On Dec. 29, 2012, Cain Velasquez captured the UFC heavyweight title for the second time in his career, establishing himself as the division's undisputed top competitor.
Possessing mixed martial arts' most coveted title is no cakewalk though, and Velasquez is most certainly a wanted man. The first defense of his second reign is set for this May 25 against Antonio Silva, but Bigfoot is just one of many seeking the throne for himself.
Here we assess the UFC heavyweight class' current landscape, examining the title aspirations of each of the division's top 10 fighters, as ranked by the UFC.
Each top 10 fighter has been tagged with probability that identifies the likelihood of them ever gaining the strap. That probability is based on a number of factors, including ability, age and current station in the division.
Read on to see who is most likely to adorn heavyweight gold before they call it quits.
Struve is just 25, and has a 9-4 record inside the Octagon, but there comes a point—and that point is coming very soon—when we have to stop giving him mulligans for poor performances.
When he beat Stipe Miocic in 2012, I thought maybe he'd conquered his inadequacies dealing with power-punchers, but his recent loss to Mark Hunt really decimated that theory. Sure, he lasted longer than a lot of guys do against Hunt, but he spent a good portion of the fight leaning against the fence, covering himself up with both arms.
There is a lot of power in the heavyweight division, and it seems that in spite of above-average grappling and solid power of his own, Struve is ill-equipped to deal with it. And that will be a problem for him moving forward.
He's still young and packed with potential, but each setback brings about renewed skepticism that seems more and more deserved every time it appears.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 8 percent
Hunt is riding a four-fight win streak and is positioned just one victory away from gaining a crack at UFC gold. He'll have to take out former champ Junior Dos Santos, though, so he is by no means guaranteed anything.
The Super Samoan's greatest attribute is obviously his striking prowess, but what was most impressive about his recent victory over Stefan Struve was how well he performed on the ground. He controlled much of the action there and even slipped some precarious positions.
Handicapping Hunt's chance of one day adorning a UFC belt is his age. At 39, he really has just one chance to make a title run, and that run is straight through a gauntlet of the two best heavyweights on the planet in Dos Santos and Cain Velasquez.
Still, power is a great equalizer in combat sports, and writing a guy with Hunt's power off just isn't that smart. On the other hand, his chances cannot be said to be particularly strong.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 15 percent
Since joining the UFC, Nelson has posted solid results, but he's never been able to break through and grasp a W against a truly high-level fighter.
Case in point, Nelson's most relevant victory came against Stefan Struve, while he is 0-3 against Junior Dos Santos, Frank Mir and Fabricio Werdum.
Nelson's next opponent is Cheick Kongo, and a win won't really make a strong case for him to land anything like a contender match, so Nelson seems to be on the outside looking in at this point.
And that's not a good place to be when you are 36 years old.
He's a good fighter, his ceiling just doesn't seem like it is at a title level. I'd be shocked if we ever saw Nelson crowned UFC champion.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 3 percent
Big Nog has not put in back-to-back wins since his first two UFC fights in 2007 and 2008. He's also suffered a multitude of injuries since that time, and it seems he's aged a good 20 years.
How much he has left in the tank is a matter for debate, but the once-dominant heavyweight now straddles the line between contender and pretender, and an eviction notice from there cannot be far off.
Nogueira's next fight will come this June against Fabricio Werdum. It's a match that could vault him into contention, but it's also one that could send him crashing down the ladder, perhaps for good.
Making matters difficult for Nogueira's title aspirations is that even if he defeats Werdum, he's still a top contender and title fight away from capturing the strap.
The Brazilian has make a career out of defying expectations and proving critics wrong, and maybe he has one more magic show left. But probably not.
Chances of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 5 percent
Overeem is a dangerous fighter, but only for a round or so. In matches that have gone more than a single frame, he is an ordinary 6-6. His most recent collapse came against Antonio Silva this February, and for some reason, it surprised people.
The deficiency plaguing Overeem is a profound one, but also one that can be righted. And while Overeem isn't a spring chicken, he's only 32, so there is some reason for optimism.
Overall though, that optimism is minute next to the skepticism that questions whether he has the ability to succeed against the best the UFC has to offer. His career with the promotion consists of a 1-1 record and a lengthy suspension for failing a drug test.
At this point, Overeem is a dark horse to win a UFC title, but not one I'd give a particularly grand chance to.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 15 percent
Since 2007, Mir has been a very good fighter, but certainly not a great one. He's posted a winning record, but hasn't been able to put away any top contender, and failed mightily in his sole title bid to dethrone then-champion Junior Dos Santos.
Mir will have a chance to buck the trend when he welcomes highly touted Strikeforce import Daniel Cormier to the Octagon this April, though he won't be entering the contest as a favorite.
At this point it seems Mir is destined to be a tough gate-keeper rather than a UFC champ, but we cannot write him off completely. With good standup and some of the division's best grappling, he's a legitimate threat to nearly anyone he shares the cage with.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 10 percent
Silva is fighting for the title this May, so figuring out his chances of winning a UFC heavyweight title are akin to calculating his chances of winning that fight, plus adding for the possibility of rebounding in the event of a loss.
While the openness of Silva's road to the title puts his chances higher than most, they still aren't really that great, given how badly he was thrashed against Cain Velasquez last year.
Sure, rematches often produce different results, but I'm not sure that knocking out a self-injured Travis Browne, or scoring a comeback third-round knockout of Alistair Overeem instills enough confidence to make fans believe he has more than a puncher's chance against the champion.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 22 percent
He hasn't fought a match in the UFC, but Cormier is one, two fights away at the most, from landing a title shot.
That is if he wants a title shot. The current champion is his pal Cain Velasquez, and if he retains his title, Cormier is kind of stuck in limbo.
Should Velasquez lose his strap Cormier instantly becomes a serious title player, regardless of who takes over the position. Alternatively, he is a candidate to drop to light heavyweight and fight for the title there.
All things considered, Cormier still has a better chance than most of winning the heavyweight title because you never know how external factors will play out, and when it comes to pure talent, few are greater.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 33 percent
Since rejoining the UFC in 2012, Werdum has looked sensational. In two bouts, he has utterly obliterated Roy Nelson and Mike Russow, and he has done so without relying on his primary weapon, jiu-jitsu.
If Werdum's last two performances are indicative of an improvement he has made to his overall game, then watch out: he's a legitimate title contender.
If he can't sustain the type of striking output he's mustered over his past couple contests when he takes on the division's top guys, then it's unlikely he'll ever capture the title.
Werdum's next bout will come against Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira this June, and a win will likely place him in a title eliminator bout. That means he's close, but also that he needs to really be on his game if he is serious about becoming the baddest man on the planet.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight title: 20 percent
Dos Santos didn't look like much of a threat to Cain Velasquez when the two fought in 2012, but he does own a first-round knockout over the champion, and retains the best chances of dethroning him.
The Brazilian could earn himself a rubber-match with Velasquez is he takes out Mark Hunt this May, and at 28 years old, this rebound attempt isn't necessarily his final chance.
When it comes down to it, Dos Santos is clearly the second best heavyweight on the planet, and is one of two guys, the other being Daniel Cormier, that have shown enough to be considered on the level of Velasquez.
In my mind, the division is a three-horse race, with a few stragglers that have an outside chance of joining the pack, and Dos Santos is still very much nipping at Velasquez's heels.
Chance of capturing UFC heavyweight championship title: 50 percent