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For months, fans complained about the pairing of Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard in a UFC main event. Some even threatened to boycott the event.

At UFC 125, Edgar and Maynard kicked the new year off with a bang by delivering fans a bout that is sure to be in the discussion for “Fight of the Year”. With the fight ending in a draw, fans can look forward to an immediate rubber match taking place later in the year.

Meanwhile, WEC Lightweight Champion Anthony Pettis saw his stock rise after he Jet Li’d Ben Henderson across the cage.

The dramatics didn’t stop in the Lightweight division. The Featherweight division has been turned on its head with minor and major upsets including Diego Nunes over Mike Brown, Hiroyuki Takaya over Bibiano Fernandes, and Hatsu Hioki over Marlon Sandro.

*These rankings rely heavily on quality of competition and defeating previously ranked opponents*

Heavyweight (Over 205 Pounds)

 

1) Cain Velasquez

– An MMA world fixated on size and power had no place for Cain Velasquez. On October 23, fans and pundits alike were reminded of the lone fact that has eluded many ever since the emergence of gargantuans –– technique is greater than strength. Velasquez overcame size by giving Brock Lesnar a first round thrashing to become the new UFC Heavyweight Champion. It will be incredibly challenging for anyone to withstand Velasquez’s ferocious offense. His teammates credit him to outworking Lightweights. Velasquez’s first title defense was set to be against Junior Dos Santos, but a torn rotator cuff in his right shoulder will keep him out of action for six to eight months.

2) Brock Lesnar

– The loss to Cain Velasquez has to be tough for Brock Lesnar. This had no resemblance to the Frank Mir loss. Against Velasquez, Lesnar was completely dominated and outclassed by the superior fighter. Despite the loss, Lesnar is only 33 years old and still relatively inexperienced. He will continue to get better as he gets more fights, but the obvious gap in skill level between him and Velasquez will definitely be hard to account for. Velasquez recently suffered a torn rotator cuff, and he won’t be able to defend his title against top contender Junior Dos Santos. Lesnar and Dos Santos have now been assigned coaching duties over season 13 of The Ultimate Fighter. At the end of the show, both coaches will battle one another for a shot at the Heavyweight Title.

3) Shane Carwin

– Following his UFC 116 submission loss to Brock Lesnar, Shane Carwin has been under fire as of late regarding a nationwide conspiracy dealing with the illegal distribution of anabolic steroids. Carwin was identified along with 21 other professional athletes to having received the steroids from Applied Pharmacy Services. It isn’t known whether or not he actually took the drugs. He hasn’t tested positive for any banned substances, which has seemingly voided any possible suspension. After undergoing back surgery, Carwin is slated to make his return at UFC 131 on June 11.

4) Fabricio Werdum

– On June 26, 2010, Fabricio Werdum made history when he became the first man to defeat one of the greatest Mixed Martial Artists of all time, Fedor Emelianenko. If that wasn’t shocking enough, Werdum asked for a rematch immediately following the bout. The rematch could come to fruition. Werdum will compete in the eight-man Strikeforce Heavyweight tournament for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title. His quarterfinal bout could be the toughest. He’ll have to figure out a way to overcome Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, Dream Interim Heavyweight Champion, and K-1 World Grand Prix Champion Alistair Overeem.

5) Fedor Emelianenko

– “The Last Emperor” has finally fallen. At Strikeforce: Fedor vs. Werdum, Emelianenko suffered his first loss in 10 years to BJJ ace, Fabricio Werdum. After the fight, Fedor left us with an inspiring and memorable quote…”The one who doesn’t fall never stands up. I’m just a human being. If it’s God’s will next fight, I’ll win.”…Emelianenko will have his chance to win big when he competes for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title in the upcoming eight-man tournament. The quest to the title begins on February 12 when Emelianenko takes on Antonio “Bigfoot” Silva.

6) Frank Mir

– As a punishment for kids being bad in school, they should be forced to watch Frank Mir vs. Mirko Cro Cop in the main event of UFC 119. The highlight-worthy KO Mir pulled off in the third round still wasn’t enough to erase the atrocity that proceeded. We’ll see if he can redeem himself against Roy “Big Country” Nelson at UFC 130.

