For years the UFC light heavyweight division has been touted as the deepest and one of the most exciting divisions in MMA. You've had the greats: Liddell, Couture, and Tito all hold their reign.
Then the likes of Rampage, Wanderlei, and Shogun made their way from Pride to bolster an already stellar division. We then enter the "Ultimate Fighter" era adding Rashad Evans and Forrest Griffin, two former champions.
The division has had several claims usually resulting in Mike Goldberg or Joe Rogan announcing the new "The Fighter X Era". Remember when no one was suppose to be able to beat Lyoto Machida? Shogun Rua cut that chapter of history short.
Here we are in 2011, the light heavyweight division is currently ruled by a lanky 23-year-old that made his professional debut three years ago.
The hot button topic now is who is next to challenge Jon "Bones" Jones?
After his domination of Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC 128, Rashad Evans appeared to be next in line. The two former teammates had begun to garner some serious hype behind their match up until it was derailed by a Jones' hand injury. Evans' opponent was quickly filled with another up and coming talent in Phil Davis.
Now with the announcement that "Bones" is healthy enough to fight and will forgo surgery, the champion awaits his next opponent.
The question is now who gets the opportunity? Here is a rundown of potential contenders.
Stefan Struve will have to pick up his game after getting dissected by Travis Browne at UFC 130. He previously was on a two-fight win streak and is now 5-3 in the UFC with his losses coming to Browne, Roy Nelson and Junior Dos Santos.
The 6'11" Struve, despite his performance against Browne, has some upside and will be looking to continue his quest up the heavyweight ladder. With only two fights remaining on his current contract, he should be motivated to win and continue his UFC career.
Other names to mention: Pat Barry, Mirko Cro Cop, Matt Mitrione, Christian Morecraft
Antonio Nogueira (left) squares off against Randy Couture (right) at UFC 102.
Nogueira hasn't fought in almost a year and a half and is slated for a showdown with Brendan Schaub at UFC 134 in August.
Being a former interim Heavyweight champion, "Minotauro" is one of the better fighters in the world and holds a 3-2 record since coming over from PRIDE four years ago.
He holds the 10 spot but will need a win in his next bout to stay in this spot, considering the heavyweight division is more stacked than I can remember.
Other than his losses to Cain Velasquez (at UFC 99) Frank Mir (at UFC 107), Kongo has been a beast at heavyweight.
His last four wins have been stoppages and the reason he couldn't get a fifth was because he lost a point in the Travis Browne fight at UFC 120 and had to settle for the unanimous draw.
Kongo has a test coming up in June against Pat Barry, who is coming off a unanimous decision victory over Joey Beltran at UFC: Fight for the Troops 2.
Kongo has a chance to climb the ranks if he can finish off Barry early but for now, sits at No. 9.
Browne "superman punch"ed his way into the top 10.
He is undefeated in his MMA career, sitting at 11-0-1 and has looked impressive in the Octagon with a victory over James McSweeney at the TUF: Liddell vs. Ortiz finale. He looked even more impressive against Cheick Kongo, pulling out a draw at UFC 120.
The future is bright for this man as he is set to test himself against the best that the division has to offer.
Schaub has come a long way since his TUF 10 days.
He is on a four-fight winning streak including a decision over former top contender Gabriel Gonzaga (at UFC 121) and a "Knockout of the Night" award for his most recent result against former PRIDE veteran Mirko Cro Cop (at UFC 128).
His next fight is against another legend of the sport, Antonio Rodrigo "Minotauro" Nogueira at UFC 134 in August.
Roy Nelson (left) faces off with Ben Rothwell (right) in hype of their bout at IFL: Moline in April 2007.
Nelson is slowly falling down the heavyweight ladder after looking so impressive after winning TUF 10.
Losses to Junior dos Santos (at UFC 117) and Frank Mir (this past weekend at UFC 130) have exposed Nelson's weight as a weakness when it was once his greatest strength. Where does Nelson go from here?
He will stay at heavyweight but Joe Rogan did point out that if Nelson were to lose some of that fat and get his conditioning up from what we saw to be horrible against Mir, he could potentially fight at 205 pounds.
Mir has built his way back up the heavyweight ladder and has not looked down for even a moment. He has won six of his last eight fights and has never looked as dominant as he was against Roy Nelson this past weekend, even getting a 10-8 round from a judge.
Mir has expressed interest in fighting the winner of the Schaub/Nogueira fight but with the way he is moving now, even with all that new muscle weight, he could easily compete against the loser of the Carwin/dos Santos bout later this year.
It is definitely a log jam at the top of the heavyweight division and with the resurgence of Frank Mir, the title picture just keeps getting more complicated.
Carwin hasn't fought since his loss to then-champion Brock Lesnar at UFC 116. That was almost a year ago, but I don't expect Octagon-rust to be an issue for this elite fighter.
Carwin was previously undefeated in his MMA career and has been one of the most feared overall strikers in the game.
All 12 of his wins have been via a first round stoppage of some sort (five submissions, seven KO's) and with the latest hiccup in the career of Brock Lesnar, Carwin is reaping the benefits.
He will face Junior dos Santos at UFC 131 where the winner gets a shot at Cain Velasquez and the Heavyweight title, slated to happen at the end of 2011.
Lesnar has not been in good health for a long time now. Battles with mononucleosis and now diverticulitis has sidelined the former champion until early 2012.
Lesnar was slated to fight in a No. 1 contenders bout with Junior dos Santos and in 2012, expect him to face the loser of the impending title match to solidify his dominance over the rest of the division and move one step closer to a title fight.
Don't be surprised either if they throw Frank Mir into this title picture and a possible rubber match.
dos Santos (left) goes to strike Mirko Cro Cop (right) at UFC 103.
Junior dos Santos has won all six of his UFC bouts to date and is a clear cut threat to Cain Velasquez. Wins over Roy Nelson, Gabriel Gonzaga, Mirko Cro Cop and Stefan Struve have shown dos Santos to be extremely deadly.
He will be in for the biggest test of his career at UFC 131 against Shane Carwin, a fight that I expect will be contested on the feet and be decided on who falls down first.
Naturally, when you have a top 10 list of a fighters division, the champion belongs at the top. Cain Velasquez has been all that and more since starting his MMA career.
Sitting at 9-0, Velasquez has knocked off the biggest names in the heavyweight division and done it in dominating fashion.
Besides his unanimous decision victory over Cheick Kongo at UFC 99, all Velasquez has done is knock out every one of his opponents en route to becoming the UFC Heavyweight Champion.
Names like Nogueira, Rothwell and of course, Lesnar have all come in and have all fallen.
Velasquez will face the winner of the Carwin/dos Santos fight later this year.