OAKLAND CA - AUGUST 06: (L-R) UFC Middleweight Champion Anderson Silva refuses to face off with opponent Chael Sonnen at the UFC 117 weigh-in at Oracle Arena on August 6 2010 in Oakland California. (Photo by Josh Hedges/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
With so many fights coming up spread across seven different weight classes, it's easy to lose track of what's happening in a particular division. Here, we take a look at where that division stands right now, and where it's headed. We start with the Middleweight division.
Champion Anderson Silva has stood atop the division for an astounding five years - so long that there are fans today who have never known the division to have any other champion. He's knocked off nine straight challengers, and hasn't shown signs of stopping. Up next for Silva is #1 contender Yushin Okami in the main event of UFC 134. Okami's been working towards this shot for five years now, and this is probably his only chance. He is, understandably, the heavy underdog.
Looking past UFC 134 and Silva vs. Okami, what's next for the division? Let's take a look:
Next in Line:
After Okami, the next challenger is likely to be the winner of Brian Stann vs. Chael Sonnen at UFC 136. Both should create marketable fights, particularly against Silva. For Sonnen, this will be his first match back since his UFC 117 loss and subsequent commission issues, while Stann will look to improve his MW record to 4-0.
If Stann or Sonnen is unavailable for whatever reason, the other option would be the winner of Chris Leben vs. Mark Munoz at UFC 138. Both seem a slight step down, but Leben finally getting a title shot (and, potentially, a rematch with Silva) is a great story.
There are a lot of good names to watch for, and pretty much all of them have fights coming up:
- Vitor Belfort. He's coming off a big win over Yoshihiro Akiyama, and he will forever be "in the mix" due to his fame alone. But he also is just 1 fight removed from a very definitive loss to Silva, meaning he has a better chance at a title shot if Silva is not the champ. Right now, he has no fight signed, so may need to wait and see how some of these upcoming fights shake out.
- Rousimar Palhares. 5-2 in the UFC with his only losses coming to the very best in Dan Henderson and Nate Marquardt. He's also a bit of a wild card, who can make for some exciting, unpredictable fights. Next up for him is Dan Miller at UFC 134, and a win over Miller should move him into the upper ranks once again.
- Tim Boetsch or Nick Ring. The winner of this UFC 135 fight will move up, and will likely command a big opponent next time out.
- Demian Maia or Jorge Santiago. These two meet at UFC 136. Both are coming off of losses, but had built some solid momentum before those defeats. The winner here will need a few victories to distance himself from that loss, but this will be a big step.
- Michael Bisping or Jason Miller. Both are currently tied up filming The Ultimate Fighter, and will meet at the show's Finale in December. Given each man's marketability, plus the exposure they'll get from the show, I would imagine the winner here will quickly cut to the head of the line, and could even leapfrog the Sonnen/Stann/Leben/Munoz pack.
Others to Consider:
Finally, those fighters that aren't going to be in title contention soon, but who you should keep an eye on.
- Wanderlei Silva. He's far removed from title contention, and is very unlikely to ever get there, but he's a major name who still will draw a marquee match-up every time.
- Yoshihiro Akiyama. Same thing as Wanderlei, just less so in the name department.
- Kyle Noke. If he gets by Ed Herman at UFC on Versus 5 this Sunday, he'll be 4-0 in the UFC and ready for another step up.
- Alan Belcher. Always a contender, Belcher's won 4 of his last 5, all against tough opponents. He returns from a 16 month lay off in September to face Jason MacDonald, and will find himself back in with big name opponents should he win there.
Check back next month as we look at the Light Heavyweight division before the big Jon Jones vs. Quinton Jackson fight at UFC 135.