7) Junior Dos Santos

– The future is becoming the present, and prospects are becoming contenders. Along with Cain Velasquez, JDS has been called the future of the UFC Heavyweight division. He has manhandled the likes of Fabricio Werdum, Mirko Cro Cop, Gabriel Gonzaga, and Gilbert Yvel. At UFC 117, he battered a tough Roy Nelson around for three grueling rounds. As arguably the best striker at Heavyweight, fans are surely enamored by the prospective violence that is to come courtesy of “Cigano”. Dos Santos was expected to challenge Cain Velasquez for the Heavyweight Championship, but a torn rotator cuff will keep Velasquez sidelined for an extended period of time. UFC President Dana White has announced Dos Santos and former champion Brock Lesnar as the coaches for TUF Season 13. As custom, the coaches will face one another once the show concludes.

8) Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira

– Before UFC 92, Nogueira had never been finished in his illustrious career. KO losses to Mir at 92 and Velasquez at 110 has changed fan perception of Nogueira’s chin. Despite only being 34 years of age, Nogueira has seen plenty of wars. His body is starting to show tremendous wear and tear. Many wonder how much longer he can hold up in a division full of oversized beasts. A rematch with Frank Mir was set for UFC 119, but Nogueira was forced to withdraw because of knee issues. The knee required surgery and will keep him sidelined until summer 2011.

9) Alistair Overeem

– Alistair Overeem’s train of destruction continued at Dynamite!! 2010, where it took him only 19 seconds to dispatch of former UFC prospect Todd Duffee. As the Strikeforce Heavyweight Champion, Overeem has only defended his belt once in three years. The major gaps in between defenses will finally come to an end as the Strikeforce promotion has loaded up on exceptional talent in the Heavyweight division. Strikeforce CEO Scott Coker has announced that an eight-man tournament will take place for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Title. Overeem is set to face Fabricio Werdum in the quarterfinals.

10) Antonio Silva

– After getting his chin cracked early, Antonio Silva rallied in the second round to take the TKO stoppage over Mike Kyle at Strikeforce: St. Louis. “Bigfoot” now prepares to enter the fray of the recently announced eight-man heavyweight tournament for the Strikeforce Heavyweight Championship. The quarterfinals will begin on February 12, where Silva faces the tall task of defeating a motivated Fedor Emelianenko.

 

Light Heavyweight (205-pound limit)

 

1) Mauricio “Shogun” Rua

– After a major knee surgery, Shogun came back to the octagon and racked up wins over Mark Coleman and Chuck Liddell. Those victories earned him a title shot against the enigmatic, Lyoto Machida. Lyoto took the victory in one of the most controversial UFC decisions ever. At UFC 113, Shogun was awarded an immediate rematch. The judges could’ve stayed home. Shogun KO’d Machida in the first round to become the new UFC Light Heavyweight Champion. Coming off another major knee surgery, Shogun is set to return at UFC 128 against former Light Heavyweight Champion Rashad Evans.

 

2) Rashad Evans

– It was an uneventful victory, but Rashad Evans got the job done. After defeating Quinton Jackson, Evans was classy in victory and gave his opponent well-deserved respect. A shot to reclaim his UFC Light Heavyweight Championship came with the victory. Unfortunately, Shogun underwent surgery to repair another knee injury. The championship bout will take place on March 19, 2011 at UFC 128.

3) Quinton “Rampage” Jackson

– Rampage’s entrance music at UFC 123 surely gave longtime Pride FC fans goose bumps. The shocker came when Rampage’s in ring performance complemented his valiant walk down memory lane. Despite being a significant underdog, he took a hotly contested split decision victory over Lyoto Machida. Whether you agree with the decision or not, you have to love Rampage’s multi-faceted approach. We even almost got to see a vintage slam. This is the Rampage fans have missed. Hopefully, this newfound determination carries over to UFC 130 when Rampage meets Thiago Silva.

4) Lyoto Machida

– It seems that Lyoto Machida is becoming a victim of his own style. His less than aggressive approach cost him two rounds in his UFC 123 split decision loss to Quinton “Rampage” Jackson. Machida remains one of the best Light Heavyweights in the world, but this could become a serious problem for him down the road. Will he have to get more aggressive to ensure he edges out tight decisions? The Machida that blasted Rampage in round three needs to show his face more often. At UFC 129, “The Dragon” is set to take on MMA legend Randy “The Natural” Couture.

