Think back to February 5th, 2011. The scene was set in the Mandalay Bay Events Center for one of the biggest middleweight fights of the past few years - reigning P4P king Anderson Silva vs. Vitor Belfort. Two of Brazil's biggest MMA stars met in front of 10,893 screaming fans in Vegas, with millions more watching on Brazilian TV. The Phenom's night ended with a front kick and some punches just 3:25 into round one, but the gate (3.6 million) and the PPV buyrate (750,000) were huge. It was a massive score for the UFC and firmly established the promotion's presence in Brazil, even though the card didn't even take place there.
Now here we are, two years later. Belfort is coming off a big win over Michael Bisping at UFC on FX 7 to end his hopes for the time being. Opponent Luke Rockhold comes into the UFC with the Strikeforce middleweight title on his shoulder, a belt he defended twice after taking it off of UFC on FX 8 co-main eventer Ronaldo "Jacare" Souza in late 2011. Belfort and Rockhold are set to meet in the main event of a big card in Brazil in just over two weeks, and the winner could very well be staring across the octagon at the UFC middleweight champion the next time they fight.
So why isn't anyone talking about this?
While some believe that Belfort shouldn't get another shot against Silva, it's hard to dismiss him that easily. He certainly believes he deserves the shot, and the fight would probably draw another big gate if they did it in Brazil this time. Taking out Bisping and Rockhold consecutively, combined with the fact that no one else clearly deserves the chance, should indeed get him the opportunity even if he did get a LHW title shot against Jon Jones not too long ago (as a super-late replacement).
As for Rockhold, a win over Belfort would undoubtedly be the biggest of his career and he'd have done something no other person on the current UFC middleweight roster has done other than Silva - beat The Phenom. Silva has talked in the past about wanting to meet Rockhold due to the champion vs. champion angle, and it would sell no matter where the bout took place. It's a natural fit.
Don't worry, Chris Weidman fans - I'm not drawing any premature conclusions here. Weidman could very well beat Silva, and that would change up the division in a big way. But the winner of this bout is the best guy to face Weidman as well if Silva didn't get an automatic rematch (which is definitely possible). The only other real contenders for a title shot right now are Yushin Okami (who has won three in a row but already lost a title shot), and possibly Rashad Evans if he goes through with a drop to middleweight. That leaves the door wide open for Rockhold and Belfort.
It's just unfortunate that this bout isn't getting the attention it deserves right now. It could be because it's not for a couple of weeks and the UFC hasn't ramped up their promotional efforts for this yet in the wake of UFC 159. But most of the focus so far has been on Vitor's use of TRT and Rockhold's veiled shots at it, which isn't the best way to sell a fight. Dana White has never had any problems propping up a fight with the "winner get's a title shot" promise before, even if it doesn't turn out to be true. Why isn't he doing it here? At least it would mean something in this case.
In the end, this is a bout that fans should be excited about. Unlike the main event of UFC 159, this features two top guys in their division and the bout has real implications. And it's free. There's a lot to like here, and I hope it gets the promotional push and media attention it deserves leading up to May 17th. I'm certainly looking forward to it and I hope the winner does indeed get his shot at the champion, whoever that might be at the time.