
9. Travis Browne (18-4-1)Browne was ripped apart by former heavyweight champ Cain Velasquez in less than five minutes at UFC 200 in July. He will not get an immediate chance to avenge that particular loss, but “Hapa” can even another score at UFC 203 on Sept. 10, as Browne has stepped in on short notice for Ben Rothwell to face Fabricio Werdum. “Vai Cavalo” won a unanimous decision over Browne in April 2014.
10. Brock Lesnar (6-3)It is amazing enough that Lesnar returned from his World Wrestling Entertainment schedule to outwrestle Mark Hunt to a unanimous verdict at UFC 200 after almost five years away from MMA. However, Lesnar’s comeback story took a turn for the sensational when it was announced by the United States Anti-Doping Agency that the former UFC champion had tested positive for banned anti-estrogenic agent hydroxyclomiphene. Now, Lesnar’s future and his win over Hunt stand in jeopardy as he awaits a hearing to explain his positive test.
Other Contenders: Josh Barnett, Mark Hunt, Derrick Lewis, Ruslan Magomedov, Matt Mitrione
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