5) Forrest Griffin

– One of the most beloved fighters in MMA, Forrest Griffin, saw his rocky year come to an end with a big victory over Tito Ortiz at UFC 106. A shoulder injury has kept Griffin sidelined for over a year. He will finally make his octagon return at UFC 126 against former Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin.

6) Ryan Bader

– The force was strong with “Darth” Bader at UFC 119. He bullied Antonio Rogerio Nogueira with superior power and wrestling en route to a lopsided (at least in the eyes of the judges) unanimous decision. The time for desserts and bad style match-ups have ended. At UFC 126, Bader will be force-fed a grown man meal in Jon “Bones” Jones.

7) Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante

– After a big upset, Feijao now finds himself at the top of the Strikeforce Light Heavyweight division. His victory over Muhammed “King Mo” Lawal is sure to garner a lot of talk and premature hype. There is no doubt that Feijao is an explosive Light Heavyweight. A showdown with Dan Henderson is in the works.

8) Jon Jones

– Jon Jones is shining like Leroy Green from “The Last Dragon”. There is a lot of hype around his potential to do great things in the sport. After his dismantling of Vladimir Matyushenko, fans are clamoring for Jones to fight a top five opponent. He may not be top five, but Jones will definitely face a top ten opponent in Ryan Bader.

9) Antonio Rogerio Nogueira

– The woes of bad takedown defense continued to plague Antonio Rogerio Nogueira in his loss to Ryan Bader at UFC 119. He put forth a much better effort than he did in his bout with Jason Brilz, but he still showed significant struggles in his ability to deal with strong wrestlers. In a world where takedowns count for so much, Nogueira has to find a way to improve and make the necessary adjustments. He’ll face “The Huntington Beach Bad Boy” Tito Ortiz at UFC Fight Night 24.

10) Muhammed Lawal “King Mo”

– The king went from riches to rags in a hurry. In his first title defense, Muhammed Lawal was defeated at Strikeforce: Houston by Rafael Cavalcante. The manner in which he was defeated will make this loss a tough pill to swallow for King Mo. His overzealousness in the clinch led to him getting caught by a huge knee that would setup the TKO finish. After the bout, Lawal underwent knee surgery and is expected to be out of action until mid 2011.

 

Middleweight (185-pound limit)

 

1) Anderson Silva

– Anderson Silva and fans alike are letting out sighs of relief after the cataclysmic beating that took place at UFC 117. For four rounds, Silva was repeatedly taken down and pounded on by number one contender Chael Sonnen. A fifth round mistake by Sonnen allowed Silva to lock in the triangle that would keep his pound for pound throne intact for at least a little longer. Silva apparently had a preexisting rib injury coming into the bout. Let’s just hope he’s completely healed for UFC 126, where he’ll meet Vitor Belfort in one of the most anticipated showdowns in MMA history.

2) Chael Sonnen

– Chael Sonnen’s fall from grace took the MMA universe by surprise after testing positive for anabolic steroids. It’s been a monumental year for the Oregon native. After defeating Nate Marquardt and Yushin Okami, Sonnen was quickly becoming a household name as he was all over media outlets selling his UFC 117 bout with Anderson Silva. Despite losing, his star status was furthered by the five round beating he gave Silva in his effort. The California State Athletic Commission fined Sonnen and ruled on a one year suspension for violating the drug policy. Sonnen appealed the suspension in December and got it reduced to six months. If steroid accusations weren’t enough, Sonnen’s troubles took a turn for the worse when he recently plead guilty to money laundering.

3) Yushin Okami

– Yushin Okami has been an upper-echelon Middleweight for a long time, but past injuries and tough losses have hampered his progression to the top of the division. Since losing to Chael Sonnen at UFC 104, Okami has made drastic improvements in his overall game that has propelled him past Lucio Linhares, Mark Munoz, and Nate Marquardt. The win over Marquardt was easily the most significant of Okami’s career. He is now set to challenge the winner of Anderson Silva and Vitor Belfort for the UFC Middleweight Title.

4) Nate Marquardt

– The year 2010 is a year Nate Marquardt surely wants to forget as he looks to right his wayward ship in 2011. Marquardt is 1-2 in his last three fights. The losses have come in fairly dominating fashion by top Middleweights in Chael Sonnen and Yushin Okami. We’ll see if 2011 holds better days for the man many once considered a viable threat to Anderson Silva’s Middleweight Title. A bout against Yoshihiro Akiyama is on deck for UFC 128.

