Any time a divisional champion steps into the Octagon, there is the possibility that the landscape of that weight class will shift once the cage door closes.
Whether it is the first, fifth, or — in the case of Anderson Silva Saturday night at UFC 162 — the 11th time they’ve put their strap on the line, one loss can cause a sudden and serious change in regards to the direction the division appears to be heading, and the narrative surrounding several fighters who call that weight class home.
With Chris Weidman poised to try and wrest the middleweight title away from the longest reigning champion in UFC history, and a trio of other fights pitting fighters from the 185-pound ranks against each other this weekend, UFC 162 serves as a perfect opportunity to breakdown the middleweight division, and try to figure out how it will look once Saturday night turns to Sunday morning in Sin City.
Anderson Silva is simply the greatest fighter to ever grace the cage, period. Every attempt to make a case for someone else comes up short the minute you press play on a Silva highlight reel and watch opponent after opponent fall to prey to “The Spider.”
Regardless of what happens Saturday night, Silva’s legacy is secure, but what comes next for the 38-year-old champion is certainly contingent on the outcome.
Another victory means more questions about a potential super-fight with UFC light heavyweight champion Jon Jones. This bout surpassed a potential Silva-Georges St-Pierre showdown a long time ago as the fight fans truly want to see most, and if Silva pushes his streak to 17-0 under the UFC banner, discussions about this fight are sure to heat up once again.
Continuing to defend the title is obviously always on the table as well, but given Silva’s disinterest in facing someone he’s already dispatched in the past, the options are surprisingly limited.
A loss would undoubtedly lead to a rematch sometime in the next nine months. As much as Silva has balked at facing the same opponent twice, I’m pretty sure he’d be willing to add Weidman’s name to the very short list of fighters he’s faced twice in his career.
First and foremost, whatever the result on Saturday night, the UFC have a new star in Weidman. He’s handled the build-up to his long-awaited encounter with Silva perfectly, and win or lose, Weidman comes out of this fight as a perennial main/co-main event guy going forward.
Naturally, he becomes “The Man Who Beat Anderson Silva” if he wins, and then he’ll have to try and become “The Man Who Beat Anderson Silva Twice,” because an immediate rematch will be made.
Weidman has said from the get-go that he’d be happy to give Silva a chance to win the title back, and while he won’t get to do it in Madison Square Garden as he’d hoped (seriously New York, get with the program), that unwavering confidence is part of what has a fair number of people believing we’ll have a new champion after Saturday night.
If the 29-year-old Hofstra University graduate suffers the same fate as the 16 men to challenge Silva in the Octagon before him, he’ll remain near the top in the middleweight division, and could find himself squaring off with one of the few legitimate potential title challengers that exist right now.
I’ve said all along that Silva-Weidman was the bout to make, simply because if your unbeaten potential star is going to lose to anyone, you want it to be to the greatest fighter to ever walk the Earth. There’s no shame in that, and he doesn’t lose any status points in the process, which wouldn’t be the case if he got clipped on the way up by someone else that is trying to scratch and claw their way to a title shot.
This is going to piss some people off, but if Silva wins on Saturday night, Michael Bisping could very well find himself fighting for the title in the fall. The UFC has talked about returning to Manchester before the year is out, and nothing would thrill the British fans more than watching their hometown boy battle for the belt at the Manchester Arena.
I’m beyond the point of arguing whether or not this would be fair or deserved; the UFC has proven they’re willing to deviate from those ideals when it comes to putting together championship fights, and Silva vs. Bisping is arguably the biggest fight that exists in the division right now.
If Weidman comes out on top, Bisping is going to have to once again step into the cage with a top-of-the-line middleweight, and try yet again to clear the hurdle that has forever stood in his way.
You would think that Vitor Belfort would certainly have something to say about that, having knocked out Bisping in January Despite the fact that “The Phenom” has looked phenomenal in finishing both Bisping and Luke Rockhold already this year, Silva has already beaten him once, and Belfort still seems to have an inexplicable interest in getting a rematch with Jon Jones.
