With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in every division. Here, we take a look at where a particular division stands right now, and where it's headed.
This Saturday at the Ultimate Fighter Finale, coaches Michael Bisping and Jason Miller will meet in a Middleweight fight. Earlier this week, Chael Sonnen stated that he would likely face the winner of this fight, especially since champion Anderson Silva is out until next summer. With this big fight on the horizon, now seemed like a good time to take a look at the UFC Middleweight division, and see who might be up for The Spider's astonishing 10th Middleweight title defense.
Next in Line:
After beating Brian Stann at UFC 136, former #1 contender Chael Sonnen (currently ranked #2) called out Anderson Silva. There's no doubt that a rematch of their UFC 117 classic would generate great interest, but it was not to be. Silva is out until June with injury, and Sonnen is on the sidelines. There was talk of him facing Mark Munoz early next year, but Chael shot that down, then stated that we should watch this weekend's show to find out what's next. The assumption is that it will be Sonnen vs. the winner of Bisping (#7) vs. Mayhem (Unranked).
What's interesting about this scenario is that it is a win-win-win for the UFC with their 3 contenders. No matter who emerges as the challenger, there is a strong marketing angle. You'll either have the much-anticipated rematch, British star Bisping finally getting his shot, or Mayhem and his mainstream appeal. Personally, I'd like Sonnen to get there, but all of those fights hold some intrigue.
Key Match Ups:
We've had some big recent fights at Middleweight, and now it seems like a lot of folks are in a holding pattern, waiting to see what comes next. But still, two big upcoming fights to consider.
- #5 Vitor Belfort vs. Anthony Johnson (UFC 142) - Belfort is coming off one of his famous "old Vitor" KO's, as he stopped Yoshihiro Akiyama this summer. He is only one fight removed from a big loss to Silva, so it's hard to see him getting an immediate shot, but he will always remain close to the top. For Johnson, this is a Middleweight debut, and he has been vague if this is a permanent move or not, likely waiting to see how this fight goes. If he can KO Belfort, he'll be fast tracked up the division ranks.
- #3 Yushin Okami vs. Tim Boetsch (UFC 144) - Another recent Spider victim here, as Okami looks to return from his UFC 134 loss. Honestly, it took him years to get that shot, and he'll have to have a miraculous run to get another one. But he's a great gate-keeper who will provide a huge challenge for Boetsch. The Barbarian is 2-0 at 185 and has looked solid in both wins. He has his work cut out for him here, but like Johnson, he could make a big move with a win.
In The Mix:
A number of other Middleweights sit near the top, though without any fights currently scheduled:
- #4 Mark Munoz - Outside of the Sonnen/Bisping/Miller triumvirate, Munoz is the clear cut next in line for a title shot. He's coming off big wins over Chris Leben and Demian Maia. He'll have to prove himself again before getting that shot though, probably against one of the losers of that triangle.
- #5 Demian Maia - Maia has lost a ton of momentum since challenging Silva back at UFC 112. At this point, he seems pretty far removed, though the division is such that he still is barely inside the top 5.
- #8 Brian Stann - Stann had a pretty bad setback in his dominating loss to Sonnen. That fight showed that there is a big gap between Stann and the upper levels of the division. A Stann vs. Maia fight makes sense to me.
- #18 Rousimar Palhares - He's the furthest outside the picture, but the Tree Stump is 6-2 in the division, with his only loses against Nate Marquardt and Dan Henderson - no shame in those defeats. He faces Mike Massenzio at UFC 142, which won't really do anything for Palhares. I'd like to see him move up in competition again.
Others to Consider:
And finally, a few Middleweight names that may not find themselves in the title picture any time soon, but should be mentioned:
- #13 Alan Belcher - It's hard to envision him as anything other than a gatekeeper, but he's the kind of veteran who provides a great challenge for anyone.
- #16 Wanderlei Silva - I don't care how much he has lost lately, he's The Axe Murderer, and will always be a name worth mentioning. And hey, he's on a 1-0 streak!
- #20 - Chris Weidman - Folks are high on this 7-0 prospect, who has already defeated some very respectable UFC names. I'm very excited to see where the future takes Weidman, and hope he is back in action soon.
- #9 Luke Rockhold, #11 Ronaldo Souza, #14 Tim Kennedy - Also known as the good parts of the Strikeforce Middleweight division. For now, these three seem like they are staying in Strikeforce, with champion Rockhold set to defend against Keith Jardine in January, but there's always the chance they will be brought over to the UFC, where all 3 would immediately be interesting contenders.