5) Dan Henderson

– After getting dominated by Jake Shields, Dan Henderson looked to be on the declining end of his Hall-of-Fame career. He blamed his sluggish performance on a tough weight cut and lack of energy. Those problems vanished in his Strikeforce: St. Louis outing against former Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Renato “Babalu” Sobral. Henderson earned a first round KO stoppage and a shot at Strikeforce Light Heavyweight Champion Rafael “Feijao” Cavalcante.

6) Demian Maia

– Demian Maia was methodical in his unanimous decision win over Kendall Grove at the TUF 12 Finale. It marked the BJJ black belt’s second straight victory since losing to Anderson Silva back in April 2010. The climb back to contention could take awhile. Silva is set to defend his UFC Middleweight Championship against Vitor Belfort, and Yushin Okami has already earned the right to face the winner.

7) Vitor Belfort

– Vitor Belfort made a huge statement with his first round KO victory over former UFC Middleweight Champion Rich Franklin at UFC 103. With Anderson Silva terrorizing the division, many hoped for a solid striker to emerge and go toe to toe with him. The Belfort/Silva bout is considered a superfight amongst many MMA fans. The bout was scheduled and cancelled 3 times due to injuries on both sides. It looks like fans will finally get the showdown they’ve been waiting for. Belfort will challenge Silva for the UFC Middleweight Title at UFC 126.

8) Ronaldo Souza

– “Jacare” secured Strikeforce gold in August after defeating a tougher than expected Tim Kennedy. The thin Strikeforce Middleweight division is like a revolving door. As expected, Jacare will face former Elite XC Middleweight Champion Robbie Lawler on January 29.

9) Jorge Santiago

– In one of the most exciting bouts of 2010, Jorge Santiago successfully defended his Sengoku Middleweight Title against Kazuo Misaki at Sengoku 14. The main event was ended in the fifth round after Santiago started pouring on punches, and Misaki’s corner was forced to throw in the towel. Santiago has now defeated Misaki two times. It’s almost a shame that Misaki couldn’t pull out a win in one of the bouts. A rubber match between these two warriors would’ve been incredible.

10) Michael Bisping

– “The Count” finally sinks his teeth into top ten glory after securing a hard-earned unanimous decision over the previously ranked Yoshihiro Akiyama. Another high profile win for Bisping could shed past inconsistencies and prove his placement amongst the Middleweight elite. It may not be a high profile bout, but Bisping will take on a more than able Jorge Rivera at UFC 127.

 

Welterweight (170-pound limit)

1) Georges St. Pierre

– At UFC 124, Georges St. Pierre promised that “the bully would be bullied”, and he didn’t disappoint in his five round curb stomping of Josh Koscheck. St. Pierre utilized his jab to perfection as he tattooed Koscheck’s eye throughout the fight. It was a performance that continued to showcase the otherworldly level St. Pierre is on in regards to the rest of the division. The French Canadian will look to defend his UFC title for a sixth time at UFC 129 when he takes on fellow top pound-for-pound fighter and former Strikeforce Middleweight Champion Jake Shields.

2) Jon Fitch

– After dispatching of Thiago Alves, Jon Fitch remains firmly entrenched at number two in the Welterweight hierarchy. It was a dominant victory that showcased Fitch’s improved timing and head movement. With the victory, many thought Fitch had earned the right to challenge Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight title, but the UFC has other plans. Jake Shields is next in line for a title shot, and Fitch will face former Welterweight and Lightweight Champion B.J. Penn.

3) Thiago Alves

– At UFC 124, the Thiago Alves of old returned in a three round thrashing of John “Doomsday” Howard. Coming off back to back losses to Georges St. Pierre and Jon Fitch, this victory should serve as a major confidence booster for Alves moving forward. He credits the Dolce Diet, a diet created by MMA fighter and nutrition coach Mike Dolce, for his improved conditioning and mindset. We’ll see if the improvements carry over when he faces Rick “The Horror” Story on May 28.

