Top six spots unanimous in panel voting
HeavyMMA's fighter rankings are back this week with a look at the heavyweight division.
Heavy's panel consists of HeavyMMA editor Matt Brown, writer Duane Finley and writer/editor Matt Erickson. Each panelist compiles his rankings independently, and the votes are tabulated to reach the results listed below. The panel's top six picks were the same across the board. Coming next week, we'll delve into the light heavyweight division.
1. Junior dos Santos
UFC champion (14-1, 8-0 UFC)
On an 8-0 tear through the UFC's heavyweight division with six knockout stoppages, it's no surprise dos Santos tops the list. His first-round knockout of Cain Velasquez to win the title in November was unexpected, at least in its quickness. But now he gets a stiff first title defense against former Strikeforce heavyweight champ Alistair Overeem, who hasn't been stopped in nearly five years.
2. Alistair Overeem
UFC No. 1 contender (36-11, 1 NC, 1-0 UFC)
Overeem's long-awaited UFC debut was an impressive one with a first-round destruction of former champ Brock Lesnar that sent him into retirement – or at least back into the waiting arms of the WWE. Overeem is unbeaten in his last 12 bouts and has gone to just one decision over that stretch – a Strikeforce heavyweight tournament win over Fabricio Werdum in which Werdum spent much of the fight on his back hoping to drag Overeem into a grappling match instead of staying on the feet, where his opponent is deadliest. Overeem is a slight underdog against dos Santos in the UFC 146 main event next month in his shot at the biggest title in MMA.
3. Cain Velasquez
Former UFC champion (9-1, 7-1 UFC)
Velasquez is knocking on the door in his first fight after losing the title to dos Santos. He'll face Frank Mir in a top contenders bout right before JDS puts the belt on the line against Overeem. A win, and he'll jump up a spot and will be fighting for the title again by year's end.
4. Frank Mir
Former UFC champion (16-5, 14-5)
Mir gets a crack at Velasquez next month in his hometown of Las Vegas, and this could be his last chance to make a title run. The former champ has won four of his last five fights, losing only to Shane Carwin. And in his last outing, he became the first fighter in history to submit Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira – snapping his arm in the process. That's a statement win if ever there was one.
5. Josh Barnett
Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix finalist (31-5, 2-0 Strikeforce)
It's been a fairly impressive Strikeforce run for Barnett over the last year, picking up a pair of arm triangle wins over Brett Rogers and Sergei Kharitonov to reach the grand prix finals against Daniel Cormier. A win over Cormier next month in San Jose, Calif., could extend Barnett's Strikeforce life by one more fight. But a loss, and it will be interesting to see if his rocky relationship with UFC president Dana White will keep him from fighting in the UFC since Strikeforce's heavyweight division is being dissolved.
6. Fabricio Werdum
(15-5-1, 3-2 UFC)
Werdum made his UFC return an impressive one. Although he couldn't finish the granite-chinned Roy Nelson at UFC 143 in February, Werdum put on a striking display and picked up Fight of the Night honors – making his snooze-fest decision loss to Overeem last year a rearview mirror thing of the past. Werdum likely returns in June in his home country of Brazil to face Mike Russow at UFC 147 – his first fight in Brazil in more than eight years.
7. Daniel Cormier
Strikeforce heavyweight grand prix finalist (9-0, 6-0 Strikeforce)
After a couple of decision wins to start his 2011 campaign, Cormier reminded everyone who thought he was just a great wrestler that he's got some pop in his hands when he knocked out Antonio Silva to get to the Strikeforce grand prix finals against Barnett. A win next month over Barnett would be the biggest of his career, without question – and will have to come against a fighter who only has lost to Mirko "Cro Cop" Filipovic, Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira and Pedro Rizzo – and the Rizzo loss was 11 years ago.
8. Shane Carwin
Former UFC interim champion (12-0, 4-2 UFC)
With back-to-back losses and without a fight since June, Carwin is in danger of dropping out of the Top 10 with a little upward movement from those below him. He should be back sometime this summer after surgery, and he'll need to make a quick impression against whoever he's matched up against.
9. Antonio Silva
(16-3, 3-2 Strikeforce)
"Bigfoot" will make his long-awaited UFC debut next month against Roy Nelson in Las Vegas. Silva was surging with three straight wins, including a stoppage of the legendary Fedor Emelianenko. But Cormier put his lights out, and Nelson will no doubt be hoping to do the same.
10. Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira
Former UFC interim champion (33-7-1, 1 NC, 4-3 UFC)
It's been up and down for "Big Nog" since he signed with the UFC – and maybe never more down than at UFC 140, when Mir snapped his arm and he tapped for the first time in his legendary career. He's hanging on by a thread in the Top 10, but his knockout of Brendan Schaub isn't that far removed that we've forgotten he can still bring it.
On the fringe: Fedor Emelianenko, Cheick Kongo, Roy Nelson, Brendan Schaub, Matt Mitrione, Stefan Struve, Travis Browne, Mike Russow, Shane Del Rosario, Mark Hunt
Check out HeavyMMA's Pound-for-Pound Rankings
And make sure to watch every Monday for HeavyMMA's rankings in a new division. Coming next week: Light heavyweights.