Vitor Belfort is in a tough position right now. The Phenom has been tearing up top competition recently and looked to be on his way back to a possible UFC middleweight title shot. When you knock out Michael Bisping and Luke Rockhold in succession, you'd have to at least be considered a contender, right?
If you ask Dana White, the answer is no.
Why is that? Well, there are a few reasons. One is that he has already had a title shot at middleweight and light heavyweight over the past three years and he lost them both. Another is the TRT controversy. White has said that Belfort is not fighting in Brazil simply because he's getting a free pass on TRT by their commission, CABMMA. But until he fights in North America again, especially in one of the UFC's big states (Nevada, California, or New Jersey), people aren't going to buy that.
But the biggest reason he's not fighting for the title any time soon is simply because the next middleweight title fight is already booked. When Chris Weidman beat Anderson Silva for the title at UFC 162, Silva balked at a rematch and Belfort pounced. He immediately asked for a title shot against Weidman on twitter and everywhere else he thought he might be heard. Unfortunately for him, Silva changed his mind and will rematch Weidman on December 28th at UFC 168.
So where does that leave Vitor? Probably fighting someone at middleweight that's below him in the rankings and doesn't do much to bolster a title shot. There's also the possibility he fights at light heavyweight or 195 lbs too in the meantime. So I thought I'd take a look at possible opponents for Belfort and see what makes the most sense. There's also one other option, which is at the bottom.
Constantinos Philippou - Costa's biggest challenge in the UFC thus far was Tim Boetsch, and he beat him after Boetsch got hurt. He is 5-0 at 185 in the UFC though, and currently sits as the # 7-ranked challenger in the official UFC rankings. MMA Fighting's Ariel Helwani asked Costa about a Belfort fight on twitter, and Philippou responded that he'd be down for the fight, but "NOT in Brazil". Clearly that's a TRT reference. Honestly, I don't see Belfort wanting this fight all that much. What does he have to gain from it?
Yushin Okami/Ronaldo Souza winner - These men will meet at UFC on FS 1 3 on September 4th, and are the # 3 and # 5 ranked 185-lb. contenders right now in the official rankings. Both present significant style challenges to Belfort, and either fight would work in Brazil. In my eyes, this is probably what will happen next. But stranger things have happened.
Mark Munoz (if he beats Michael Bisping) - A win over Bisping in October would be huge for Munoz, and put him back into the top 5. The fight poses significant risk for Belfort and Munoz is a popular guy, so Belfort might be inclined to take the bout. Getting by Bisping is a huge task though, and the fight isn't for almost three months. Belfort might already have a fight booked by then.
Gegard Mousasi - He's been talking up a Belfort fight and should be ready to go later this year. And yes, he'll likely return at 185. Belfort has dismissed the idea of this fight, thinking Mousasi should earn it. But it would be a great fight in my eyes, probably my favorite of the bunch.
Let's make it clear off the hopper here - I highly doubt Vitor fights at 205 next, but either that or a bout at 195 pounds isn't out of the question. If he did, it'd likely be against one of these guys.
Dan Henderson - Yes, Hendo has lost two in a row. Yes, they've fought before (and the fight was terrible). But that's a high-profile fight for both men, and they're two of the top-ranked guys in the mythical Franklinweight division of 195 lbs. If they can book Demian Maia (3 wins in a row) against Josh Koscheck (2 losses in a row) at welterweight, they can book this as the co-main of a PPV. And people would dig it.
Wanderlei Silva - The rankings make this rematch look unlikely, and many think the bout is completely lopsided. But they were the coaches of TUF Brazil 1 and were scheduled to fight at UFC 147. They don't really like each other, and they both know how to hype a fight. Short of Belfort/Anderson 2, this might be the biggest fight they could make for a Brazilian card. Silva doesn't want to make 185 anymore, so they could do it at 195 or 205 later in the year. I don't think it's all that likely, but I'd love to see it.
Chael Sonnen - Sonnen has been taking shots at Belfort for a long time now. Vitor doesn't like it. If Sonnen beats Mauricio "Shogun" Rua at UFC on FS 1 1, he sort of establishes himself again as a top fighter. And we know Sonnen is a natural 185er, so this is another bout they could do at 195 if they wanted. Of all the options this seems the least likely, but who knows? They booked Chael vs. Jon Jones on purpose. Anything's possible.
Sitting out and waiting - It's possible that Belfort will choose to sit out and wait to see how Silva/Weidman 2 plays out. If Weidman wins again, he'd likely be the top contender for the title and could get the next shot. But Vitor's 36 years old and spends a lot of time talking about being a company man, so I can't see him taking the risk of being on the sidelines for so long without some sort of guarantee.