4) Josh Koscheck

– The only thing more bruised than Josh Koscheck’s eye has to be his ego. After months of trash talk, he was completely shutdown in his UFC Welterweight Championship bout with Georges St. Pierre. At the end of the bout, Koscheck was respectful and admitted that the talk was only to hype the fight. It could be awhile before we see the blonde-headed villain in action again. A broken orbital bone courtesy of multiple St. Pierre jabs could keep him sidelined until mid 2011.

5) Jake Shields

– It was far from impressive, but Jake Shields managed to pick up the split decision victory over Martin Kampmann at UFC 121. Hopefully, this was a minor slip up by a man many consider one of the best pound for pound fighters in the world. Some credit has be given to Martin Kampmann, who is as tough as they come. Still, Shields has to be miles better than he was at UFC 121 if he ever wishes to brandish UFC gold. He is set to challenge Georges St. Pierre for the Welterweight Title at UFC 129.

6) Paul Daley

– Paul Daley delivered one of the most spectacular one punch knockouts in recent memory in his Strikeforce debut against Scott Smith. After the fight, he didn’t waste any time in letting Strikeforce management know who he’d like to face next by calling out top Strikeforce Welterweight contender K.J. Noons. Life after the UFC may not be so bad after all.

7) Martin Kampmann

– “The Hitman” missed his mark at UFC 121 as Jake Shields pulled out the split decision victory. This has to be a tough loss for Kampmann, who had plenty of opportunities to come out with the upset. The Dane will try to get back to the winning side of things when he meets a reinvigorated Diego “Nightmare” Sanchez at UFC on Versus 3.

8) Nick Diaz

– MMA’s bad boy showed off vast improvements in his Boxing against K.J. Noons in October. For five rounds, Diaz bested the exchanges against a game Noons, who is credited for having a professional Boxing record. In the same night, Diaz defended his Strikeforce Welterweight Title for the first time and avenged a November 2007 defeat. With Jake Shields recently jumping ship, fans are hoping Diaz goes rogue as well. This doesn’t look to be happening anytime soon. Diaz is set to defend his Welterweight Title against Evangelista “Cyborg” Santos.

9) Carlos Condit

– After a letdown in his UFC debut against Martin Kampmann, Carlos Condit is now fighting with the same vigor that garnered him plenty of success in the WEC. In his past three fights, he has defeated three quality opponents in Dan Hardy, Rory MacDonald, and Jake Ellenberger. It only took Condit one round to sing Hardy his lullaby at UFC 120. His next test comes at UFC 127 against Chris “Lights Out” Lytle.

10) Diego Sanchez

– Yes! Yes! Yes! Diego Sanchez has returned to the Welterweight top ten. Sanchez recently had a major camp shakeup as he returned to his roots in Albuquerque, New Mexico at Jackson’s MMA. The move paid off big as we witnessed a vintage performance from “The Nightmare” in a three round ousting of the previously ranked Paulo Thiago. Despite recent success, Sanchez is likely to find more success at Lightweight. That statement could be proven false if Sanchez is able to defeat Martin Kampmann at UFC on Versus 3.

 

Lightweight (155-pound limit)

 

1) Frankie Edgar

– In one of the most exciting UFC championship bouts of all time, Frankie Edgar finally earned the MMA world’s respect after weathering a monumental storm in the first round of his UFC 125 fight with Gray Maynard. After being dropped several times, Edgar regained his senses and battled back into the fight most thought he would lose. He didn’t lose to Maynard, but he didn’t win either. The back and forth contest was deemed a draw in the end. Regardless of how the fight ended, Edgar and Maynard both became stars that night.

 

2) Gray Maynard

– “The Bully” finally met his equal at UFC 125 in his Lightweight Title bout with Frankie Edgar. Gray Maynard had a wobbly Edgar fighting on instinct throughout the first round after dropping him with a hard overhand left. The fight could’ve been stopped multiple times, but referee Yves Lavigne’s decision to let the bout continue paid dividends as Edgar turned the tables on the challenger in the following rounds. In the end, all three judges disagreed on the decision, and the contest was ruled a draw. Maynard is the only man to ever beat Edgar, and he’ll get his chance to do it again. UFC President Dana White has announced that an immediate rubber match will take place later this year.

