After UFC 134, I could write this type of post on pretty much any weight class in the UFC. But because the event ended with Anderson Silva once again successfully defending his title, it begs the question: who’s left to challenge the champion?
To begin, here are the top 10 UFC middleweights as measured by SILVA:
- Anderson Silva – 47.83
- Chris Weidman – 44.95
- Demian Maia – 44.11
- Michael Bisping – 43.22
- Chael Sonnen – 41.45
- Mark Munoz – 35.98
- Rousimar Palhares – 34.28
- Costa Philippou – 34.19
- Wanderlei Silva – 33.52
- Vitor Belfort – 33.47
Now, let’s use the process of elimination to narrow this down.
#2 Chris Weidman is a five-star prospect, and a man who may well be a future champion. But at just 6-0 in his career, Weidman isn’t in serious title contention yet. That goes double for #8 Costa Philippou, whose win over Jorge Rivera at UFC 133 evened his promotional record at 1-1.
#3 Demian Maia and #9 Wanderlei Silva are coming off losses (and Silva really shouldn’t be on this list).
#10 Vitor Belfort already lost to Anderson Silva at UFC 126 by first-round KO; a rematch is not on the horizon.
This leaves #4 Michael Bisping, #5 Chael Sonnen, #6 Mark Munoz, and #7 Rousimar Palhares.
I think Bisping is overdue to fight one of the tougher opponents in the UFC middleweight division. His current winning streak against Jorge Rivera, Yoshihiro Akiyama, and Dan Miller is nice enough, but at this point, Bisping really needs to be fighting opponents who matter as far as getting a title shot is concerned. Jason “Mayhem” Miller should make for interesting television on the 14th season of The Ultimate Fighter, but he’s not one of those opponents. As a result, Bisping is unlikely to fight Anderson Silva anytime soon.
Palhares just scored a lopsided victory over Dan Miller, which is great, but Palhares is in the same boat as Bisping. He just hasn’t beaten the type of opponent needed to be thrown into serious title consideration. Hopefully Palhares gets a good fight against a top contender in his next match.
Realistically, the two fighters that stand apart from the others in the division are Chael Sonnen and Mark Munoz. Sonnen will be fighting Brian Stann at UFC 136, and it’s hard to imagine that the winner of that fight won’t be receiving the next shot against Silva. If it’s Sonnen, then it gives the UFC a golden opportunity to match Silva against the fighter to put him in the most trouble by far. If it’s Stann, then it gives the UFC the opportunity to promote a genuine war hero, and somebody the larger UFC audience should be able to get behind.
After that, Mark Munoz has to be waiting in the wings. Munoz has a somewhat recent loss to Yushin Okami, so he was understandably behind Okami in the pecking order, but now that Okami got his opportunity and lost, Munoz has to be on the short list of possible contenders. Munoz particularly cemented his contender status with a very close UFC 131 win over Demian Maia. He’ll be fighting Chris Leben (who ranks 11th among UFC middleweights according to SILVA) in the main event of UFC 138, and I feel that Munoz would likely need to win one more fight to get that shot at the title.
I have to mention Dan Henderson, who just defeated Fedor Emelianenko. Henderson still needs to sign a contract to return to the UFC, but I have no doubt that he would also be on the short list of possible contenders to Anderson Silva’s title. Henderson has already lost to Silva once before, but in a division that’s increasingly running short on logical contenders, Henderson is one of the better potential challengers there is.
My prediction is that Chael Sonnen will defeat Brian Stann at UFC 136 and be given the opportunity to rematch Anderson Silva for the middleweight title. The next challenger would most likely be either Dan Henderson or Mark Munoz, provided that Munoz defeats Chris Leben at UFC 138.