With the big title fight between Anderson Silva and Chris Weidman coming up, we’ve seen a lot of Middleweights posturing for the chance to be next in line, lets take a look to see who’s got the best case.
However, firstly we have to note that after Saturday, were not going to be needing a new Middleweight challenger for six to nine months, as if Anderson Silva retains his belt, he’ll be set for a super fight against Jon Jones, Georges St-Pierre or maybe even Roy Jones Junior.
Similarly, Dana White has also promised Anderson an immediate rematch, should Weidman take the belt on Saturday.
Whoever is next, they’re not going to get their shot in 2013.
In any case, lets look at the runners…
For all that Belfort was decisively, memorably knocked out by Anderson in their last fight he’s gone 4-0 at Middleweight since, and even gave Jon Jones a scare in a short notice foray up at 205lbs.
The fact that Vitor has been knocking out top talent with increasing degrees of style and panache makes him a real contender, even if the concerns about his TRT usage and Anderson’s apparent apathy for fighting him again remain.
If Vitor racks up another win or two in the meantime, there probably won’t be anyone else on anything approaching his win streak in the division.
Ronaldo ‘Jacare’ Souza
Still a new face in the UFC, if ‘Jacare’ overcomes Yushin Okami in September, he’ll be right in contention. At that point, a contest against Belfort or the winner of Bisping/Phillipou would likely be a no.1 contender match.
Predominantly a submission talent, there would be a concern that Silva-Souza could turn into a tepid rehash of Anderson’s uninspiring defence against Demian Maia. Still, you couldn’t argue with wins over Okami and either Bisping or Phillipou, all of whom present well rebounded, top class opposition.
For a start, Phillipou would need the belt to be around Anderson Silva’s waist, as he’s unlikely to want to challenge teammate Chris Weidman.
However, currently on a five fight win streak and most recently having stopped Tim Boetsch, Phillipou is rumoured to be facing Michael Bisping later in the year. A win there would give him a 6-0 streak over two of the division’s most hard to beat talents.
‘The Count’ always seems to fall at the eliminator stage, but remains one of the most complete, confident and popular fighters in the division. Having rebounded from his head kick loss to Vitor Belfort in January with a solid win over Alan Belcher, Bisping would be right back in line with a win over in-form Costa Phillipou.
Ok, so Mousasi hasn’t fought at 185lbs since 2008, but he’s been teasing a return to the weight class and trying to build support for a fight with Vitor Belfort.
If the weight cut, such a high profile fight and a win all come together, Mousasi would instantly be back in the Middleweight top five, as his 34-3-2 record, history as a champion in Dream and Strikeforce balanced with some meaningful UFC wins would make him a compelling choice.
The fact that he’s a finisher on the feet and in terms of submissions and would be a genuinely fresh, yet credible challenger only adds to his chances.
Assuming Gracie defeats Tim Kennedy tonight, this one writes itself. On paper it’s a dream fight, with the greatest of all time facing off with the current champion of MMA’s First Family.
Sure, there’s a concern that Gracie is a bit of a one trick pony (but its a hell of a trick) but if he beats Kennedy and one or two more from this list, a match with Silva would be HUGE.
If nothing else, this fight would be fun and a fitting climax to Cung’s career. With top level striking, an exciting style and (its worth remember) a 2-0 streak in the UFC allied to his existing star power, bolstered by his movie career, it might not be the most credible match, seeing as Le is 41 years old and part time at best but it would draw viewers, with a storyline that writes itself.
Of course, given how long it’s likely to be until we see a new challenger for the Middleweight belt we could well see Luke Rockhold, Mark Munoz, Francis Carmont or Tom Watson mount a serious run at a title challenge. We could see Mahmed Khalidov or Alwxander Shlemenko sign with the UFC and be plugged right into contention.
This is MMA, anything can happen but I can make the best case for the seven guys listed and I’d pay good money to see any of the above challenge for the belt.
How about you?