3) B.J. Penn

– After being counted out by most critics, a fired up B.J. Penn delivered one of the most impressive performances in his legendary career at UFC 123. It took him only 21 seconds to dispatch of UFC Hall of Famer and former Welterweight Champion Matt Hughes. “The Prodigy’s” victory put an end to a classic rivalry that has endured for nearly seven years. Despite rumors of a permanent move to 170 pounds, it appears that Penn will take intriguing fights wherever they pop up regardless of being at Lightweight or Welterweight. He will compete at Welterweight once again at UFC 127 when he takes on former title contender Jon Fitch.

4) Gilbert Melendez

– “El Nino” brought the thunder in his Strikeforce: Nashville bout with Shinya Aoki. He retained his Strikeforce Lightweight title and escaped with all his limbs intact. Melendez showed good boxing and poise when trapped in one of the most dangerous guards in MMA. As for his next opponent, Melendez has recently expressed interest in fighting Bellator Lightweight Champion Eddie Alvarez, but the Strikeforce promotion seems disinterested in co-promoting with Bellator.

5) Shinya Aoki

– The fight may not have counted towards his MMA record, but Shinya Aoki certainly didn’t help his chances in attaining a rematch with Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez at Dynamite!! 2010. Aoki faced Yuichiro Nagashima in a special rules exhibition bout that included a round of Kickboxing rules and a round of MMA rules. In the MMA round, Nagashima anticipated the double leg takedown and delivered a flying knee that put the Dream Lightweight Champion to sleep.

6) Eddie Alvarez

– Despite Roger Huerta’s recent struggles, no one makes him look as easy as Eddie Alvarez did at Bellator 33. After getting battered on the feet for two rounds, Huerta was unable to continue in the third round. This victory marked Alvarez’s sixth straight since losing to Shinya Aoki in December 2008. Recently, there has been plenty of jawing amongst Alvarez and Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Gilbert Melendez. While Bellator has expressed a willingness to co-promote, Strikeforce doesn’t share the same sentiment. Alvarez will likely defend his Bellator Lightweight Title for the first time against Bellator Season Two Lightweight Tournament Winner Pat Curran.

7) Sean Sherk

– After a year hiatus, the “Muscle Shark” returned to form in his UFC 119 split decision victory over Evan Dunham. It was a gritty bout that forced Sherk to rely heavily on his grappling. Despite the controversy surrounding the decision, it was a great victory over a promising prospect. When his grappling is at the forefront, Sherk remains a handful for any Lightweight.

8) Kenny Florian

– In his UFC 118 loss to Gray Maynard, Florian continues to show struggles in the wrestling department. Wrestling isn’t the only issue facing the Peruvian. Despite being a black belt in BJJ, Florian had a hard time putting together any offense from his back. Since the loss, he has hired a wrestling coach and changed up his training regimen. Florian was scheduled to face Evan Dunham at Fight for the Troops 2, but a knee injury forced him to withdraw from the bout.

9) Tatsuya Kawajiri

– At Dynamite!! 2010, Tatsuya Kawajiri continued to prove why his style of fighting could make for a smooth transition in the states. For three rounds, he dominated former Strikeforce Lightweight Champion Josh Thomson en route to a unanimous decision. Could a Strikeforce title bout or a rematch with Shinya Aoki be next for “The Crusher”?

10) Anthony Pettis

– People may call him “Showtime”, but fans may have to start calling him Neo after the Matrix-like kick Anthony Pettis delivered on Ben Henderson at WEC 53. Pettis ended his WEC tenure on a high note by securing his first major MMA title, making the SportsCenter Top Ten, and earning a UFC title shot. The latter has recently been clouded in uncertainty as there was no clear-cut winner in the UFC 125 championship bout between Frankie Edgar and Gray Maynard. Instead of waiting for a title shot, Pettis is looking to stay warm in a possible bout with Clay Guida. He won’t have to worry about staying warm. A bout against Guida is more like a heat stroke.

Featherweight (145-pound limit)

1) Jose Aldo

– The technical brilliance consistently shown by Jose Aldo is unbelievable. He picks his opponents apart mentally before doing so physically. At WEC 51, he defeated another top Featherweight challenger in TUF Season 5 finalist Manny Gamburyan. Despite only two defenses under his belt, Aldo is quickly cleaning out the Featherweight division. He was set to face Josh Grispi at UFC 125, but a neck injury forced him to withdraw from the bout. His return is rumored for UFC 129. Mark Hominick’s name has been thrown out as a possible opponent if he is able to defeat George Roop at Fight for the Troops 2.

