In the wake of the TUF 14 Finale this past Saturday, there has been a lot of speculation on the state of the Middleweight championship - specifically, Michael Bisping's role as a challenger. The majority of this talk is incredibly premature, considering the current title picture. For a variety of reasons I'll look at throughout this post, the title picture is a bit murky and deserves a more in-depth analysis.
First, there's Anderson Silva's shoulder injury. The champ is currently on the sidelines due to an injury sustained during training for his title defense against Okami. He's expected to return in June. This means a detour to anyone with title aspirations in the near future. Now let's take a look at the contenders:
This bout has already been billed as the number one contender's fight. There's plenty of mixed feelings about Sonnen's legitimacy as challenger. However, being Silva's toughest test to date, and the overall anticipation of the rematch, it would be foolish for the UFC not to try to make this fight, if possible. Munoz vaulted up the rankings in June with a decision win over Demian Maia (ranked 4th) and sustained that position with a finish of #13 Chris Leben in October. He's currently on a four fight win streak and a win over #2 Sonnen definitely gives him the credentials to try to take the belt from The Spider.
Going forward, I'm going to assume Anderson retains his title against the winner of Munoz/Sonnen, as it's the best case scenario for future challengers. If one of these men manages to pull off the upset, it's almost guaranteed Silva will be granted the immediate rematch, given his tenure as the most dominating champion in UFC history.
More after the jump.
At first glance this seems like an odd fight to be considered relevant to the immediate title picture, but there are other factors at play. First and foremost, Vitor Belfort is a bonafide star in Brazil. From what I understand, he is actually more famous in his homeland than Anderson Silva. So, despite a devastating KO loss in February, if Belfort wins here, and the UFC wants to make big money in Brazil next fall, it is very possible that they book this match. "Rumble", on the other hand, is not so clear cut. He is coming off two top 10 WW wins to face 5th ranked Belfort in his MW debut. It's not likely that he gets a title shot in his second fight in the division, but a win here combined with some ill-timed injuries or upsets could open the door for him.
Palhares is 5-1 in his last 6 against mid to low tier competition. He came very close to title contention last year when he faced off against perennial contender Nate Marquardt. He suffered a TKO loss after an odd turn of events, but has recovered with two dominating performances. A win over Massenzio won't put him in position as a contender, but a subsequent step up in competition would place him in the proverbial "mix".
Knocking on the Door:
Since leaving the UFC in 2009 due to a contract dispute, Henderson has enjoyed great success. With knockout wins over Renato Sobral, Rafael Cavalcante, and Fedor Emelianenko on top of a fight of the year performance against Mauricio Rua, Hendo's career seems to be peaking in his early forties. Following UFC 139, Dana White promised Henderson a shot at either the Light Heavyweight or Middleweight title, which ever becomes available first. If White intends to make good on his promise, Dan Henderson could very well be rematching Silva in the third quarter of 2012.
Michael "The Count" Bisping is currently on a four fight win streak against mid tier competition. Two of those fights have ended in TKO finishes after dominating performances. However, Bisping still doesn't have a win over a top 10 opponent and he's going to need one to challenge for the title. He's in a prime position to make a run toward contendership, but, despite the UFC's desire to push their lone UK star, The Count must leap this last hurdle before he can be matched up against Anderson Silva.