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UFC 134 Aftermath: An Honest Look at Credible Challengers for Anderson Silva

UFC® RIO Silva vs Okami at HSBC Arena on Saturday, August 27, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photos by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)
UFC® RIO Silva vs Okami at HSBC Arena on Saturday, August 27, 2011 in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil (Photos by Al Bello/Zuffa LLC/Zuffa LLC via Getty Images)

It is very rare we see a fighter clear out their division in any combat sport. It's even rarer for a fighter to do it in such dominating fashion that the talking heads can't decide whose will he's broken more severely. Anderson Silva is just that fighter. Since capturing the middleweight belt almost five years ago, fans have been told that the division is shallow and lacks the talent pool to sustain competitive opposition. Unfortunately, this couldn't be further from the truth. The division only appears to lack depth because of the dominance of the champion.

Anderson Silva has made everyone who has challenged him look like an amateur. Fighters such as Rich Franklin and Dan Henderson were clowned and then finished within two rounds. With the recent victory over Yushin Okami, it is an appropriate time to take a look at the future challengers for Anderson's belt and who stands the best chance at defeating the best fighter in the world.

Georges St. Pierre: This is a super fight that fans and media have been clamoring for since Georges defeated B.J. Penn at UFC 94. St. Pierre is in a similar situation at welterweight having defeated the top talent the division has to offer. Like Silva he's also had to face less than credible opposition to stay active. Unlike Silva, Georges hasn't stopped a fighter in over two years. A fight between the two would end the pound for pound debates. The only issue is that Georges, at his heaviest, walks around at 190 pounds. Anderson walks around at 220 and on fight night is still over 210 pounds. The size difference would be apparent almost immediately and that is too big of gap these days.

Chael Sonnen: Who doesn't like a good rematch? Chael is the first UFC fighter to give Anderson any sort of problems in five years. His wrestling is the best in the division and he has the ability to keep Silva on his back for the entire fight. However, where most see a sellable rematch, I see a fighter who is coming off a loss and a suspension for PED usage. Does a win over Brian Stann at UFC 136 really warrant another shot at Anderson? The only reason for Silva to take this fight and not retire right now is because if he did that, Chael wouldn't stop talking about how he forced Anderson to retire. It's absurd but true.

Brian Stann: Stann is currently on a three fight win streak with stoppages over Chris Leben and Jorge Santiago. Santiago is arguably his biggest win as the Brazilian fighter entered the UFC with a lot of hype stemming from his run in Sengoku. A win over Sonnen at 136 would definitely deserve a shot at the belt, but would he really be a credible opponent? Does Brian Stann have the skill set to put up a better fight than Okami or Vitor Belfort? Would Anderson even view him as a threat? We've seen in the past that when Silva believes the man across from him doesn't deserve the fight, he will often put on a terrible performance. Does Stann possess the ability to take advantage of this?

Mark Munoz: As a NCAA D1 Champion, Munoz has the wrestling pedigree to pose a threat to the Spider. His winning streak is highlighted by a decision win over Demian Maia. Munoz has also made some major changes in his training to become a competent striker. However, there are two issues with Mark Munoz as a title challenger. The first is that his wrestling in MMA isn't really that great. He doesn't set his shots up well and often will attempt takedowns from a distance. The other is that he's a training partner of Anderson Silva's and the wrestling coach for the Black House boys. Even if he's granted a shot at the title, is there any chance he'd actually accept the shot?

Chris Leben: Chris has made some major changes to his training and life since welcoming Anderson to the UFC in June of 2006. He left Oregon and moved to Hawaii to get away from the drama and life that was bringing him down. His record in the UFC is 12-6 and he holds recent wins over Wanderlei Silva and Yoshihiro Akiyama. He would be a harder sell than the above fighters since he is still rebounding from his loss to Stann and convincing fans a fighter on a two fight winning streak deserves a title shot is a stretch. There is no question that Chris is a talented fighter and in an Anderson Silva-free world, he may even be a champion. But the reality is that a fight with Silva in 2011 will be no different than it was in 2006.

Jon Jones: This is the new fight that fans want to see. There is no question that Anderson is the best fighter at 185 and since debuting in the UFC, Jon Jones has been dominant at light heavyweight. The issue with this fight is that where Silva and St. Pierre have cleaned out their divisions, Jones still has challenges ahead of him. Fights with Quinton Jackson and Rashad Evans are already planned and with the UFC pushing Phil Davis and Alexander Gustafsson as well, there is no shortage of threats for at least two years. Will the UFC table those fights to pursue the super fight between the two champions? Is the reward worth the risk of having Silva be the champion of two weight classes?

It's not that the middleweight division is so weak. It's that the champion is so dominant that the athletes fighting for a shot at the belt just don't seem, for lack of a better word, "worthy" of the shot. Anderson has beaten the best the world has to offer. In an alternate reality where Anderson Silva never entered the UFC, there would be no shortage of viable challengers to the middleweight belt. However, at this time, there aren't any credible threats within the UFC that can potentially defeat Anderson Silva. What a sad reality this is. 

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