2) Manny Gamburyan

– Oh Manny…Oh Manny…Oh Manny. After flailing a taunt reminiscent of the Diaz brothers, Gamburyan found himself on the wrong end of a Jose Aldo bomb that had him scrambling for his senses. On the ground, Aldo finished the fight with a barrage of vicious uppercuts. It was a disappointing loss for Gamburyan in a bout where he really struggled to find his range. Diego Nunes would make for a good comeback opponent.

3) Diego Nunes

– While the world looks the other way, Diego Nunes is quietly climbing into UFC title contention. With two victories over top ten opposition, Nunes has yet to be featured on a UFC or WEC main card. He took the biggest victory of his career at UFC 125 with a split decision win over former WEC Featherweight Champion Mike Brown, who was previously ranked at number three.

4) Michihiro Omigawa

– Michihiro Omigawa continued his winning ways at Dream 16, where he defeated Cole Escovedo. The bout served as nothing more than a tune-up for Omigawa as he controlled on the ground and notched up a first round submission. Talks between the WEC and Omigawa had recently heated up in hopes that a contract agreement could be made. Omigawa was hoping to fight on the final WEC card on December 16, but a deal wasn‘t made in time. The Japanese star recently signed with the UFC and is expected to face Chad Mendes at UFC 126.

5) Hatsu Hioki

– Hatsu Hioki reminded fans that he was the man to beat after defeating Marlon Sandro at Soul of Fight for the Sengoku Featherweight Title. With the win, Hioki moves to 11-1-1 in his last 13 fights. His first title defense could come against Yoshiro Maeda, who is fresh off a first round TKO stoppage over former Featherweight Champion Masanori Kanehara.

6) Mike Thomas Brown

– Since losing his WEC Featherweight Title to Jose Aldo, Mike Brown has quickly faded into a distant memory. He is 2-3 in his last five fights, and his past two bouts didn’t even make the main card. At UFC 125, Brown lost a tough split decision to Diego Nunes. He hopes to rebound quickly by replacing an injured Chan Sung Jung at UFC Fight Night 23 (Fight for the Troops 2) against Rani Yahya.

7) Hiroyuki Takaya

– At Dynamite!! 2010, Hiroyuki Takaya killed two birds with one stone by defeating Bibiano Fernandes to avenge a previous loss and become the new Dream Featherweight Champion. There wasn’t a split verdict this time out as all three judges saw the bout in Takaya’s favor. Could a rubber match be next on the cards?…or…Will the Dream promotion opt to move in a another direction with its newly crowned champion?

8) Bibiano Fernandes

– After securing only one successful title defense, Bibiano Fernandes’ reign as Dream Featherweight Champion came to an end at Dynamite!! 2010 against Hiroyuki Takaya. The loss marks Fernandes’ first in over three years. It’ll be interesting to see if Dream sets up an immediate rematch with Takaya, who lost a split decision to Fernandes in October 2009.

9) Marlon Sandro

– The potential is definitely there, but some of the hype surrounding Marlon Sandro may have been a bit hasty. At Soul of Fight, Sandro lost his Sengoku Featherweight Title in convincing fashion to top ten ranked opponent Hatsu Hioki. We’ll see if the Brazilian can get back on track to being the dominant Featherweight many believe he can be.

10) Joe Warren

– Joe Warren capped off an impressive 2010 year with a KO victory over Joe Soto at Bellator 27 for the Bellator Featherweight Championship. Currently on a four-fight win streak, the self-proclaimed “baddest man on the planet” is looking to keep the momentum rolling into 2011. With Bellator Season Four still in the works, a return to Japan under the Dream banner isn’t out of the question.

 

Bantamweight (135-pound limit)

 

1) Dominick Cruz

– Dominick Cruz continued his impressive streak of dominance in his WEC 53 routing of top contender Scott Jorgensen. The victory was a historical moment in the sport as Cruz became the first ever UFC Featherweight Champion. After the win, Cruz expressed interest in his first UFC title defense being against the only man to defeat him, “The California Kid” Urijah Faber. The long-awaited rematch won‘t happen anytime soon. Cruz is scheduled to undergo surgery for an injury to his left index finger that could keep him sidelined for six months.

