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The Ultimate Fighting Championship's heavyweight division is in ascension. The "Four Horsemen" of the 265-pound class – champion Brock Lesnar, interim champ Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez and Junior dos Santos – give the division depth most never would have imagined during the days in which Tim Sylvia lumbered around with the belt and all the best heavyweight talent competed in PRIDE.

The prospects of fights among the A-list, including July's Lesnar-Carwin showdown, is enough to keep fans buzzing and the UFC's coffers full for the foreseeable future. But none of the quartet have managed to crash the top 10 just yet.

And not without valid reasons: Lesnar only has five career fights under his belt, with his most impressive a victory over Randy Couture, who had been sidelined for 15 months prior to their fight. Velasquez has impressed, but his biggest wins have come over Antonio Rodrigo Nogueira, who is a few steps slower than in his PRIDE prime, and Ben Rothwell, a solid pro but not a world-beater. Dos Santos is well on his way, but his biggest win to date is over Gabriel Gonzaga.

In this writer's opinion, Carwin has the strongest case for a current spot in the top 10 among the four. He has blitzed all 11 of his career foes, never going past the first round. He has faced increasing levels of competition each time out and has passed each test. The one time Carwin has been in trouble, when Gonzaga rocked him in their fight last year, he showed great poise and rebounded to win the fight within two minutes.

If Carwin weighed 135 pounds instead of 265 and boasted the same résumé, would he still be on the outside looking in? After all, Brian Bowles cracked the top 10 as WEC bantamweight champion with just eight career fights and one notable win, and Dominick Cruz's path to the same title was mainly a series of grinding decision wins.

Either way, three of the UFC's fab four have impressed enough voters to place in the top 20: Lesnar is tied for 12th with nine points, and Carwin and Velasquez are tied for 16th with six. And given the heavyweight's growing recognition, one or two figure to crack the top 10 before the year is out.


This month's voting panel: Carlos Arias, The Orange County Register; Denny Burkholder, CBSSports.com; Elias Cepeda, Inside Fighting; Mike Chiappetta MMAFighting.com and Fight! Magazine; Steve Cofield, Cage Writer and ESPN Radio 1100 in Las Vegas; Neil Davidson, Canadian Press, Dave Doyle Yahoo! Sports; Ben Fowlkes SportsIllustrated.com. and Cage Potato; Josh Gross SportsIllustrated.com; Ariel Helwani Versus.com and MMAFighting.com; Kevin Iole Yahoo! Sports; Todd Martin, freelance; John Morgan, MMAjunkie.com; Franklin McNeil, ESPN.com; Brad McCray, freelance; Dave Meltzer, Yahoo! Sports and The Wrestling Observer; Brett Okamoto, The Las Vegas Sun; Ken Pishna, MMAWeekly.com; Michael David Smith, MMAFighting.com; Dann Stupp MMAjunkie.com. and The Dayton Daily News.

Note: Quinton "Rampage" Jackson has not fought in more than 12 months and as such, is ineligible for consideration until after his next fight.

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Cruz

10. Dominick Cruz
Points: 28
Affiliation: WEC
Weight class: Bantamweight (WEC bantamweight champion)
Hometown: San Diego
Record: 15-1 (won last six)
Last month's ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. Brian Bowles, R3 TKO, March 6.
Analysis: A division that seemed muddled a month ago suddenly cleared, as Cruz has beaten everyone in his path at 135 pounds. That includes the fighter who has emerged as No. 2 in the division, Joe Benavidez.

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Henderson

9. Dan Henderson
Points: 29
Affiliation: Strikeforce
Weight class: Middleweight/Light heavyweight
Hometown: Murrieta, Calif.
Record: 25-7 (won past three)
Last month's ranking: 10
Most recent result: def. Michael Bisping, R2 KO, July 11
Analysis: Henderson had more buzz than at any point in his career when he knocked out Michael Bisping last summer. Will that be enough to carry a card on network television when he meets Jake Shields on CBS on April 17?

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Mousasi

8. Gegard Mousasi
Points: 33
Affiliation: Strikeforce/DREAM
Weight class: Light heavyweight (Stikeforce light heavyweight champion
Hometown: Leiden, Armenia
Record: 28-2-1 (won last 15)
Last month's ranking: unranked
Most recent result: def. Gary Goodridge, R1 TKO, Dec. 31.
Analysis: Faces his toughest test in awhile when he meets "King Mo" Lawal on April 17.