A second fight between the two beloved Brazilian fighters would certainly do well from a business standpoint, but I’m not sure if Silva would be up for pairing off with his countryman once again.
The thing with Belfort is that the UFC doesn’t necessarily need to try to shoehorn him into another middleweight title fight. He’s a bankable draw in his native Brazil, and could continue to fill a headlining role in his homeland, where match-ups against top 10 opposition is enough to sell out a good sized venue.
Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza is on the cusp of contention after just one appearance in the UFC. He’s slated to square off with divisional gatekeeper Yushin Okami this fall on the third UFC on Fox Sports 1 card in Brazil, and a win there will put him on the short list of potential title challengers.
His championship aspirations could be impacted on Saturday, however, as his relationship with Silva could force him to press pause on pursuing the gold until his friend/training partner drops the belt or decides to hang ‘em up.
The “In the Mix” Crowd
Mark Munoz and Tim Boestch square off Saturday night in a fight that will determine which of the two remains on the fringe of contention, and who will need to re-group.
Boetsch was cruising along, poised to take on Weidman at UFC 155 before “The All-American” got hurt and was replaced by his then-teammate Costa Philippou. The surging Cypriot pulled off the upset, and now Boetsch is looking to get back into the chase quickly with a win this weekend.
Munoz was last seen getting dominated by Weidman last July, but could quickly return to the title chase with a strong showing at UFC 162. He had won four straight before getting stopped by Weidman, and getting right back into the win column on Saturday could set him up for another high profile pairing before the year is out.
The aforementioned Philippou has to be considered a fringe contender as well, having halted Boetsch’s winning streak last December, while adding a fifth consecutive win to his resume in the process. He was supposed to face Souza back in May, but was forced out with an injury. Who he returns against will say a great deal about where he’s at in the pecking order.
Former Strikeforce champion Luke Rockhold is still part of this group as well, despite losing to Belfort earlier this spring. The American Kickboxing Academy product holds a win over Souza, and has the all-around skill set to be a tough opponent for anyone in the top 10. With his first fight out of the way, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Rockhold start a run in the second half of 2013.
Yushin Okami falls into this group as well, though he’s probably situated at the bottom of the list because he’s a grinder, and he’s already lost to Silva and Boetsch.
The UFC isn’t going to be in any rush to get him back into a position to challenge for the title, though they’ll be more than happy to let “Thunder” pick off hopefuls on the way up the middleweight ladder.
On the Fringe
When Tim Kennedy and Roger Gracie face-off in the middle of Saturday’s UFC 162 pay-per-view main card, they’re battling for the opportunity to get “in the mix,” as well as looking to score a victory in their joint UFC debuts.
Kennedy is a former Strikeforce title challenger that is good, but not great anywhere, while Gracie is still a work in progress overall, though his world-class jiu-jitsu makes him a dangerous out.
UFC 162’s other middleweight fight features the latest return of Chris Leben, who takes on gritty youngster Andrew Craig. Yes, Leben has lost two straight, and he’s battled his share of problems over the years, but he’s still wildly popular, and if he goes on another run like he did in 2010, we could see “The Crippler” creeping his way up the fight card.
Alan Belcher, Francis Carmont, and Brian Stann are all part of this group as well, with guys like the currently- suspended Rousimar Palhares, returnee Thales Leites, and veteran question marks Cung Le and Rich Franklin also calling this area home.
The Bottom Line
While there isn’t a long list of potential title challengers at the moment, a victory for Weidman would press reset on the hopes of all those Silva has disposed of in the past.
Additionally, the middle of the pack – from let’s say Nos. 5-15 or so in the rankings – is completely interchangeable, and that should lead to some quality bouts in the second half of this year, regardless of how things shake out in Saturday night’s main event.