2) Joseph Benavidez

– At WEC 52, Joseph Benavidez bounced back from a heartbreaking loss to Dominick Cruz by submitting BJJ black belt Wagnney Fabiano. It was a solid performance to end his WEC tenure with as he prepares to step up to the bright lights of the UFC. Having lost to Cruz twice, it will be a long wait for Benavidez in securing another Bantamweight Title shot. Things get even trickier with Urijah Faber, Benavidez’s training partner, entering the fold. A bout between the two is highly unlikely, and it could put Benavidez in a tough spot should Faber win the title. Benavidez will make his UFC debut at UFC 128 against Ian Loveland.

3) Brian Bowles

– Brian Bowles’ reign as champion seemed like a weekend vacation. After stopping the “then” seemingly unstoppable Miguel Torres, he went on to get outclassed by Dominick Cruz in his first title defense. Bowles apparently broke his hand early in the fight and couldn’t continue in the 2nd round. He will have to prove that he’s more than just another flash in the pan. Bowles was expected to face Wagnney Fabiano at WEC 52, but he was forced off the card with another injury. A return date has finally been set at UFC on Versus 3 against Damacio Page.

4) Miguel Torres

– After dropping his last two previous bouts, Miguel Torres returned to the winner’s column at WEC 51 after submitting Charlie Valencia. The bout showcased a calmer and more methodical Torres than we’ve grown accustomed to. Despite the much needed victory, the mountainous climb back to the top remains steep for the former champion. He’ll look to continue his ascent at UFC 126 when he takes on Antonio Banuelos.

5) Scott Jorgensen

– After finally securing a shot at WEC/UFC gold, Scott Jorgensen ran into a brick wall in UFC Bantamweight Champion Dominick Cruz at WEC 53. It was a disappointing loss for Jorgensen, who was riding a five fight win streak. He shouldn’t keep his head down for long after putting up a valiant effort against a man many consider one of the best pound-for-pound fighters in the world. It’s a new year, and fans can look forward to “Young Guns” making noise on the big stage.

6) Urijah Faber – The first few moments of Urijah Faber’s Bantamweight debut seemed rocky against Takeya Mizugaki. It was a competitive fight that seemed to favor Mizugaki early. In the end, “The California Kid” locked up a rear naked choke in the final seconds of the first round to take the first major step in his march towards Bantamweight supremacy. Faber is set to make his anticipated UFC debut at UFC 128 against Eddie Wineland.

 

7) Takeya Mizugaki

– In his past five bouts, Takeya Mizugaki is 2-3. It’s easy to point out inconsistencies, but these losses have come to world class opponents in Urijah Faber, Scott Jorgensen, and Miguel Torres. Can Mizugaki rise from the ashes and regain his contender status, or will he remain a perennial gatekeeper in the surging Bantamweight division? The answers could come at UFC on Versus 3 when he meets Francisco Rivera.

8) Rani Yahya

– After losing a unanimous decision to Takeya Mizugaki, Rani Yahya finds himself at the bottom of the top WEC Bantamweight herd scraping for relevancy. With the other seven moving on to bigger and better things, Yahya is in a rebuilding phase. He desperately needs a win or two before he even thinks about climbing the Bantamweight hierarchy again. A make or break fight against Mike Brown at UFC: Fight for the Troops 2 is next on the agenda.

9) Masakatsu Ueda

– Masakatsu Ueda continued his road to redemption with a submission win over Ralph Acosta at Shootor’s Legacy 1. This marks his second consecutive victory since losing the Shooto Featherweight Title to Shuichiro Katsumura in March 2010. Ueda’s next bout could come against Russian grappler Farkhad “Frank” Sharipov, who was initially scheduled to face Ueda at Shootor’s Legacy.

10) Demetrious Johnson

– Demetrious Johnson creeps his way into the top ten after playing spoiler to Damacio Page’s return at WEC 52. With the UFC looking to add the Flyweight division, Johnson has to be happy about the possibility of competing on the big stage at his natural weight. Until the division is finished, Johnson faces an uphill battle if forced to face elite level opposition at Bantamweight. We’ll see if “Mighty Mouse” can continue to defy the odds at UFC 126 when he faces explosive Japanese superstar Norifumi “Kid” Yamamoto.