After four years of unprecedented dominance, UFC middleweight champion Anderson Silva was finally put to the test at UFC 117. Wrestling stalwart Chael Sonnen not only grounded and pounded the champ, he also caught him standing and simply made him look bad. Real bad.
For years fans have been slow to embrace the dominant champion from Brazil. Pay per view shows headlined by the enigmatic champion have traditionally been poor performers. Was it his ethnicity? His style? The fact that he didn't seem remotely vulnerable, even against legends of the sport like multiple weight class champion Dan Henderson? Maybe a little bit of all those things.
All that, thanks to Chael Sonnen, had changed. For the first time in memory, fans were excited by the prospect of an Anderson Silva title defense. Sonnen had revealed huge chinks in the champion's armor. The rematch would have certainly been one of the biggest fights of 2011.
Unfortunately, it appears Sonnen has tested positive for performance enhancing drugs. I say "appears" because the story out of California seems to change not just daily, but hourly. No one seems to know exactly what Sonnen tested positive for, let alone what levels of any drug were in his system. But, working on the assumption that a one-year suspension will follow a positive test, it's safe to say Sonnen-Silva II is off for now.
There are a lot of victims here: the UFC, which misses out on a big money matchup. The fans, who have seen one of the best fights of the decade marred by PED allegations and been cheated out of a compelling rematch to boot. And don't forget Anderson Silva on your list of the victamized. He won't get to prove a point against his loudmouth challenger, a point he is reportedly desperate to make.
The replacements for Sonnen leave much to be desired. Will he meet the plodding Yushin Okami? Nate Marquardt once again? Perhaps Vitor Belfort, who hasn't fought in a calendar year and only five times in the last four years? Beyond Sonnen, the middleweight cupboard is bare. Which leaves Silva right where he started before Sonnen - looking to light heavyweight and even boxing for big money paydays.
Some possible matchups after the break.
Vitor Belfort: Long time fans have been waiting twelve years for the return of the "old Vitor" the guy who steamrolled Wanderlei Silva and looked like a juiced up gift from the gods. We've seen flashes here and there and in the last four years he's accumulated the longest winning streak of his career. Unfortunately, only two of those five wins were at middleweight - with no middleweight wins in the UFC.
Wanderlei Silva: The legendary Silva opened a door that led to title contention by upsetting Michael Bisping earlier this year. This fight would be a fan pleasing slugfest without a doubt. But would it be sport? And does it matter?
Randy Couture: Couture is riding high after his major media showdown with boxing's James Toney. Couture has been intrigued by Silva for a long time and this would undoubtedly be the matchup with the most economic implications for the UFC. It would be a good way to kill time while waiting for Sonnen's return.
Jon Jones: Let's face facts - Silva has lost a step or three. At 35, his best days are behind him. If the UFC wants to use the Spider's name and reputation to build a new star, who better than Jon Jones? Jones is the promotion's top prospect and has all the potential in the world. He's yet, however, to catch the fan's eye. This would accomplish that goal and propel Jones to the next level. A loss is a learning experience and comes at the hands of one of the best fighters of all-time. It's the highly coveted "win-win."
Jake Shields: A darkhorse contender. The UFC is adamant that they want Shields at welterweight. But the former Strikeforce midddleweight champion has many of the same tools Sonnen used to keep Silva on his back. This fight could be more compelling than many realize.
Sonnen's absence has definitely opened doors and created a multitude of options for the UFC. So, let's play matchmaker. What would you do if you were Joe Silva for a day?