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Rua

7. Mauricio Rua
Points: 57
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Light heavyweight
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 18-4 (lost last one)
Last month's ranking: 7 (tie)
Most recent result: lost to Lyoto Machida, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: Long layoff just about finished as his camp for his May 8 rematch with Lyoto Machida kicks into gear.

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Aldo

6. Jose Aldo
Points: 84
Affiliation: WEC
Weight class: Featherweight (WEC featherweight champion)
Hometown: Rio de Janeiro
Record: 16-1 (won last nine)
Last month's ranking: 6
Most recent result: def. Mike Brown, R2 TKO, Nov. 18
Analysis: A win over Urijah Faber on Faber's home turf in Sacramento, Calif. on April 24 would cap Aldo's dizzying run at 145.

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Machida

5. Lyoto Machida
Points: 120
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Light heavyweight (UFC light heavyweight champion)
Hometown: Belem, Brazil
Record: 16-0 (won last 16)
Last month's ranking: 5
Most recent result: def. Mauricio Rua, unanimous decision, Oct. 24
Analysis: Has much to prove after lackluster first match with Rua.

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Penn

4. B.J. Penn
Points: 143 (one first-place vote)
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Lightweight (UFC lightweight champion)
Hometown: Hilo, Hawaii
Record: 15-5-1 (won last two)
Last month's ranking: 4
Most recent result: def. Diego Sanchez, R5 TKO, Dec. 12
Analysis:What's left for Penn at 155 pounds if he makes short work of Frank Edgar on April 10?

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Emelianenko

3. Fedor Emelianenko
Points: 171 (6 first-place votes)
Affiliation: Strikeforce/M-1 (never lost PRIDE title)
Weight class: Heavyweight
Hometown: Stary Oskol, Russia
Record: 31-1, one no-contest (won last 11)
Last month's ranking: 2 (tie)
Most recent result: def. Brett Rogers, R2 KO, Nov. 7
Analysis: In the eternal debate between "Fedor hasn't lost in years" (an argument usually presented as "Fedor is unbeaten," which isn't true) and "Fedor doesn't fight the elite," his planned June match against Fabricio Werdum presents more downside than up.

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St. Pierre

2. Georges St. Pierre
Points: 174 (2 first-place votes)
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Welterweight (UFC welterweight champion)
Hometown: Saint-Isidore, Quebec
Record: 21-2 (won last eight)
Last month's ranking: 2 (tie)
Most recent result: def. Dan Hardy, unanimous decision, March 27
Analysis: Was St. Pierre's win over Dan Hardy a 25-minute show of dominance, or a disappointment due to its lack of a finish? That's been the subject of much debate, but the voters put GSP back alone in second this month after he tied with Fedor last month.

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Silva

1. Anderson Silva
Points: 190 (10 first-place votes)
Affiliation: UFC
Weight class: Middleweight (UFC middleweight champion)
Hometown: Curitiba, Brazil
Record: 24-4 (won last 10)
Last month's ranking: 1
Most recent result: def. Forrest Griffin, R1 KO, Aug. 8
Analysis: Trivia: Silva recently passed Tito Ortiz for the longest title reign in UFC history. Ortiz held the light heavyweight title for three years, five months and 12 days from 2000-03; Silva will be at three years, five months and 29 days when he defends against Demian Maia on April 10.

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Votes for others:Urijah Faber 12; Brock Lesnar, Shinya Aoki 9; Jon Fitch, Jake Shields 7; Shane Carwin, Cain Velasquez 6; Mike Brown 4; Jon Jones, Rashad Evans 3; Joe Benavidez, Brian Bowles 2; Gilbert Melendez 1.

Upcoming matches for Top 10 fighters: No. 1 Anderson Silva vs. Demian Maia, April 10; No. 4 B.J. Penn vs. Frank Edgar, April 10; No. 6 Jose Aldo vs. Urijah Faber, April 24; No. 8 Gegard Mousasi vs. Muhammad Lawal, April 17; No. 9 Dan Henderson vs. Jake Shields, April 17.

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